Melting chocolate sounds like the easiest thing in the world to do. After all, when it’s hot in the room, chocolate just melts. Hold it in your hand and it melts. Even when you don’t want it to happen, chocolate melts. But when you’re deliberately melting chocolate so that you can dip strawberries into it or use it to coat frozen balls of ice cream, suddenly it’s not so simple.
There is actually a proper way to melt chocolate – or temper it, as it’s known in the culinary world. When things go wrong, that smooth, glossy chocolate can seize and turn into a dull, grainy mess right before your eyes. The good news is that there are ways to fix it so you can get back to making those decadent chocolate desserts. Here is how to temper chocolate and tips on how to fix it when it goes wrong.
1. What is Tempering
Tempering is the fancy-schmancy culinary term for melting chocolate and then letting it cool so it sets into a smooth and glossy coating of chocolate goodness. It’s what needs to be done to make bon bons, chocolate-coated fruit and nuts, and candy. Tempering can be done on the stove top, with a double-boiler or in the microwave. There is also a method that involves using a food processor which is described in detail in the recipe for this Chocolate Caramel Pecan Toffee.
A double-boiler is a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. The bowl should not touch the water in the pan. Add the chocolate and some type of fat such as vegan butter into the bowl. Stir while the chocolate melts. If you have a cooking thermometer, you want it to reach about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The chocolate should be smooth, thick, and glossy.
On the Stovetop
Though it’s not a method encouraged by actual chefs, I have melted my chocolate directly in a saucepan on the stove. You have to be careful the chocolate doesn’t overheat or it will seize. I put the pan with the chocolate and a tablespoon of vegan butter already in it on the stovetop and turn it to low heat. Then I stir until the chocolate is melted. It works if you’re careful and too lazy to set up the double-boiler (which I am).
In the Microwave
The microwave can also be used to temper chocolate. Put the chocolate and the vegan butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it on low power for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir. Keep microwaving the chocolate in 30-second intervals, stirring after each round, until the chocolate has melted and is smooth and shiny.
2. Why Chocolate Seizes
To prevent your chocolate from seizing, it helps to understand why it happens. There are a couple of reasons. First, chocolate is all about cocoa, sugar, and fat. It hates water. That’s why we don’t drink chocolate water; chocolate wants nothing to do with water. If our chocolate comes into contact with any moisture during the tempering process, the cocoa will clump and instead of smooth and silky, we’ll have a rough and gritty, grainy mess.
Secondly, chocolate is also temperamental about temperature. If you’re melting chocolate and then add a pad of cold vegan butter from the fridge, your chocolate is going to freak out. Anything added to the chocolate should be at the same temperature as the chocolate itself. It’s this sensitivity to heat that makes melting chocolate directly on the stovetop (as I’m guilty of) risky.
3. How to Prevent Seizing
Now that you know why chocolate seizes, it’s easy to do the right things to try and prevent it. The biggest thing is to prevent any moisture from getting near the chocolate. That might sound easy, but moisture can come in from places you might not expect. Case in point – I used to stir my melting chocolate with a wooden spoon. Wrong! Wooden spoons hold moisture so you should never use one to melt chocolate. Go for rubber or silicone instead and make sure any utensil you use is completely dry.
As mentioned before, if you use a double-boiler, don’t let the bowl touch the simmering water. Also, make sure the bowl is completely dry before adding the chocolate and don’t cover the bowl because condensation can form which is moisture. When your chocolate is melted, turn off the heat first and then remove the bowl. The steam from the pan can add moisture to the chocolate which can lead to seizing. Wipe any moisture from the steam off the bowl regularly to keep it dry.
Opting for the microwave? Put the chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl that is completely dry and microwave on low power. Finally, make sure whatever you are dipping into the chocolate is also dry.
4. How to Fix Seized Chocolate
So something went wrong and all of a sudden, your beautiful, glossy, and shiny chocolate has gotten all scrunched up, gritty, grainy, and dull. Is it ruined? Maybe not. Most of the time, when I have had my chocolate seize, I’ve been able to recover it enough to use it as I intended. If your chocolate seizes, take it off the heat. Add some type of fat or liquid to it. I usually use more vegan butter but oil would work as well. I used this method when making my Chocolate-Covered Matzoh. Other times I have added non-dairy milk to thin it out. Even water, which probably got us into this trouble in the first place, can help. Just keep stirring, adding a little bit of fat or liquid at a time, until the chocolate comes back to shiny and glossy. You may get it back smooth enough to use for dipping or else, use it in another recipe like brownies!
Now that you have a big, beautiful bowl of smooth, silky, shiny tempered chocolate, what will you do with it? I have plenty of suggestions but you knew I would. Start with my Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake Bites. They’re creamy and rich on the inside and sweet and decadent on the outside because they are covered in chocolate. It’s a good thing they’re bite-sized so there’s some portion control.
Fruit and nuts are just begging to be covered in chocolate (or maybe that’s just us begging). Try these Homemade Chocolate-Covered Blueberries that are so healthy between the antioxidants in the blueberries and the good-for-you dark chocolate that you can feel really good about eating the whole batch. These Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate-Covered Strawberries are a trifecta of yumminess while these Mexican-Spiced Chocolate Covered Cashews combine sweet chocolate and salty nuts with a spicy kick from cinnamon and chile powder.
Tempered chocolate can also be used as ganache in recipes like this Orange Cake with Chocolate Ganache, Lemon Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache, Vanilla Madeleines With Chocolate and Pistachio Ganache, Pecan Walnut Ganache Tarts, and this Chocolate Coconut Cake.
Other recipes include these Dark Chocolate Yogurt Cake Bites, Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles, Raw Peppermint Oreos Dipped in Dark Chocolate, and Chocolate-Dipped Maple Meringues. For more chocolate-covered recipes, check out Time to Indulge! Try These 20 Delicious Dairy-Free Chocolate Recipes.
There are so many delicious desserts we can make with melted chocolate that learning how to do it properly should be considered mandatory. Hopefully, with these tips, your chocolate experiences will all be smooth sailing.
Lead image source: Lemon Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache