Tempering chocolate is essential for making smooth and shiny chocolate for dipping. It prevents the cocoa fat from separating and creating dull, waxy and streaky chocolate. Tempering chocolate sounds difficult, but it’s not! Tempering chocolate is basically melting it, but there is more to it than just tossing it in the microwave – tempering takes some patience, a watchful eye – and most importantly, the right chocolate. But once you get the technique down, you will be able to temper chocolate like a pro! There are several different ways to temper chocolate, but in this guide, we will do the seeding method – the easiest method to learn and perfect.
The most important aspect of tempering chocolate is the chocolate itself. When shopping for the chocolate to be tempered, go by percentages rather than bittersweet or semi-sweet. Any quality chocolate in the 60-70% range will do. If possible, purchase already tempered disks, also known as feves. Think about how the chips in your chocolate chip cookies don’t lose their shape after they’re baked. The right chocolate for tempering is marked “Couverture“.
Fill your pan with 1 to 2 inches of water (you will be placing your bowl on top of the pan, and you don’t want the water to touch the bottom of the bowl). Put it on the stove and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Place 3/4 of the chocolate you want to temper into the stainless steel bowl. (The bowl should be big enough to cover the entire top of the pan.) Place the bowl on top of the pan of simmering water – again, making sure that the water in the pan isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl.
NOTE: Water is the absolute enemy of chocolate. Don’t let any water get into your chocolate or it will seize up and be useless. So make sure your bowl and spatula are completely dry.
Stir the chocolate with the spatula as it starts to melt, keeping the bowl firmly on top of the saucepan. When almost all of the chocolate is melted (but some pieces still remain), take the bowl off the pan and set it on the counter. Keep stirring until all of the chocolate is melted, then test the temperature with the digital thermometer. It should read somewhere around 110-120 degrees for dark chocolate, and 100-105 degrees for milk or white chocolate.
This next part is what takes an eagle eye, and patience. You need to bring the temperature down to between 86 and 90 degrees for dark chocolate, or 84-86 degrees for milk and white, which is the degree at which your chocolate will be tempered. (There is a lot of chemistry that goes into why this is, about beta crystals and all that, but that’s a discussion for another day!) To bring the temperature down, we are going to “seed” the chocolate with the 1/4 part of chocolate you left out of the bowl at the beginning. Toss a small handful of the chocolate into the melted chocolate and stir vigorously. VERY vigorously.
Keep testing the temperature of the chocolate with your thermometer, and adding small handfuls of the leftover chocolate to bring the temperature down and stirring like a madman. That agitation is the most important part of bringing the temperature down. Once you get to 93-95 degrees, stop putting in chocolate, and just let the temperature come down by stirring. Don’t forget to keep checking the temperature!
Once your chocolate gets to the desired temperature (86-90 degrees for dark, 84-86 degrees for milk or white), you have tempered chocolate! Remove any of your unmelted “seed” chocolate (if you don’t, you will get streaks in your hardened chocolate).
Before you start using the chocolate, test to make sure you’re in temper. Dip a knife or offset spatula into the chocolate, shake off excess, and let it sit for a minute. You’ll see the chocolate start to get a little haze to it as it sets – if that happens, you’re in perfect temper! If you see streaks, you have seed chocolate still left in the bowl – put it back on the heat for a second and melt it (but don’t let the temperature get above the highest temper number).
The lower the temperature goes, the closer the chocolate is to setting (getting hard), so if you’re planning to use the tempered chocolate for dipping, keep it toward the higher temperature limit. If you’re planning to use it for the inside of truffles, you can keep it at the lower.
If you’re using the chocolate for an extended period – say, for dipping chocolates – you are going to need to keep it at a constant temperature. You can do this by keeping that pan of simmering water on the stove, and putting the bowl over it when the temperature starts dropping. Another way is to set the bowl on a heating pad covered with a towel. This way is a little more dangerous because you could accidentally bring the temperature to over 90 degrees – and if that happens, you need to start the whole tempering process over again.
And that’s how you temper chocolate!