Melting and Tempering Chocolate – What’s the Difference?
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 chocolate candies and sweet treats. Rows and rows of shiny chocolate in various shapes and sizes beg you to take a bite (and take even more pieces with you to enjoy later). Once you get your goodies home, you may start to think about attempting to make your own. Valentine's Day can bring out the gourmet chocolate candy and dessert maker in any of us. With a good recipe and some pro-knowledge about melting and tempering chocolate, you can make chocolate treats that would fool even a chocolate connoisseur into thinking they were bought at 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. 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 is great for making brownies or certain chocolate cakes and chocolate sauces. Tempering is recommended for creating a crisp, shiny chocolate coating for truffles or when making chocolate decorations for a cake."
Melting Chocolate Heat chocolate to 115 degrees F (between 40-45 degrees 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 tsp. 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 heating the chocolate very slowly to 115 degrees F (between 40-45 degrees C) in a double boiler or melting pan. Chef Eddy recommends using Lindt, Callebaut or Cacao Barry brands of chocolate. “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 will not melt even when recommendations are strictly followed. Chocolate chips created for chocolate chip cookies will work for making cookies, brownies or cakes, but will not work for tempering when making truffles or dipping fruit or cookies.” After your chocolate is melted, pour 3/4 of it onto a granite or marble working surface (these naturally stay cold) and keep the chocolate continually moving by stirring with a spatula to cool it evenly. When chocolate thickens (4-5 degrees lower), crystallization starts to take place. You want peaks to form when it falls from your spatula. When that happens, scrape the crystallized chocolate back into the original 1/4 melted chocolate and stir until thoroughly combined.
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.
Check out our video on tempering chocolate.