raw tempered chocolate - meltedIf you’d like to learn how to make perfectly tempered chocolate, this guide to tempering chocolate covers it all – what is tempered chocolate, why to temper chocolate, how to temper chocolate, and common problems when tempering chocolate. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Is Tempered Chocolate

Nearly all chocolate sold in the supermarket is already tempered – shiny, smooth, with a clear snap when you break it. If you melt and cool the chocolate again without tempering, you end up with dull, chalky chocolate that crumbles rather than snaps.

The word ‘temper’ literally means to improve hardness by reheating and then cooling. This is exactly what happens with chocolate. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to a series of precise temperatures to maximize its chances of forming a tight, stable structure.

But to understand the process of tempering chocolate, it’s important to first understand the science behind it.

Why Chocolate Needs to Be Tempered

Tempering can be an extra step that feels tedious. Nowadays there are chocolate compounds available at many stores that produce a similar smooth mouthfeel and a firm snap as real chocolate. However, these chocolate compounds aren’t real chocolate because they contain hydrogenated oils rather than cacao butter as the primary fat.

Cacao butter is the single reason real chocolate needs to be tempered. Cacao butter is polymorphic, meaning it can crystalize in different structures or crystal forms. These crystal structures differ in how the molecules are arranged, which in turn influences their properties, such as appearance, taste, texture, melting point, shelf-life, and overall quality. 

Crystal Form

Melting Temperature

Chocolate Properties
Type I (gamma I) 63°F/17°C soft and crumbly, significant blooming, melts too easily
Type II (alpha II) 70°F/21°C soft and crumbly, significant blooming, melts too easily
Type III (beta III) 78°F/26°C firm without a snap, some blooming, melts too easily
Type IV (beta IV) 82°F/28°C  firm without a snap, some blooming, melts too easily
Type V (beta V) 94°F/34°C shiny, firm with a snap, melts in the mouth
Type VI (beta VI) 97°F/36°C hard, melts slowly in the mouth, slight blooming

What complicates matters in chocolate making is that the different crystal forms solidify at different temperatures. Once the chocolate is melted, cacao butter crystals separate. The objective of tempering melted chocolate is to entice the disparate cacao butter crystals into one stable form – Type V. This form looks shiny on the surface, has a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture, produces an audible snap when broken, and holds its shape at room temperature. 

cacao butter crystal structure

If melted cacao butter is simply allowed to cool naturally, it will contain a mix of Type I – Type V crystals. Obviously, this isn’t ideal, as forms I – IV have less than desirable properties that impact the quality of the chocolate. Tempering involves cooling melted chocolate very slowly because it increases the amount of Type V crystals. Once cooled, the chocolate is then heated again but just below the melting point of Type V crystals, which melts all Type I – Type IV crystals. When the chocolate is again allowed to cool, it solidifies following the pattern of the existing Type V crystals, resulting in perfect, ready-to-eat, shiny, smooth, snappy chocolate.

untempered to tempered chocolate - Type I - Type V cacao butter crystals

Type VI crystals don’t form as melted chocolate solidifies. Instead, they form only after several months, from form V. The fat molecules in form V have enough energy over this time period to change to form VI, which is harder and melts too slowly in the mouth due to the higher melting point. It’s also possible to see fat ‘bloom’ forming on the chocolate – due to partial melting, causing the fats to rise to the surface. This transformation can be avoided by simply storing the chocolate in the fridge because at a lower temperature the molecules in the structure don’t have enough energy to convert to Type VI.

Tempered vs Untempered Chocolate

The differences between tempered and untempered chocolate are quite significant. Tempering affects the appearance, taste, texture, melting point, and overall quality of chocolate in the following ways:

Characteristics of Tempered Chocolate

  • Appearance: shiny, glossy surface
  • Taste: smooth, creamy mouthfeel
  • Texture: firm snap
  • Stability: contracts and sets up quickly as it cools; holds its shape at room temperature
  • Shelf-life: up to one year

Characteristics of Untempered Chocolate

  • Appearance: dull, matte surface with white streaks
  • Taste: grainy, chalky mouthfeel
  • Texture: soft, bendy
  • Stability: doesn’t contract and sets up slowly as it cools; melts quickly at room temperature
  • Shelf-life: up to three months

When to Use Tempered vs Untempered Chocolate

Tempered chocolate is superior to untempered chocolate in any instance, there is no doubt about it.

