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Aug 31, 2011 02:08 PM

Chocolate tempering help

Hello all,

I've been having all sorts of trouble learning to temper chocolate this summer, and I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for me.

I first learned in a commercial kitchen, and have since been able to do it once more in that commercial kitchen, but at home, using the same chocolate and the same thermometer, the chocolate never hardens.

I realize that the temperature of my kitchen is probably largely to blame, but I can't help but suspect that pastry chefs in hot, humid restaurant kitchens are able to temper their chocolate flawlessly--what am I doing wrong?

Just to explain: I'm using the "seeding" method. I usually use an ice bath after adding all my "seed" chocolate to get the temperature down to 85 degrees.

I heard that you can use a fondue pot to temper chocolate--has anyone tried this?

Any advice would be appreciated!

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  1. Why do you use an ice bath to cool the chocolate, after seeding? The seeding should bring the temperature down to the right temperature. My initial guess is that the ice bath probably cools the chocolate too quickly and brings it out of temper. This is one of the best explanations of tempering I've found online:

    3 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Your question about the ice bath is my question too. If an ice bath is needed to bring down the temperature, maybe the initial melt is too hot?

      At the course I took, it was emphasized that the stirring of the chocolate is as important as the temperature. As it's cooling you must stir it.

      If my kitchen is hot/humid and I really must temper chocolate, I do some of the cool down in front of the freezer with the door open.

      1. re: Sooeygun

        Thanks for the tips. I think you're right about heating it too high. I'll try keeping it cooler, and use the freezer if necessary.

        The ice bath was a technique I learned in culinary school, but apparently it wasn't the best advice!

        1. re: kwleland

          The ice bath might not be bad advice! Maybe it's important for large batch tempering to cool it more quickly(although, if I were doing that much, I'd be tempted to buy a machine).

    2. If you use chocolate a lot, it might be worth buying a chocolate tempering machine. I know I didn't want anything to do with tempering chocolate on a slab of marble. That looked like a lot more work tan I was willing to put in.

      I eventually bought this one:

      I did catch it on a super sale. I think I paid closer to $350 dollars than the $500+ that Amazon is selling.

      It pretty much takes all the work out of it. In 20 - 30 minutes you have a pound of tempered chocolate.

      1. No doubt you already know more about tempering than I'll EVER know, but I have had a chocolatier tell me that it's much easier to temper large amounts of chocolate than it is the small amounts we ordinary cooks attempt to temper at home. And I believe that because a larger mass will have a more stable temperature that changes more slowly.

        That said, I've tried everything -- including the machine (which does a fine job but is a PITA to drag out and to clean up) -- and what I now do for small quantities is temper in the microwave.

        My own computer with my recipes database is down so I can't copy in the method but, basicially, it's a matter of chopping the chocolate well and putting 2/3 of it in the microwave to melt on half power until it's all melted and registers 100-110 degrees on an *accurate* digital thermometer. If you need to verify the accuracy of what you're using check the temperature of boiling water. If you don't get 212 degrees you know you need to compensate and by how much.

        Stir your melted chocolate and then start stirring in the finely chopped 1/3 you reserved. Stir each addition until completely melted and keep adding until your chocolate mass registers 88-90 degrees for dark chocolate, 85-87 for milk and 86-88 for white chocolate. Continue stirring gently (you don't want to work air in, just distribute the heat evenly) until you have 86-89 degrees for dark chocolate, 84-88 for milk and 84-86 for white. Now it's at its working temp and you can coat or dip.

        I do all this in tall silicone measuring beaks. The second issue with tempering small amounts of chocolate is how much you lose to coating your equipment. The tall narrow beaks mean that I can leave a single stirring spoon in the beaker and the chocolate remains "deep" for as long as possible.

        When I'm done I spread the left over tempered chocolate on a silicone sheet and also lay my tools on it. When it's hardened, I can peel up, scrape off or squeeze to release all the shards of chocolate and put them in a ziplock ready to melt again. As long as my seed chocolate is always in temper -- even if the working chocolate has gotten too cold and lost its -- the seed is the crystal that the melted chocolate will emulate.

        5 Replies
        1. re: rainey

          I had a chocolatier tell me not to attempt to temper anything less than 1 kg of chocolate.

          1. re: souschef

            Probably a sensible suggestion but I'm just Holly Homemaker and that's NOT a choice for me. I need to temper 8 oz to drizzle on cookies that I'm sending through the mail or to dip 1" of candied orange rind at Christmas, etc.

            Whether it's smart or kosher or not, I'm just going to be tempering small amounts. I've done it with a machine and I've done it with pans/bowls/seed chocolate. This microwave method works for me, causes a minimum of mess/waste, and has given me good, stable results.

            1. re: rainey

              Holly (!), the chocolatier also said that I should not hesitate to temper 1 kg as it can be retempered and reused.

              But of course, if you've found a method that works for small quantities, that's great.

