Looking through the glass cases of a gourmet candy shop, it’s hard not to be impressed with the beauty as well as the taste of the high-end chocolate candies. Shiny, crisp chocolate encasing any number of surprises inside just beg you to take a bite.
You don’t have to head to the gourmet chocolate candy store to enjoy these kinds of sweet treats. With a good recipe and some guidance on melting and tempering chocolate, you can make chocolate treats that would fool even a chocolate connoisseur into thinking they were from a gourmet store.
What is the difference between melting and tempering chocolate, and when should you do each?
Basically, both methods are a form of melting chocolate. When chocolate is melted, the molecules separate. When you temper the chocolate, you bond those molecules back together so your chocolate will harden with a glossy, crisp finish. That “snap” sound when you break a chocolate bar is a sign that the chocolate has been tempered.
According to world-renowned pastry Chef Eddy Van Damme, melted chocolate as seen under a microscope looks like a curdled sauce. “Once tempered, the chocolate molecules bond and it looks like a smooth sauce. Melting chocolate chips is great for making brownies or certain chocolate cakes and chocolate sauces. However, melted chocolate that has not been tempered has a gray/white coating referred to as a “bloom”. To get a crisp, shiny chocolate coating that doesn’t melt at room temperature, the chocolate must first be tempered.”
Heat chocolate to 115°F (between 40-45°C). Do not place chocolate directly on heat source. Ideally, chocolate should be melted in double boiler. When using the microwave, melt chocolate in 8-second increments.
We gave some additional tips for how to melt chocolate in our 1985 Homemade Good News Vol. V – No. 5 newsletter.
- When melting chocolate: do not overheat, or chocolate may scorch or tighten (stiffen and harden).
- For best results, place chocolate in a small dry bowl (any water in the chocolate will cause it to tighten) and set in a double boiler or inside a larger pan containing hot, but not boiling water.
- Melt chocolate slowly, then stir until smooth. If your chocolate does tighten and become uncooperative during melting, save it by adding 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil or melted shortening per ounce of chocolate. Gently stir until the chocolate loosens up, then proceed.
Tip: When dipping fruits in chocolate: dry each piece of fruit thoroughly on paper towels first to keep moisture from ruining your chocolate.
Melting chocolate works just fine for many recipes performed at home for family and friends. However, if you want to take it a step further, you can temper your chocolate in one of three ways:
- On a cool surface
- With a wheel-type tempering machine
- In the microwave
Obviously, most home chefs do not have access to a tempering machine. Chef Eddy recommends tempering chocolate by using the cool surface method for home chefs with some experience, or the seeding method for beginners. The seeding method is outlined in Chef Eddy’s truffle recipe here.
Tempering Chocolate on a Cool Surface
Start by chopping a high-quality chocolate (such as Lindt, Callebaut or Cacao Barry) into small pieces.
“Only high-quality chocolate contains enough cocoa butter to ensure the chocolate will properly melt,” said Chef Eddy. “The higher the cocoa butter content, the smoother it will feel when eaten and the easier it melts. Low quality chocolate (such as the bagged chocolate chips) will not melt even when recommendations are strictly followed.”
Heat the chopped chocolate very slowly to 115°F (between 40-45° C) in a double boiler or melting pan. Keep a close eye on the temperature because if the temperature rises too high, the chocolate will burn and you’ll have to start all over again.
After your chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the double boiler and dry the bottom completely. Any condensation that drips from the bottom of the bowl will cause the chocolate to seize up.
Carefully pour 3/4 of the melted chocolate onto a granite or marble working surface (these naturally stay cold). Using a putty knife or silicone spatula, spread the chocolate very thinly over the marble surface. Continue to spread the chocolate out and scrape it back up in a continual motion until the chocolate reaches to 80°–82°F. When chocolate thickens, crystallization starts to occur and it is considered tempered. You want peaks to form when it falls from your spatula. Once the chocolate thickens and takes on a glossy sheen, scrape the tempered chocolate back into the original 1/4 melted chocolate and stir until thoroughly combined.
You’ll want to keep the tempered chocolate between 87°–91°F while you are working with it. Above or below these temperatures and the chocolate will lose its temper and you’ll have to start all over again.
To test if your chocolate is in temper, drizzle a small amount onto a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper. Let it set at room temperature for 2-3 minutes. The tempered chocolate should lose its sheen and harden and you are ready to start dipping, molding and shaping.
Ready to start melting? Check out these recipes. For more chocolate recipe inspiration, visit our website.
Chocolate Almond Pound Cake with Peppermint Ganache – Ultra-moist chocolate layer cake made with almond meal for an extra dimension of flavor. Minty chocolate ganache and tempered chocolate pieces accent this delicious cake.
Chocolate Almond Cake Topped with Chocolate Ganache – All the full flavor of a traditional almond cake combined with the added richness of chocolate.
Coconut truffles – Rich, high-quality chocolate shells filled with honey and liquor-soaked coconut. These exceptional truffles rival those found in any high-end chocolate store.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffles – Spicy Mexican hot chocolate is reimagined into rich truffles that are the perfect upscale homemade dessert! Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffles make a great gift idea too.
White Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Truffles – Make Chef Eddy’s recipe for White Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Truffles to serve at your next gathering. Your guests might think you purchased them from a high-end European chocolatier.