Tempering is required when the final product will be made of solid chocolate or the chocolate is a component in an unadulterated state, including molded and enrobed chocolate. Tempering ensures that a chocolate bar doesn’t melt at room temperature, chocolate-covered strawberries have a crunchy shell that melts in the mouth, and chocolate bonbons have a shiny gloss. Of course, there is also the practical side of things – tempered chocolate is required for molded chocolates because untempered chocolate would not release from professional polycarbonate molds. 

Recipes that add chocolate to other ingredients can be made with either tempered or untempered chocolate because the structure of the chocolate fat crystals is no longer the dominant source of structure and texture. This would include cakes, cookies, ganache, mousse, ice cream – pretty much anything that just needs the chocolate flavoring.

tempered vs untempered chocolate

Best Chocolate for Tempering

Chocolate comes in many different forms and shapes. If you visit the baking aisle of a supermarket, you’re faced with many options – milk or dark? If dark, how dark? Bittersweet or semisweet? Should you pick up a chocolate bar or chocolate callets? And what are callets anyway?

There are several types of chocolate, classified primarily by quality, form (shape), and type. 

Quality

There are two types of chocolate products – real chocolate and compound chocolate. 

The main ingredient that determines chocolate flavor and texture is cacao mass (also called cacao paste/cacao liquor/chocolate liquor) – a thick paste made from cacao beans. Cacao mass has two main ingredients – cacao solids (where the flavor comes from) and cacao butter (where the texture comes from). 

how to make chocolate from cacao beans

Real Chocolate

To be categorized as ‘real’ chocolate, the chocolate has to contain a minimum of 35% total cacao solids and 18% cacao butter.

Once cacao mass has been made, there are two paths forward. One path forward is to add extra cacao butter to the chocolate mass and grind it again to create smooth couverture chocolate. The second path forward is to squeeze the cacao mass into huge hydraulic presses and separate it into cacao butter and cacao powder to create regular chocolate.

  • Couverture (premium) chocolate: the precise standards for couverture chocolate state that couverture chocolate must contain a minimum of 35% cacao mass and 31% cacao butter (31% is just the minimum amount and some couverture chocolates contain up to 39% of cacao butter!). As such, couverture chocolate is the highest quality chocolate available. Not only is it more flavorful and aromatic, but the high percentage of cacao butter makes couverture fluid when melted, making it the preferred choice for tempering. Couverture chocolate is also ground to a finer texture during the production process to create a smoother finished product. It’s more expensive than any other type of chocolate but well worth the money, especially when making molded or enrobed chocolates. It’s not ideal for baked goods though because the melting chocolate may spread out too much in the batter during baking. 
  • Regular chocolate: regular chocolate is not as shiny, flavorful, and aromatic as couverture chocolate and is thicker when melted because it contains less cacao butter (a minimum of 18%). It’s still fine to use for tempering, but it’s a bit harder to work with because of its thicker consistency. The advantage of regular chocolate over couverture chocolate is its affordability and accessibility. Regular chocolate is particularly popular among bakers because recipes that call for melted chocolate, like cakes or bronies, are formulated with regular baking chocolate.

In the past, couverture chocolate used to be available only to professionals, but some of the best companies are now making their products available in grocery stores and online. They have a wide range of flavors, from spicy to fruity to floral, in a full range of cocoa solid levels from milky 32% to extra dark 70% to unsweetened 100%. This allows for amazing flexibility to craft the flavor and intensity of the finished product. 

Here’s a brief comparison of the most popular brands of couverture chocolate including Valrhona (the best!), Callebaut, and Guittard (a mid-range between traditional grocery store chocolate and premium):

  Valrhona Callebaut Guittard 
Location France Belgium USA
Brand age 1922 1911 1868
Flavor bold, fruity, aromatic pure, sweet warm, sweet, aromatic
Aroma intense, double fermented strong, sweet multi-layered, sweetly nutty
Color deep mahogany brown rich earthy brown deep reddish brown

Compound Chocolate

Where real chocolate is made up of cacao butter, compound chocolate is made of oil (usually coconut, cottonseed, palm, or soybean). The oil in compound chocolate can either replace the cacao butter entirely or just partially. Real chocolate may contain some vegetable oil as well, but not more than 5%.

