Working with chocolate to make those chocolate-glazed cookies, strawberries, or biscotti you see in confectionaries can be a tricky process. The difficult part is getting that glossy, firm look. However, it is totally doable if you get the ingredients and process right.
You can add beta crystals to chocolate to help make it harden during the tempering process, but simply tempering without additions works fine. Heat chocolate to 115°F (46.11°C) then cool it down to 79°F (26.11°C) to temper. Then refrigerate the tempered chocolate, and it’ll harden as it cools.
In this article, I’ll provide an in-depth guide on how to melt or temper chocolate so it can be cooled to give you that glossy, hard finish. I’ve also answered many frequently asked questions about working with chocolate.
Chocolate Tempering Guide
To temper chocolate, it helps to better understand its components and how to heat and cool the chocolate properly.
Chocolate consists of two main components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is the part of the chocolate that begins to melt first when exposed to heat. In tempered chocolate, the crystalline structure of the cocoa solids and cocoa butter are aligned a certain way, giving it that lustrous look.
When you melt chocolate, its crystalline structure comes apart, and as you cool down the mix, the structure starts to reform.
To temper chocolate properly and use it in specific recipes, you’ll need to direct the cooling process and ensure the crystals realign themselves properly.
Preparing the Chocolate
When chocolate is melted, the cocoa butter and cocoa solids separate, and as it cools, these elements try to come together in any possible way. Here’s where the tempering process begins.
You need to agitate the melted chocolate mixture to ensure that the crystals don’t align themselves haphazardly. Agitation involves stirring the liquid mixture repeatedly to prevent the cocoa butter crystals from reforming too quickly.
This constant agitation is necessary because, unlike regular butter, cocoa butter is made up of several different compounds, each of which cool and harden at slightly different temperatures.
Chocolate needs to be heated beyond 100°F (37.78°C) so it melts completely and then periodically agitated while it cools down all the way to 79°F (26.11°C), which is when the crystals settle into the structure you want.
This gradual cooldown with agitation is what makes the crystals recombine evenly, giving you the consistency of smooth, tempered chocolate.
You can use three simple techniques to temper chocolate so it can be used in home recipes. Here are the three ideal methods for anyone looking to harden chocolate at home:
1. Seeding Method
Seeding is the most common method used to temper chocolate at home and perhaps the lengthiest of the three processes mentioned here.
Here are the steps:
- Melt down the chocolate using the double boiling method- To double boil, you’ll need to boil water in a bowl and place another bowl with chocolate into the boiling water. This method will ensure that the chocolate heats up gradually and evenly and prevents overheating.
- Heat the chocolate to at least 115°F (46.11°C) before taking it off the stove to start the tempering process.
- Add some unmelted chocolate as it’ll gradually lower the temperature of the liquid mix and prevent crystals from forming too quickly.
- Agitate the mix or stir it continuously as it cools. You’ll want to have a thermometer at hand to monitor the temperature of the chocolate.
- When the temperature drops to 95°F (35°C), add a few more bits of unmelted tempered chocolate into the mix and continue stirring. The liquid chocolate crystals will attach themselves to the unmelted, tempered crystals, making the whole blend tempered again.
- Cool the chocolate all the way down to 79°F (26.11°C) while occasionally stirring, so the temperature stays consistent throughout the blend.
- Scoop out a tablespoon onto parchment paper and put it in the refrigerator to cool. This will test to see if the chocolate has been properly tempered.
- Once cool, peel the hardened chocolate off. There should be no residue left on the paper or break a piece of the chocolate, it should ‘snap’ off cleanly from the rest of the chocolate, like a wafer or biscuit.
If the chocolate has been tempered properly, you’ll need to heat it back up to roughly 85°F (29.44°C) before using it in a recipe.
When poured over cookies or biscotti and cooled, this liquid chocolate will give you the glossy, hardened look you’re going for.
2. Beta Crystals
Beta crystals are freeze-dried, tempered cocoa butter crystals that can be used to initiate the tempering process in melted chocolate. The process is similar to the seeding method in many aspects.
You can find beta crystals at specialty stores or even Amazon. Here is the brand that I recommend. They are sourced from the cacao bean variation Criollo, a nutrient-dense superfood considered the most superior of all cacao beans.
Here are the steps on how to go about hardening your chocolate with beta crystals:
- Heat your chocolate to 115°F (46.11°C).
- Take it off the boil and agitate the mix continuously while cooling to 95°F (35°C).
- Once at 95°F (35°C), add a few scoops of beta crystals.
- Continue stirring the blend until it cools down to 79°F (26.11°C).
- Verify your chocolate is tempered and heat it back up to around 85°F (29.44°C) so you can work with it.
Using beta crystals is a surefire way to temper chocolate as the crystals melt into the mix, helping the chocolate quickly build the crystalline structure you’re going for.
3. Microwave Method
The microwave method differs slightly from the other methods mentioned in this article. While it is straightforward in practice, the use of a microwave changes how the chocolate is tempered.
Here are the steps using the microwave method:
- Chop up your chocolate into tiny pieces. You could grate it if it’s an especially thick bar of chocolate. The tiny pieces will help speed up the melting process, allowing the chocolate to melt quickly and evenly, so you obtain a uniform thickness in your tempered chocolate.
