Chocolate Tempering: How To Temper Chocolate

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Homemade Rocky Road, from The Great Book of Chocolate, Enrobed in Tempered Chocolate

How do you temper chocolate, and why do you do it? The short answer is that chemically, chocolate is composed of lots of different little crystals (six to be exact) but the desirable ones are called beta crystals. The development and formation of these beta crystals are what makes well-tempered chocolate.

If the cocoa butter rises to the surface, some people commonly think their chocolate has gotten moldy and toss it out. If you’ve done that, you’ve tossed out perfectly good, but unattractive, chocolate.

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As you can see, there is a dull white sheen on the surface of this piece of chocolate. And that’s what happens to chocolate that’s not properly tempered: the cocoa fat rises to the surface and “blooms”, making it unappealing and unattractive. When you buy chocolate, like a candy bar or chocolate in bulk, the chocolate has been tempered and it should be nice and shiny and snap when you break it. Yet if you leave your candy bar in a warm car and later open it up, often it’ll become white and gray. The heat caused your chocolate to lose it’s temper. When you buy chocolate for baking, it should arrive well-tempered. (If buying pistoles in bulk, they may be dull from becoming scratched during transport, which is not to be confused with untempered.) But once you chop it up and melt it, the beta crystals change, the chocolate loses its temper, and you’ll need to re-temper it again if you plan to use it as a coating.

Pages and volumes of technical research have been written about tempering chocolate, but here are the main reasons for all you home cooks out there:


  • To avoid fat (and sugar) bloom, characterized by unappealing white streaks or blotches on the surface.
  • To raise the melting temperature of finished chocolate so it doesn’t melt on contact with your fingers.
  • To preserve the keeping quality of chocolate by stratifying the fat.
  • To cool chocolate quickly. Tempered chocolate cools fast, within 5 minutes.
  • Tempered chocolate will shrink slightly when cooled, which allows it to slip out of molds easily.
  • To give chocolate a glossy, shiny appearance, and a crisp, clean snap when you break it.

As I’ve said, you don’t need to temper chocolate if you’re going to bake a chocolate cake or make chocolate ice cream. The only time you need to temper chocolate is when you need an attractive, shiny coating for candies that will sit at room temperature. You can get around tempering by dipping chocolates in melted, untempered chocolate and storing them in the refrigerator. Just remove them from the refrigerator a few minutes prior to serving them. The coolness of the refrigerator will stratify the cocoa fat and it won’t bloom.

Theo Chocolates

There are many different methods for tempering chocolate. Some are a bit complicated, and some are really messy, especially for home cooks. I rely on a thermometer, which is foolproof. It’s best to use a dark chocolate that is no higher than 70% in cocoa solids. Higher percentage chocolates (and some artisan bean-to-bar chocolates) can be quite acidic, and may behave differently.

I developed a simple 3-step method that’s a snap for home cooks. All you need is an accurate chocolate thermometer, although a good digital thermometer will work.


Tempering Chocolate

1. The first step is to melt the dark chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over simmering water, to about 115º-120º F (46º-49ºC.)

2. Remove from heat and let it cool to the low 80ºs F (27ºC.) Drop a good-sized chunk of solid (and tempered) chocolate in, which provides insurance by ‘seeding’ the melted chocolate with good beta crystals. While cooling, stir frequently. Motion equals good crystallization, aka, tempering.

3. The last step is the most important: It’s bringing the chocolate up to the perfect temperature, where it’s chock-full of those great beta crystals. This occurs in most dark chocolates between 88° and 91° F (31º-32ºC.)

(Milk chocolate tempers at 86º-88ºF, 30º-31ºC. Please note that chocolates can vary, so check with manufacturer if unsure about your particular chocolate.)

4. Remove what’s left of the chunk of ‘seed’ chocolate, and your chocolate is dip-worthy: you can dip all the chocolates you want and all will be perfectly tempered. Don’t let it get above 91° F (32ºC) or you’ll have to begin the process all over again. If it drops below the temperatures, rewarm it gently to bring it back up.