The lack of cacao butter in compound chocolate means that the chocolate doesn’t need to be tempered and sets just fine after having been melted. Compound chocolate is definitely easier and quicker to work with, and is more affordable than real chocolate. Manufacturers can also change the characteristics of compound chocolate depending on the desired end product. For example, in tropical countries, chocolate manufacturers can create a compound chocolate product that doesn’t melt at room temperature (86°F/30°C), making it easier to distribute and display in stores.

However, the obvious drawback of compound chocolate is the lack of cacao butter, which results in chocolate that doesn’t have an attractive shiny look, rich, creamy mouthfeel (it melts at a higher temperature than real chocolate), and a firm snap (it’s more pliable, so it doesn’t have an audible snap). It also doesn’t contract when it cools, so it doesn’t release from a polycarbonate mold (it does release from a flexible silicone mold). 

Form

Chocolate comes in various shapes – blocks, bars, discs/wafers, fèves, callets, and chips.

  • Blocks: chocolate blocks are large, thick bars of chocolate. They are more economical compared to the other shapes of chocolate because they are sold in big quantity blocks. They are great for chocolatiers who use large amounts of chocolate on a daily basis, but rather impractical for an average baker. Chocolate blocks are more difficult to chop than bars and there is typically quite a bit of waste in the form of chocolate dust from the chopping.  
  • Bars: chocolate bars are the most versatile baking chocolate. They usually come in 100-gram bars and are easy to chop for melting (when tempering chocolate, it’s best to finely chop the chocolate for even melting). Some of my favorite brands include Valrhona, Callebaut, and Guittard.
  • Discs/wafers/pistoles: chocolate wafers are small, disc-shaped pieces of chocolate (~ 20 mm in diameter). They are ideal for melting but also for rough chopping. My favorite brands are Callebaut (discs) and Guittard (wafers).
  • Callets: chocolate callets look like large flattened chocolate chips but are formulated for melting rather than baking. They are smaller than standard chocolate discs (12 mm in diameter) and are sold by the brand Callebaut.
  • Fèves: chocolate fèves are flat and ovoid in shape (12 mm long and 4 mm wide) with an indentation in the center on one side, mimicking the shape of a cacao bean. They were specifically designed to melt quickly and evenly, which is why they are popular among chocolatiers. Chocolate fèves are a signature product of the brand Valrhona. 
  • Chips: chocolate chips are tiny tear-shaped drops of chocolate (7 mm in diameter). They contain stabilizers that help them retain their shape and not melt even at high temperatures. However, stabilizers compromise the flavor of the chocolate and give it a waxy texture. When melted, the chocolate is thick and grainy, and shouldn’t be used for tempering. If you’d like to use chocolate chips anyway, look for brands that use minimal ingredients, such as the aforementioned Valrhona, Callebaut, and Guittard (the only stabilizer these brands contain is lecithin). 

chocolate forms - block, bar, disc, callet, feve, chip

Type

The three most common types of chocolate are dark, milk, and white. There is also new chocolate on the market that’s pink! The difference between these chocolates comes down to the proportion of that product made from pure cacao mass and any added cacao butter. As a general rule, the higher the percentage, the more intense the chocolate flavor and aroma. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets minimum percentages for all the main chocolate types:

  • Dark chocolate: dark chocolate is typically further categorized as unsweetened, bittersweet, or semisweet. Unsweetened chocolate is basically unaltered cacao mass, so a mix of cacao solids and cacao butter. Because it’s so bitter, it’s almost exclusively used in baking, particularly in recipes that already contain a lot of sugar and don’t benefit from the extra sugar of sweetened chocolate, such as chocolate cakes or chocolate mousse. Bittersweet chocolate contains between 66% and 99% of cacao mass. It has a rich chocolate flavor and is the best chocolate for most desserts including truffles, cookies, ganache, or frosting. Semisweet chocolate falls between 35% and 65% of cacao mass. It’s sweeter and lighter in color than bittersweet chocolate and is used for chocolate pudding, hot chocolate, or just eating.
  • Milk chocolate: as the name implies, milk chocolate contains not only a minimum of 10% of cacao mass and sugar/sweetener but also milk (a minimum of 4% milk fats and 12% milk solids), which increase the fat content while decreasing the cacao content. Milk chocolate is sweeter, softer in texture, and melts more easily than darker chocolates because of the added dairy. Milk chocolate is the most popular chocolate for eating. It can be used in baking as well, but its sweetness can sometimes overpower an already sweet dessert.
  • White chocolate: white chocolate isn’t technically chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cacao solids (actual cacao powder). It’s effectively pure cacao butter – a minimum of 20% – sugar/sweetener, and a minimum of 14% milk, cream, or milk solids. This makes it very sweet and creamy but also devoid of all the fruity and bitter complexity of regular chocolate.