              1. re: souschef

                I've always thought chocolate would be a great field to be in because seasonal sales almost guarantee a market and yet all the unsold seasonal stuff can just go back in the melting pot for all the Santas to become Valentine hearts and all the hearts become bunnies. ;>

                1. re: souschef

                  I usually end up doing more than I need because it's easier to do larger batches. And rather than trying to re-temper later, I keep a container (known in our house as the ganache bucket) for all the leftovers and use it whenever making ganache or other recipes that need melted, but not tempered chocolate.

          2. I use a microwave to do it...I wrote a blog post about it on, but here is the post for your reference.


            Why temper chocolate? Because chocolate is a lot like steel. When melted chocolate becomes solid again, it's important that it has the right crystal structure. It's been 25 years since I took metallurgy, and I don't remember much, but one thing I do remember about tempering steel is that the different phases of tempering results in different crystallography, and thus different material properties. Different kinds of steel are used for different things - you might want to use a certain kind of steel to make a car door, a different kind to make an I beam, etc. Steel has all different kinds of properties, and that's a good thing. Same with chocolate.

            When melted chocolate returns to solid form the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure, and the crystal structure it takes on depends on the temperature at which they are formed. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. It won't "set up right", in candy speak. While tempering, the goal is to keep the chocolate above that temperature so that the cocoa butter actually forms a dense crystalline structure. Holding the chocolate at this temperature and stirring will allow a whole bunch of these stable crystal structures to form providing a lot of seed crystals to form in the chocolate. When the chocolate is finally allowed to fully cool, if there are enough stable seed crystals, then the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and hold a nice shape. In candy talk, it will "set up well" and it will also prevent blooming of the chocolate - unsightly light brown streaks. So to make candy, you can't just melt chocolate any old way.

            Some other things to know about chocolate for candy making:

            You have to use real chocolate for chocolate making - not a bag of chocolate morsels to use for baking. At the grocery store, you can buy bars of Ghirardelli baking chocolate at various percentages and those have worked really well for me. I just recently bought some on sale at Busch's that were 3 for $5. That works out to about $6.66 per lb. It's a little extra work, because you will have to chop it up into small pieces. Chocolate for chocolate making comes in drops, but if you are just getting started with chocolate making, I'd suggest going with bars from the grocery store.

            Don't bother with the double boiler. The microwave is a much better tool for chocolate making. Double boilers are a pain to do anything in, especially chocolate tempering. At my house, the microwave is just sitting there, waiting to reheat last night's dinner leftovers or to make a bag of popcorn. It's good to have another use for it. (by the way, making rice is also another great use for the microwave, but I will save that for another post).

            Great tip I learned from Tammy - use a plastic bowl for tempering chocolate - it retains less heat than glass. I have some Tupperware Rock and Serve containers that work well for me.
            To temper a pound of chopped up dark chocolate, microwave it for a minute and stir, and return it to the microwave for about 30 seconds and stir again, and keep doing this (reduce how many seconds you wave it as it gets closer to being done) until is about 75% melted. Once it's that far melted, just keep stirring it until it's all melted. Check the temperature....the goal is to get it to 90 F without going over.

            If you blow it and go over 90 F, all is not lost. Return the chocolate to the microwave and heat it to 115-120 F. Don't go over. Then add about 4 oz. of finely chopped chocolate that is already tempered (this is called seed chocolate). Bars of baking chocolate are already tempered, so that will work. This gives the cocoa butter some crystals of the already formed chocolate to glom onto. Remember back in high school chemistry where you made crystals? No, of course you don't! Anyway, what you learned and forgot is that crystals beget other crystals. Once a crystal has formed, it's easier for others to form on it. Crystals need friends!

            How to know if your chocolate has tempered? Dip your finger in and smear it on a piece of parchment paper. It should set up and get hardin a couple minutes. You can put it in the fridge to hasten the process. If not, go back and do a redo like described above. Chocolate is very forgiving.

            I did a little research and the right temperature for milk chocolate is a bit lower than the 90 F max for dark chocolate. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provides says 86-88 F for milk chocolate, so that's what I will use when I use some milk chocolates this year for dipping. I found a lot of great info about tempering chocolate on this blog - Cooking For Engineers. It helped me to understand chocolate tempering by relating it to metal. Not sure anyone but me would care, but I am an engineering geek myself, so I sure appreciated the comparison.


            1 Reply
            1. re: momskitchen

              Cooking for Engineers is a great site. ...tho I don't suppose I've ever gotten over or will get over the fact that he reformatted his page years ago and dropped the unique graphic way he had of putting a recipe. ::sigh::

            2. I was under the impression that it's difficult to temper chocolate in a room any hotter than 80 degrees. I suppose it's the kind of thing that a pastry chef would do early in the day before the kitchen got too hot, or otherwise a tempering machine would be used.

              Are you using the right initial temperature for the type of chocolate? Milk chocolate should really only go to 110-115 (versus 115-120 for dark or 105-110 to white). I think rainey just said the 'final' temps for the different chocolates. Also, I haven't been to culinary school, I just got this stuff off the internet, but I've tempered all 3 kinds with decent results. I never used an ice bath, I just added the seeding chocolate and stirred until the temp. was correct.