A Guide to Tempering Chocolate

What exactly is tempering chocolate & how to do it.

Slab tempering chocolate

It means specially treating melted chocolate so that it dries to a hard, shiny finish – so you get chocolate that doesn't melt at room temperature, breaks with a nice snap instead of crumbling apart, and is perfect for coating things.

The first time I tried coating a dessert with chocolate, I coated strawberries. I just melted chocolate, dipped the strawberries in, and let it set. The chocolate stayed soft, and were a sticky and mess.

You could still eat them with a cocktail stick but that kind of covering doesn’t work for truffles. You need a crisp hard coating for truffles, because you'll be picking them up with your fingers when you eat them. Plus a nice shiny praline looks beautiful!

Tempering chocolate isn't hard to do, but it is a temperature dependent  procedure. And underneath it all there are some complex but cool scientific processes at work. First, what happens to the chocolate when you melt and temper it and then what you need to temper chocolate and how to do it using the four most common methods.

Tempering Chocolate

What we all love about chocolate is the smooth texture and rich taste which are hard to resist. But it's so easy to get chocolate today that we tend to take for granted what goes into getting that texture: tempering chocolate.

Chocolate has a special structure, and to get the nice hard chocolate we love, you have to handle it very precisely.

6 Different Kinds of Crystals

Chocolate is actually made up of a six state polymorphic crystals the size of these crystals are what give the chocolate its texture!

  • Big crystals give a soft, crumbly chocolate that melts really easily.
  • Medium crystals also give a sticky chocolate, but it's a bit firmer.
  • Small crystals are the perfect size. They give you hard, shiny chocolate that shouldn't melt until you're eating it, and that breaks into pieces with a satisfying snap and shrinks slightly when fully cooled so it releases from the mould cleanly.

Most of the chocolate we buy is tempered, nice and hard with the right crystal structure. But if you want to use that chocolate to coat something else, you will have to remelt it. And that can destroy all the crystals, and you will have to create new ones.

Forming Chocolate Crystals

Melt the chocolate to 45°C once the chocolate is melted, you need to recreate the correct crystal structure. The way to do this is by stirring the melted chocolate. The agitation causes little crystal seeds to form, and those seeds grow into the actual crystals. And here's the key – the size of the crystals is determined by the temperature of the chocolate when the seeds form.

  1. Melt the chocolate and get it hot enough to melt all the crystals in it. It'll need to reach 45°C.
  2. Cool the chocolate to around 28°C. Stir it and agitate it to help the right crystal seeds to form. This will make sure you only get small sized crystals.
  3. Heat the chocolate back up to about 31.5°C. It'll get rid of any bigger crystals that might have formed. It'll also make the chocolate a bit easier to work with, especially if you're using it to coat something.
  4. Now, maintain that temperature while you're using the chocolate. If you let it heat up too much, you'll melt the crystals and have to start over again, but if you let it cool too much it'll get too hard to work with.

It might all seem a little complicated to worry about crystals and crystal seeds – but knowing why you need to heat and cool and heat again really helps the process of tempering chocolate make so much more sense. For me, knowing about all this made me feel a lot more confident about doing it!

And remember, none of this is hard to do. It's simply melting chocolate and keeping an eye on the thermometer. But knowing why you're doing it makes it much easier to understand what happened if something goes wrong.

What You Need

One of the nice things about tempering chocolate is that you don't have to buy a lot of specialist equipment to do it.

  • Double-Boiler (indirect heat)
    If you don't have a double-boiler, you can use a stainless steel bowl over a pan of water. The bowl should completely cover the pan, to keep the heat in and prevent any moisture from getting into the chocolate. Moisture could make your chocolate seize up and then it wouldn't be any good for tempering.
  • Rubber Spatula
    A rubber spatula is the best option for mixing the chocolate because you can make sure it's perfectly dry before putting it in the chocolate, and it lets you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure nothing is scorching and everything is heated evenly.
  • Thermometer
    It's important to keep track of the temperature when you're tempering chocolate. It's a very precise process, and it's not easy telling the different between 28°C and 31.5°C without a good thermometer. And if you don't get it just right, it can completely ruin the temper. The best option is a good, accurate digital thermometer.
  • Off set Pallet knife
  • Chocolate scraper
  • Chocolate. You need a good quality chocolate to melt.
    Chocolate chips are your best options. because they are small and uniformly sized, and they melt quickly and evenly.
    If you have bigger chunks of chocolate, chop them up into small chips. Tempering chocolate is easier the more chocolate you have to work with. It helps the temperature stay more stable and gives you a little more margin for error.

Method 1: Top Table Method

Take some melted chocolate – nice and shiny and glossy which is a very good visual indicator that the chocolate is fully melted.

Now, the first thing we need to do is stir the melted chocolate to ensure that it is completely mixed. Now give it a very good stir, this is really important.

The first thing after stirring the chocolate is to pour as about 2/3rd of it onto the surface (Marble slab). You will see that there are different colours in the chocolate. This is because as it cools in becomes darker. You will notice that the chocolate is still very fluid and runny.

Movement is important to crystalise the chocolate – so don’t be afraid to take it right from the edges of the liquid chocolate, from the centre and just keep turning and folding the chocolate into itself.

An important thing is that you use your pallet knife to constantly clean the scraper because it gets a build-up of crystallised chocolate…it also doesn’t clear the surface properly which means if you’re not careful you will end up with lumps in your tempered chocolate!

You can see that after a while the chocolate starts to become thicker…this is a clue that the chocolate is starting to develop and crystalise.

You will also notice that there is a little more resistance when you fold the chocolate together and it is also sticking to the scraper. Once the chocolate has started to crystalise, it’s the right time to put it back in the holding tank.