types of chocolate - dark, milk, white

How to Temper Chocolate

Tempering chocolate involves three steps:

  1. Heating chocolate to melt all six forms of crystals.
  2. Cooling the chocolate down to promote a rapid formation of both Type V crystals.
  3. Heating the chocolate just enough to eliminate Type I – Type IV crystals, leaving only Type V crystals.

While it is theoretically possible to temper chocolate by heating it first and then cooling and holding it at the final temper temperature, the crystals take a long time to form. Lowering the temperature a bit more helps to promote the rapid formation of both Type V and Type IV crystals. Then raising the temperature melts the unwanted Type IV crystals while the Type V crystals remain intact.

Chocolate Tempering Temperatures

Type of Chocolate Melting Temperature Cooling Temperature Reheating Temperature 
Dark 115-118.4°F/46-48°C 81°F/27°C 88-89.6°F/31-32°C
Milk 109.4-113°F/43-45°C 81°F/27°C 86°F/30°C
White 105.8-109.4°F/41-43°C 78.8°F/26°C 84.2°F/29°C

Tempering Methods

There are several ways to temper chocolate. However, there is only one basic principle all methods build upon – heating, cooling, and reheating chocolate to precisely defined temperatures.

Note: all the tempering temperatures listed below are for dark chocolate.

Marble Slab Method

Marble slab chocolate tempering is one of the oldest and most impressive ways to temper chocolate. It isn’t just beautiful to watch, but it allows chocolatiers to really connect with their work whilst having a hands-on and truly artisan chocolate experience. This method is also very popular among chocolatiers because it allows them to temper big batches of chocolate. They can melt a lot of chocolate at once, use a large marble surface to cool it down, and then transfer the tempered chocolate to a special machine that keeps it at the perfect temperature to be used as needed.

While great for professionals, the marble slab method is difficult to master. It’s also quite impractical for home cooks because it requires a very large (expensive!) marble slab to maneuver the chocolate properly.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Melt the chocolate. Using either a double-broiler or the microwave, slowly melt the chopped-up chocolate to 115°F/46°C, stirring constantly.
  2. Pour three-quarters of the melted chocolate onto a cool, marble slab, leaving the rest of the chocolate in the bowl. Using a scraper and a palette knife, agitate the chocolate, moving it back and forth until it cools down to 81°F/27°C.
  3. Add the warm chocolate to the cool chocolate. Gradually ladle the warm chocolate that stayed in the bowl into the chocolate that is being tempered on the slab. Continue to agitate the chocolate until the temperature reads 88°F/31˚C. If the chocolate is hotter than 89.6˚F/32˚C, you will need to repeat the process again. If the chocolate is cooler, use a double broiler or the microwave to heat it up to exactly 88°F/31˚C.
  4. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If the chocolate is correctly tempered, it will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment paper easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process. 

tempering chocolate - the marble slab method

Seeding Method

Tempering chocolate with the seeding method is a great option for having a hands-on experience without the need for a large marble slab. It’s also great for home cooks because it doesn’t require any special equipment and is relatively easy to master. 

Seeding essentially means adding pieces of unmelted tempered chocolate into the melted one to bring the temperature back down and “seed” the formation of new chocolate fat crystals. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Melt three-quarters of the chocolate. Using either a double-broiler or the microwave, slowly melt three-quarters of the chopped-up chocolate to 115°F/46°C, stirring constantly. Reserve the rest of the chocolate for later.
  2. Add the unmelted chocolate to the warm chocolate. Slowly stir the unmelted chocolate into the melted chocolate until it melts and the chocolate reaches 81°F/27°C.
  3. Reheat the chocolate. Using a double broiler or the microwave, reheat the chocolate to exactly 88°F/31˚C.
  4. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If the chocolate is correctly tempered, it will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment paper easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process. 

tempering chocolate - the seeding method

Beta Crystals Method

One of the easiest ways to temper chocolate is to use already tempered cacao butter in the form of beta crystals. This method is pretty much foolproof because the beta crystals encourage the formation of Type V (beta) crystals in the melted chocolate. This is essentially a variation of the seeding method except the “seed” is not tempered chocolate but Type V cacao butter crystals.

