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Why temper chocolate? The short answer is that chemically, chocolate is composed of several 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 you imagine a cup of chicken stock, it may seem uniform, but if left to sit, the fat will rise to the surface.

Chocolate is an emulsion, but if warmed and melted, you “break” the emulsion. When it cools, the cocoa butter rises to the surface. It’s unattractive but harmless. Some people throw away their chocolate thinking it’s moldy, but it’s usually just fat “bloom.”


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.

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.

There are 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 (including 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. Melt chopped bittersweet or semisweet 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.)

3. Drop a good-sized chunk of solid (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.

4. The last step is the most important: Bring the chocolate up to the perfect temperature, which occurs in most dark chocolates between 88° and 91° F (31º-32ºC.) Do this by placing the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water for a few seconds, stirring it, then removing it from the heat, and checking the temperature. It will usually take a few tries but as it gets close, it might need just 1 or 2 seconds to reach the right temperature.

Note: Don’t let the melted chocolate rise above 91° F (32ºC) or you’ll have to begin the process all over again.

(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.

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


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



    • Melissa

    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!

    • Silvana

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

    • Diva

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

    • Anna Skinner

    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!

    • Spencer


    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.


    • Vicki

    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!

    • Rene Rodgers

    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 :).


    • Donna

    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?


    • David

    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.

    • New Cook on the Block

    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.


    • David

    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!

    • Will

    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.

    • She Whisks

    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

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    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.

    • Rijk

    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

    • Microwave next time

    This process is pretty confusing specifically between step 2 and 3. If you wait to let it cool to the low 80s (step 2) then add the tempered chocolate (Step 3) the added chocolate DOES NOT MELT!! I used chips and this was extremely frustrating. I just said screw it and won’t be doing this EVER again.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Chocolate chips are not recommended for melting as they are usually made of what’s called “heat-resistant chocolate,” meaning they are formulated with less cocoa butter and designed not to melt, as people like to add them to chocolate chip cookies and want distinctive chips in them. I don’t recommend them for melting. If you try tempering chocolate again, I recommend using regular bittersweet or semisweet chocolate.

    • Edward Canton

    Some baking chocolate, like Ghirardelli, is NOT tempered, so you cannot use it to seed, you need to use their eating chocolate which IS tempered. Others like Bakers baking chocolate IS tempered. Got this direct from them. Everyone is soo different!


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