When putting the chocolate back into the holding tank, try and do this as quickly as possible to avoid the chocolate over crystallising and going hard.

Clean the tools by scraping them well. Try to avoid using water at this moment since if any water gets into the chocolate it will seize and thicken very quickly and we don’t want this. Just scrape the table well and add the thickened or crystallised chocolate back into the main liquid chocolate.

When all the chocolate is back into the holding tank stir it well. Stirring is important to ensure that everything is mixed well and that the crystallised chocolate is mixed with the very small quantity of melted chocolate that has not been crystallised. If you don’t mix well, you will end up with lines and stripes when you use the tempered chocolate.

The chocolate should be quick thick, but not too thick.

One way to simply test if the chocolate has been correctly tempered is to spread a thin layer of chocolate on the tip of a pallet knife and let it cool. If it sets within a couple of minutes and is shiny, hard and smooth then it has been properly tempered. If not it’s time to start again!

Method 2: Seed Chocolate (Bain Marie)

This method is definitely the easiest of the four because, it doesn't need any special equipment.

the key is to form little crystal seeds so that they can grow into the perfect chocolate crystals. But the chocolate we buy is already tempered and full of the right crystals and seeds. So we're going to use that to our advantage.

Here's how:

Take the chocolate and chop it up into small, chocolate chips. Set about one third of the chocolate aside.

Bring a pan of water to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Put two thirds of the chocolate in the bowl of the double boiler on top of the pan.

Make sure that the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water it will seize burn and go grainy and waxy. Melting chocolate needs indirect heat.

Make sure that the bowl completely covers the pan. You don't want steam escaping, because any moisture can make your chocolate seize. Stir the chocolate occasionally until it's melted and smooth, and reaches 45°C. Remove it from the heat.

This allows all the chocolate crystals to melt away, stir in the remaining one third of chopped chocolate, and keep stirring until the chocolate temperature reaches 28°C.

The remaining one third of chocolate will cool down the mixture, and so its crystal won't melt like the others. That'll provide you with lots of small crystals and crystals seeds.

Over the double-boiler, heat the chocolate back up 31.5C°C for dark. This will make the chocolate easier to work with, and it'll get rid of any of the bigger crystals that might have formed.

Maintain this temperature while you're using the chocolate. You can put it back on the double boiler if it starts to cool down too much.

Method 3: Microwave Method

Another way of tempering chocolate without needing to work the chocolate on a work surface is to temper the chocolate using a microwave. However this method will require an accurate temperature reading of the chocolate at different points in time. The process is, quick and easy and effective.

You’ll need:

  • 1 chocolate thermometer
  • Microwaveable bowl
  • Microwaveable oven
  • Spatula

Here's how:

Cut the chocolate into small pieces – the smaller the better.

Place about 2/3 of the chocolate into a microwaveable dish and microwave on a medium setting for about 20-30 seconds remove then stir, repeat for ten seconds then 5 seconds until the chocolate has melted. This will be around 45°C. Add the remaining chocolate pieces and still in well. These will melt and reduce the temperature of the total chocolate mix. Let the mix stand for a few minutes until the temperature has dropped to around 28°C.

When the added chocolate has melted and the mixture is nice and smooth, using a heat gun, carefully warm the chocolate back up to around 30°C for Milk or White Chocolate or 31.5°C for Dark chocolate, always ensuring that the chocolate doesn’t burn.

Alternatively, you can also microwave the total chocolate mix once more for around 5 seconds and then stir thoroughly. The melted chocolate should be at around 30°C for Milk or White Chocolate or 31.5°C for Dark chocolate.

Method 4: Using Cocoa Butter

The cocoa butter method. Using cocoa butter to temper or pre-crystallize chocolate couverture is fast, hygienic and provides a finished result with high fluidity. Three factors which are very important.

Several types of cocoa butter products are on the market specifically made to be used for pre-crystallizing chocolate couverture. Since I had a hard time with these products clumping and not properly melting into the couverture, I decided years ago, to use and test standard cocoa butter for the tempering process. And my results are the exact same as using a specific cocoa butter product engineered for pre-crystallizing or tempering chocolate couverture. Using a micro plane and cocoa butter is all I use for quick, reliable tempering of chocolate. The cocoa butter I use is made by Callebaut called Mycro.

What I like about the cocoa butter method the most:

  1. Even though 1% of cocoa butter will properly pre- crystallize the couverture, adding more will not have any negative effects on the finished products. In fact, adding a little more will allow you to use the tempered chocolate at a higher temperature.
  2. The chocolate couverture will be more fluid if compared to any other method of tempering.
  3. Unless if using a tempering machine, it is the fastest method.

Tempering or pre-crystallizing chocolate couverture using cocoa butter.

You will need 1 % of cocoa butter to pre-crystallize or temper the chocolate couverture. For example to every 1 kg of chocolate couverture you will add 1 % 10 grams cocoa butter.

  1. Melt the chocolate to 45°C over a very low simmering water bath (Bain Marie) or overnight in a chocolate melter. Let the chocolate cool to 35°C for dark chocolate and 31.5°C for milk and white chocolate.
  2. Immediately add 1 % micro planed cocoa butter. Stir to dissolve the cocoa butter and homogenize the mass.
  3. Let the chocolate cool to 31.5°C for dark chocolate. For white and milk chocolate allow the chocolate to cool to 29.5°C

Polymorphs In Cocoa Butter

David Greenwood-Haigh
David Greenwood-Haigh

Multi award-winning chocolatier with over forty years experience.fellow of the institute of hospitality, MasterChef member Craft Guild of Chefs Judges International chocolate awards, Academy of chocolate awards & Great taste awards

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A Guide to Tempering Chocolate