Just like the seeding method, the beta crystals method doesn’t require any special equipment and is easy to master. The only disadvantage is that beta crystals are quite pricy and can be difficult to find.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Melt the chocolate. Using either a double-broiler or the microwave, slowly melt the chopped-up chocolate to 115°F/46°C, stirring constantly.
  2. Add the cacao butter (beta) crystals to the warm chocolate. Slowly stir 1% of cacao butter beta crystals into the melted chocolate until all the cacao butter melts. The chocolate doesn’t need to be reheated because the beta crystals will encourage the formation of the correct crystals.
  3. Reheat the chocolate. Using a double broiler or the microwave, reheat the chocolate to exactly 88°F/31˚C.
  4. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If the chocolate is correctly tempered, it will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment paper easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process. 

tempering chocolate with cacao butter beta crystals

Food Processor/Blender + Hair Dryer Method

The idea behind this method is that the friction of the food processor blades naturally raises the chocolate temperature, all while agitating it extremely efficiently. However, it takes a really long time to melt chocolate in the food processor, even with the help of a hot hair dryer. Another issue is that when using only a small amount of chocolate, the chocolate forms a ball that sticks to the side of the processor, making it very cumbersome to work with. Lastly, food processors vary in speed and heat, which makes this method even less reliable.

Here are a few tips to make this method a little better:

  1. Melt the chocolate. Add the chocolate into a food processor and process it until it resembles fine crumbs. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. As soon as the chocolate starts to clump together into a ball, start applying heat with a blow dryer. Blow the air directly into the feed tube of the food processor, continuing to scrape down the sides as necessary and checking the temperature. Once the chocolate hits 88°F/31˚C, it’s in temper.
  2. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If it’s correctly tempered, the chocolate will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom, release from the parchment easily, and snap when broken. If it doesn’t, proceed with the steps below.
  3. Heat the chocolate. Using the food processor and the hair dryer, continue heating the chocolate until it hits 115°F/46°C.
  4. Add more (unmelted) chocolate to the warm chocolate. Add some chopped chocolate to the food processor and incorporate it by pulsing. You can also use the cool seeing on the hair dryer to speed up the cooling process. The chocolate should reach 81°F/27°C.
  5. Reheat the chocolate. Using the food processor and a hair dryer once again, reheat the chocolate to exactly 88°F/31˚C.
  6. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If the chocolate is correctly tempered, it will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment paper easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process. 

tempering chocolate - the food processor method

Sous Vide Method

The magic of sous vide cooking is that it is designed for precise temperature control and chocolate requires precise temperature control. In other words, the sous vide method is the most foolproof way to temper chocolate. Another advantage of the sous vide circulator method is that tempering can be done even with the smallest amount of chocolate. Oh and even better – there is virtually no clean-up. Of course, the biggest disadvantage is that this method requires sous vide machine.

Here are the instructions:

  1. Set up the sous vide circulator. Set the sous vide circulator for a 115°F/46°C water bath.
  2. Seal the chocolate. Put any amount of chocolate in a tightly sealed plastic bag, ideally a vacuum-sealed bag.
  3. Temper the chocolate. Add the sealed bag with chocolate to the water bath. When the chocolate is melted, turn the temperature down to 81°F/27°C and add ice to the water bath to drop the temperature. Then bring the temperature back up to 88°F/31°C and let the chocolate heat up, lifting the bag out of the water once every minute and squeezing it around to agitate it as it warms up. Hold the chocolate at 88°F/31°C for a few minutes to give the right crystals time to form. 

tempering chocolate - the sous vide method

Tempering Machine Method

This is, of course, the easiest method and most practical for larger-scale chocolate production. If you’re making a lot of chocolate, a tempering machine is worth the investment. However, it’s a lot more expensive than a thermometer or sous vide machine, so it’s not practical for every budget.

Tempering chocolate with a tempering machine is quite self-explanatory and doesn’t require as much work as the other options. The exact method will depend on the specific machine, so make sure to check the instructions.

chocolate tempering machine

Incomplete Melting Method

This is a bit of a cheat method as the point is to keep the chocolate in its temper. Most chocolate bars in the stores are already tempered, so as long as the crystals inside the cacao butter remain intact (aka the chocolate stays in temper), there is no need to temper the chocolate again. However, this method is not very reliable because a double broiler can easily overheat the chocolate and microwaves can create hot spots in the chocolate, requiring a lot of trial and error to get the timing down perfectly.