- Place chocolate pieces in a silicon or plastic microwavable bowl. These don’t trap heat, reducing the likelihood of overheating and ruining the chocolate.
- Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds at 90°F (32.22°C). You can go up to 95°F (35°C), but you run the risk of overheating the chocolate, so 90°F (32.22°C) is a safe number to work with.
- Allow the mix to heat for 30 seconds.
- Stir and place back in the microwave for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat as needed. You can gradually reduce the time to 15 or even 10 seconds if you find that the chocolate is melting too quickly.
- When most of the chocolate is melted, stop using the microwave and stir the mix. Stir until all of the chocolate has completely melted and cooled to 79°F (26.11°C).
You can check whether the chocolate is tempered by using the method mentioned earlier. You can now refrigerate the chocolate, so it hardens evenly.
Note: This method works best for smaller molds, like candies or cupcakes, as you can’t heat too much chocolate evenly in the microwave.
What Is the Easiest Way To Temper Chocolate at Home?
The microwave method is the easiest way to temper chocolate at home for small batches of chocolate. If you are tempering a larger batch of chocolate, beta crystals will ensure that your chocolate crystallizes properly as it tempers and are recommended for home chocolatiers.
What Is the Difference Between Tempered and Untempered Chocolate?
Now that you’ve seen the different hardening methods, you should be able to tell whether chocolate is tempered or not.
The difference between tempered and untempered chocolate is its appearance and consistency. Tempered chocolate has a more glossy look and snaps like a wafer when broken off. Untempered chocolate has a duller appearance, it doesn’t harden the same way, and has a soft, mushy feel when you take a bite.
How Long Does Melted Chocolate Take To Harden?
The time taken for melted chocolate to harden will vary slightly depending on the size of the mold. Usually, tempered chocolate takes between 10 and 20 minutes to harden when refrigerated.
Best Chocolate for Tempering
‘Real’ chocolate is the kind of chocolate popularly used for tempering. There are two main types of chocolate: compound chocolate and real chocolate.
Compound chocolate is the more commercial variety of chocolate and contains various ingredients that hinder the tempering process. These ingredients include hydrogenated vegetable oils, milk solids, whey powder, and other elements apart from cocoa butter.
It easily melts when heated and quickly hardens when cooled. However, you can’t use compound chocolate in most recipes as it doesn’t easily take the shape of a specific mold.
Real chocolate contains cocoa butter, an ingredient that’s essential for the tempering process. The presence of cocoa butter allows the chocolate to melt correctly and take the shape of any mold it is poured into.
What Is the Easiest Chocolate To Temper?
Couverture is the easiest chocolate to temper. This special blend of chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa butter, which makes it melt faster, and produces a free-flowing, rich chocolate glaze that will harden to a smooth, shiny surface.
Can You Temper Chocolate Without a Thermometer?
Most tempering methods mandate the use of a thermometer so you can carry out the process strictly according to precise temperatures.
It’s possible to temper chocolate without using a thermometer by periodically noticing the consistency of the chocolate and making adjustments along the way. You can also drop some chocolate onto the inside of your wrist or under your lower lip.
These areas are sensitive to heat and give you a rough estimate of the temperature during the process.
How Do You Fix Chocolate That Won’t Harden?
Sometimes, due to uneven temperatures or shortage of seed chocolate, the chocolate may be poorly tempered and may not harden the way you want it to.
To fix chocolate that won’t harden, repeat the tempering process using extra chocolate when cooling the liquid mix. One common reason hardening doesn’t occur is a lack of ample seed chocolate. This extra dose of chocolate will ensure crystals form in alignment and it evenly cools as it hardens.
Why Is My Melted Chocolate Not Hardening?
If your melted chocolate is not hardening, it could be due to not enough seed chocolate being added during the tempering process. If the temperature was not properly managed through the melting and tempering process, your chocolate will not harden properly as it cools.
How Do You Firm Up Melted Chocolate?
The quickest and most straightforward way to firm up melted chocolate is to place it in the refrigerator after it has been dissolved. Do not try to speed the process by using cold milk, as the chocolate will seize (separate) into a lumpy mess.
Should I Add Oil to Melted Chocolate?
You may add vegetable oil to your chocolate as it prevents the chocolate from drying out. However, it’s best to avoid the oil altogether as it can hinder the tempering process, causing the chocolate to get too soft when it cools.
Will Chocolate Harden With Milk in It?
Chocolate will harden even if it has milk in it. But as mentioned earlier, this type of chocolate can’t be used in various molds as the hardening process will leave you with much softer chocolate.
What Kind of Chocolate Is Good for Melting and Dipping?
Real chocolate, or chocolate with cocoa butter in it, is the best chocolate for melting and dipping. Look for chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter for fondues or dips. Couverture is a superb melting and dipping chocolate, but it is very expensive.
Hardening chocolate is a straightforward yet nuanced process that requires a fair bit of practice to get right. But repeatedly going through the process will give you an idea of how to temper chocolate evenly so you can use it to recreate your favorite goodies.
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For more, don’t miss Convert Dark Chocolate to Milk Chocolate the Easy Way.
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