For more chocolate tips, recipes, and information, check out The Great Book of Chocolate

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Related Posts and Links

Chocolate FAQs

Chocolate Thermometers

Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Ice Cream (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups(Recipe)

The Easiest Chocolate Ice Cream Ever! (Recipe)

How to Make Homemade Chocolate Bars

15 comments

  • Hi David,
    I’ve been a fan of yours for a while, and do love your blog! This post is fantastic, you must be a great teacher!
    Cheers,
    Melissa

  • David, I love the way you explain everything..you’re so clear!!
    Tonight…I’ll try your popcorn recipe!!
    To be continued…

  • I tried to temper chocolate in the winter with marble counters..NOT!

  • Merci, David! You’ve cleared up the childhood mystery of the creepy white color in much anticipated Halloween chocolate. Not that a little discoloration ever stopped me from gobbling it…

    Love your blog!

  • David,

    What a wonderful article. I remember seeing you on Bay Cafe with Joey Altman. You once mentioned in his show something along the lines…”That a true pastry chef’s talent lies in his/her work with chocolate.” I’ll have to go out and look for your book.

    Spencer

  • Hi David,

    Great blog! Love the funny comments and I really
    like this explanation of tempering.. it’s pretty new to me so I need all the help I can get. Your chocolate book is next on my list!

    Thanks for the great site!
    Vicki

  • I decided to make my family members candies for Christmas this year and your directions for tempering chocolate are infinitely more clear than the one in my candy book! Thank you so much for this post, it has definitely made tempering chocolate less stressful :).

    Rene

  • I was wondering if I used the refrigeration method instead of tempering, would the chocolate retain its shine or would it have the white streaks in it?

    Donna

  • Donna: If you refrigerate the chocolate, it will lose it’s shine…even when you take it out and let it warm up a bit, I’m afraid. Some folks get around that by dusting it with cocoa powder, depending on what you’re making.

  • Hi David!

    I’m a long-time user of your archives for all sorts of recipes and they’ve always served me well :) I have some chocolate cooling on the counter right now and it just occurred to me–is it okay to add sea salt to chocolate that either will be or has been tempered? I’d like to have a little bit of the saltiness in my final product, but if it ruins the tempering then I’ll find another way to incorporate it.

    Thanks!
    -Cuff

  • Cuff: A bit of sea salt shouldn’t matter at all. I would add it at the last moment, so it retains its crunchiness. Sounds great!

  • David, I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now and wish I had found this post several months ago! I’m probably going to purchase a tempering machine in the next month or two, but am currently tempering the old fashioned way for the few truffles and other chocolate goodies we sell in our cheese shop. When I first began making truffles I was a true beginner, and once put in a 20 hour day as I was tempering a batch each of milk, white, and dark chocolate. I’ve found the dark chocolate to be the easiest to work with. The shine and snap I get with the dark is just beautiful! I wish I had as much success with the milk and white versions.

  • Hi David, I love your website and have used quite a few recipes from here. But I’ve been having some problems making some chocolate panels (to surround a cake) and came across this post. In step two, u wrote “I drop a good-sized chunk of solid (and tempered) chocolate in…” – tempered? could that be a bar of chunk of dark chocolate?
    How would i store the chocolate panels? If I refrigerate the panels, would they get soft when brought back to room temperature? How would I store them? Sorry for all these questions! x

  • She Whisks: This method is for tempering dark chocolate (milk chocolate requires lower temperatures.) Once tempered, chocolate does not need to be refrigerated if the ambient temperature isn’t too hot.

  • Hi David. Sorry to disturb you on your holiday(?) in Mexico but i hope you will have a spare minut to give me some advice. In 2 weeks time I’m going to “Pax” and i intend to make a chocolate cake with different fillings for the party. Id like to top it off with white chocolate flakes. Do you have an advice how to make the perfect flakes and will they stay flaky untill serving time? I mean if they are too thin will they melt on the cake? ( Its well below zero here in the Netherlands and grey, but that’s outside) I hope you will find a minut between your extended breakfast and first margarita to help me out. Rijk