If you’d like to give this method a try anyway, here’s how to do it:

  1. Melt the chocolate gradually. Using either a double-broiler or the microwave, slowly melt the chopped-up chocolate, making sure not to exceed 89.6°F/32°C. Once the chocolate is all melted, it’s ready to use. If the chocolate exceeds 89.6°F/32°C, it will need to be tempered.
  2. Test the temper. Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If the chocolate is correctly tempered, it will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment paper easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process. 

Tempering Chocolate Troubleshooting

Working with chocolate can be incredibly frustrating. It’s been said that chocolate sometimes has its own personality. It’s extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity/moisture, attitude, agitation, the overall percentage of cacao butter to other ingredients, etc.

With that said, there are some common issues that may arise when tempering chocolate:

Seized Chocolate

When chocolate melts, it should be fluid, smooth, and shiny. There are instances, however, where that smooth creamy chocolate becomes dry and clumpy. One case is when chocolate comes into contact with even a small amount of water – it will stop flowing and will turn into a dull grainy paste. Similarly, if chocolate is overheated, it will become thick and lumpy.

Seizing essentially describes the near instantaneous transformation of chocolate from a fluid state to a stiff, grainy one. 

Why Chocolate Seizes

The process of refining cocoa beans into chocolate gets rid of all the moisture. The final product is a mixture of dry ingredients (cacao solids, sugar, and possibly milk powder) suspended in cacao butter. Technically, even melted chocolate can be considered a ‘dry’ ingredient despite its liquid state.

There are two conditions that bring about chocolate seize:

  • Water: when chocolate is melted, all its ingredients are evenly dispersed, creating a smooth fluid consistency. However, when the melted chocolate comes into contact with water, the sugar in the chocolate grabs hold of the water and creates a syrup. The syrup is quite sticky and acts like glue on the cacao solids, causing them to clump together and quickly forming a gritty, rough paste. 
  • Heat: chocolate is very sensitive to high temperatures. Overheating separates the cacao solids and other dry ingredients from the cacao butter. If chocolate is heated above 130°F/54.4°C – which is quite easy to do if using direct heat, double boiler with boiling water, or microwave on full power – the dry ingredients burn. The result is a dry, thick, discolored paste.

How to Prevent Chocolate from Seizing

The most important thing to do to prevent chocolate from seizing is to eliminate any chance of the chocolate coming into contact with water:

  • Use double broiler properly: when using a double broiler, keep the water hot, but not boiling. Boiling water can easily splash above the rim of the saucepan and cause droplets to fall into the chocolate. Boiling water also gives off a great deal of steam, and steam can also cause chocolate to seize. 
  • Avoid wooden tools: all wooden tools, such as wooden spoons, wooden bowls, cutting boards, etc. retain moisture, which can get into the chocolate. Therefore, many confectioners and chocolatiers prefer rubber or silicone utensils, metal bowls, and marble surfaces.
  • Never cover warm chocolate: warm chocolate gives off heat. When warm chocolate is covered, it might form condensation on the inside of the bowl or the lid. 

Overheating chocolate is quite easy to prevent:

  • Keep the temperature low: when heating chocolate, it’s best to use a double broiler with hot (but not boiling) water or microwave on half power. No direct heat! Heating chocolate directly in a saucepan over heat can easily burn chocolate because the surface of the saucepan, even on low, can get above 300°F/148.9°C.
  • Use a thermometer: if I can give you one piece of advice related to tempering chocolate, it would be to always use a thermometer. The entire process of tempering is about very precise temperatures.

How to Recover Seized Chocolate

It may be possible to recover seized chocolate, depending on what caused the chocolate to seize:

  • Water: it may seem counterintuitive, but the way to fix chocolate that has seized is to add more liquid to it (a minimum of 1 Tbsp./15 ml of liquid per ounce of chocolate). Adding the right amount of water (or other liquid) will dissolve the sugar and cacao clumps – the dry particles will get saturated by the moisture and detach from each other, bringing the chocolate back to its fluid form. Simply add hot water to the seized chocolate and stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth. This chocolate is fine to use for a ganache or a sauce, but not for baked goods since the chocolate is diluted. If the chocolate is meant for baked goods, such as cakes or brownies, stir 1 Tbsp./15 ml of solid vegetable shortening for every six ounces of chocolate. Mix gently and evenly until the chocolate has loosened 
  • Heat: the most important thing to do when chocolate overheats is to cool it down as quickly as possible as it’s harder to save chocolate that has been at a high temperature for a long time. To cool the chocolate, remove it from the heat and transfer it to a cool bowl. Then, stir in a handful of solid finely chopped chocolate. Stir constantly and allow the solid chocolate to bring down the temperature of the melted chocolate. If the chocolate remains thick or lumpy, add a few drops of sunflower lecithin (an emulsifier) and blend the chocolate in a high-speed blend to smooth it out. Again, this chocolate is fine to use for a ganache, sauce, or baked good.

As you might suspect, seized chocolate will no longer temper. 

Bloomed Chocolate

Chocolate bloom causes previously pure and shiny chocolate to develop a white/gray coating or streaks on the surface of the chocolate and a less-than-smooth texture. There are two types of chocolate bloom – fat bloom (the more common) and sugar bloom. 

Why Chocolate Blooms

Chocolate bloom occurs when chocolate is not tempered correctly to being with or is tempered correctly but then stored in poor conditions:

  • Fat bloom: this type of chocolate blooming is caused by liquid fat (cacao butter) migrating through the actual chocolate and crystallizing on its surface. Fat bloom can happen when there’s a quick temperature change (e.g. during tempering), or when chocolate is stored in a warm space. When chocolate gets too warm, the cacao butter in the chocolate softens and separates from other ingredients. It rises to the surface and re-solidifies, leaving those white blotches or gray streaks. 
  • Sugar bloom: this type of chocolate blooming is caused by sugar crystals migrating through the actual chocolate and crystallizing on its surface. Sugar bloom typically happens when chocolate is stored in a damp area. Moisture collects on the surface of the chocolate, drawing out the sugar. Once the moisture evaporates, it leaves white or gray sugar crystals on the surface of the chocolate.

How to Prevent Chocolate from Blooming

To prevent chocolate from blooming, keep it in an airtight container (away from moisture) at about 68°F/20°C (away from heat). 

When chocolate is kept at a consistent temperature below 70°F/21.1°C (ideally between 65-68°F/18.3-20°C), and at a humidity of less than 55%, the emulsion of cacao solids and cacao butter will stay stable for months. 

How to Recover Bloomed Chocolate

While bloomed chocolate is perfectly safe to eat and use in recipes, blooming does affect the color and sometimes texture of the chocolate.

Chocolate bloom can be reversed by melting the chocolate down and re-tempering it. 

Tips for Tempering Chocolate

  1. Control your work room air temperature and humidity. The ideal kitchen or production space temperature for working with chocolate is 65-68°F/18.3-20°C and less than 55% humidity.
  2. Calibrate your thermometer. Tempering chocolate is all about minuscule temperature changes from one degree to the next. If your equipment is not functioning correctly, tempering chocolate will be nearly impossible (and frustrating!). This means no candy thermometer. It’s just not accurate enough. An infrared thermometer isn’t ideal either because it only reads the surface (not the inside) temperature of the chocolate. An instant-read probe thermometer is best for tempering chocolate.
  3. Make sure all your equipment is dry. Chocolate doesn’t like water. Chopping chocolate with a wet knife or using a damp bowl for tempering will seize the chocolate into a thick, grainy paste. 
  4. Agitate the chocolate constantly during tempering. If you leave chocolate in the slab or in the bowl without stirring, you run the risk of the part of the mass that is up against the cool marble slab solidifying. Or the chocolate up against the hot bottom of the bowl falling out of temper because it gets too hot. Agitating is also needed to ensure the cocoa butter crystals are well distributed within the melted chocolate.
  5. Be careful about introducing air bubbles. Stir or agitate carefully with a pull or push, not a whipping motion. Slowly agitating the chocolate will prevent air bubbles from forming. These bubbles can be a big problem when making molded or enrobed chocolates.
  6. Do a temper test. If the chocolate is tempered correctly, it will set and solidify in a few minutes. It won’t snap until the chocolate has fully set and crystalized hours later. If your chocolate doesn’t snap during a tester, it’s not an indication that it isn’t tempered. If your chocolate sets quickly, i.e., is not liquid, then you’re good to go!
  7. Keep the chocolate in temper. Tempered chocolate begins to solidify relatively quickly as it cools, so it’s important to maintain its temperature in the time between tempering and using the chocolate. To combat this, use a hair dryer to slightly warm the chocolate as needed. Be careful not to throw the chocolate out of temper. If the temperature gets too high or low, it will lose its tempered properties and will need to be tempered again.
  8. Set leftover tempered chocolate in thin slabs. After tempering chocolate you will usually have some leftover chocolate. The best way to reuse it is to pour it onto a piece of parchment paper and allow it to set in a thin slab. Thin slabs are easy to break away and work with later.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does chocolate need to be tempered?

Tempering stabilizes chocolate and gives it a smooth shiny appearance, creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture, and a firm snap. Untempered chocolate is dull, grainy, chalky, and soft.

When do I need to use tempered chocolate?

Tempering chocolate is necessary for molded or enrobed chocolates or chocolate cake decorations. Tempered chocolate is shiny, snappy, and doesn’t melt at room temperature. It also contracts as it cools, which is required for molded chocolates that need to release from professional polycarbonate molds. 

When is tempered chocolate not needed?

Untempered chocolate is fine to use in cakes, cookies, ganache, mousse, ice cream – pretty much anything that just needs the chocolate flavoring.

What’s the best chocolate for tempering?

High-quality real chocolate (made from cacao solids and cacao butter) produced by reputable brands, such as Valrhona, Callebaut, or Guittard, is best. If using blocks or bars, finely chop the chocolate with a serrated knife for even melting. Avoid chocolate chips – they have added ingredients that help them maintain their chip shape when exposed to heat and will not melt down smoothly for tempering.

How can I tell if my chocolate is tempered correctly?

Dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate. If it’s correctly tempered, the chocolate will harden in 3-5 minutes. It will be shiny at the bottom and will release from the parchment easily. If it doesn’t, repeat the tempering process.

Once my chocolate is tempered, how long will it stay in temper?

If you can keep your chocolate at its working temperature, it will stay in temper for many hours. However, over time it will become thicker as the beta crystals continue to multiply. Once your chocolate is in temper you can reheat it to keep it liquid enough for molding. Just make sure you don’t exceed 89.6°F/32°C.

What if my tempered chocolate goes out of temper again?

If tempered chocolate is left at the wrong temperature for too long the cacao butter crystals will destabilize and the chocolate will become untempered. The good news is that chocolate can be re-tempered again and again.

How many times can I temper chocolate?

Chocolate can be re-tempered over and over again.

Why did my chocolate become thick and grainy during melting?

There are two things that could have happened:

First, you might have gotten water in it, causing it to seize. If you add enough liquid to it (water, milk, cream), it will thin back out. You won’t be able to use it for molded chocolates, enrobing, or dipping, but it will be fine for ganache, hot chocolate, etc. 

The second thing that might have happened is that it burned.  Your heat was too high or you didn’t stir it enough while melting it. Unfortunately, there’s really no retrieving burned chocolate.

What are the white streaks on the surface of my chocolate?

Whitish streaks – called bloom – typically appear when chocolate is not tempered correctly or when it is tempered correctly but then stored in poor conditions.

If the streaks appear soon after the chocolate sets, it’s probably caused by the cacao butter not being fully integrated with the cacao solids. If it’s oily to the touch, it’s called fat bloom.

If the chocolate sets fine but is later stored in the fridge or the freezer and then taken out, condensation will appear on the surface of the chocolate. The sugar in the chocolate dissolves in the condensed water and as the water evaporates, the sugar comes out of solution, resulting in crystals on the surface of the chocolate. If it’s crispy to the touch, it’s called sugar bloom.

Why is there a white film on the surface of my chocolate?

This white film is called fat bloom. It’s most common when the chocolate is stored in warm conditions – the cacao butter melts and rises to the surface.

I have followed all the instructions. Why is my chocolate still not tempered?

If you’ve followed the instructions exactly and haven’t had the results you want yet, then there could be an issue with your thermometer. You need a very accurate thermometer when working with chocolate. So calibrate your thermometer before giving up!

 

If you try any of the methods for tempering chocolate, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! I respond to all comments/questions within 24 hours.