How to temper chocolate

Long before there were expensive tempering machines: people used to temper chocolate by hand, here is how I do it when I’m away from the equipment:

Things you’ll need :

  1. Real Chocolate
    1. If the ingredient list does not contain cocoa butter it’s not real chocolate and does not need tempering, it is a coating that you could have picked up in your local  crafts store. For a better quality non-chocolate coating you can pick some up online , they have all sorts of colors and flavors. But it’s not real chocolate, it’s made for amateur users.
    2. Generally you will not find a good quality chocolate, made for dipping or molding,  in your local grocery. We do not sell raw chocolate for this to the public. Chocolate chips or candy bars are the wrong type of chocolate for a first rate product.
    3. Some Whole Foods stores sell pre-cut blocks of the right type of chocolate in the bakery section or (or in one case near the cheese) , these are big blocks that are cut off of 10 pound slabs.. not candy bars… If you’d like to order real chocolate online this is a good source.
    4. Trader Joes has “Pounder Bars”, good chocolate at a good price, it could use a little cocoa butter to thin it up.
  2. A thermometer with a visible range of 85-110
    1. An old style candy thermometer does not have the visibility needed in the temperature ranges needed. “candy thermometers” are really made for higher temperature work like fudge and hard candies, they are not really good for chocolate work.
    2. Check the digital (meat) thermometers you have around the house, we’ve seen digital thermometers by Pyrex, for under $10 in the local grocery stores, which are perfect for this type of work.
  3. A lot of paper towels
  4. The fruit that you plan to dip or molds you plan to fill.
  5. If you are going to dip fruit you’ll need wax paper.

Tempering determines the hardness, final gloss, and contraction of chocolate. At each step of the tempering process the temperature of the chocolate must be exact and uniform. A tiny variation can ruin the result. If you heat the chocolate too much (too hot) you will burn it, if you introduce moisture the chocolate will seize (get clumpy). Because of this it is very important that your tools, dishes and hands be clean and dry.

First step: wash and dry your hands, dry with paper towels, drying with a used dish rag just reintroduces everything you tried to wash off. Do not apply hand moisturizer while working on this since the oils in the moisturizer may effect the process. We’ll do a whole post on washing your hands in the future..

Melting the chocolate:

Some people favor a double boiler, others favor a microwave, it’s all personal preference. There are pluses and minuses to both methods.

Things to watch out for:

Double Boiler:

  1. It you boil the water you can create steam (water vapor), this water vapor can cause the chocolate to seize, you do not need the water to be that hot.
  2. Never cover the chocolate, condensation will form on the underside of the lid  and fall into the chocolate causing it to seize.
  3. Overheating can cause the chocolate to burn, the overheat temperature varies for each type (milk/white/dark) and brand of chocolate. In reality as long as you never go above 115 degrees you are safe, and there is no reason to bring chocolate above 108 degrees.


  1. If you try to rush the melting process you will burn a section (pocket) of the chocolate which will ruin the whole batch. If you really overdo it: you’ll create a really awful caramel…
  2. Never cover the chocolate while melting, condensation will form and will cause the chocolate to seize.
  3. Until you get very practiced at melting chocolate in the microwave the best process is to only heat it for small periods of time: 30 seconds at a time on “defrost”, stirring between heating.
  4. Most thermometers are not microwave safe, make sure the thermometer is not microwaved.

For home tempering I’ve found the following to be the easiest for when I’m away from the equipment we normally use.

Have all your dipping materials, molds and such ready as the less you have to adjust the temperature of the chocolate once it’s tempered the less your chances of something going wrong.

  1. Separate out the chocolate you plan to melt from the rest of the chocolate.
    Get the chocolate you don’t plan to melt away from your work area.. you don’t want to melt it by accident.
  2. Using a sharp knife, slice some chocolate from a block of chocolate that is in good temper, if you are using buttons you’ll need to finely chop up some buttons.
    Make the slices as thin as possible
    The ratio of shavings should be I part shavings to 9 parts melted coating, so you are going to shave 10% off of the block.
    Set these shavings aside away from any heat sources. I do my chopping on a piece of waxed paper, it’s much easier in the long run (and no cleanup is needed)
  3. Break up the big block of chocolate and melt the chocolate till it is heated to about 108° degrees, stir often. The heating also breaks up any cocoa butter crystals that may have formed previously, using shavings that are “in temper” you can bring all the chocolate into temper. (so if you have leftover chocolate from a previous melting you can re-temper it using this method as many times as you want.
  4. Cool the melted coating to about 92°-94°, stir chocolate while it is cooling, this helps cool the chocolate and prevents ‘hot spots”.
  5. Stir the shavings into the melted chocolate until the shavings are completely melted and thoroughly mixed into the coating, as you are doing this the temperature of the melted chocolate will drop.
  6. Once the chocolate has cooled below 89° you are ready to start dipping/filling the molds.
    1. Use room temperature air to cool the coating
    2. Heat the coating very gradually if it is too cold . The coating can now be used for either enrobing or molding.  Unless it starts getting too thick, don’t take the tempered chocolate above 90° .  At 90°/91° you start breaking the cocoa butter crystal bonds.. which will thin it out. Remember to stir after you apply that heat..

If you have experience with chocolate and you’d like to make your chocolate thinner add some cocoa butter to the chocolate while it’s being melted. Thinner chocolate is better for finely detailed molds or when you want the shells on dipped fruit to be very thin. Please note: that the higher the cocoa butter content the higher the chance that things will go wrong. (bloom.. that grayish film that forms on chocolate when it is out of temper (it’s still safe to eat.. it just effects how it looks)).

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  1. By How to Flavor and Color Chocolate on December 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    […] year we covered how to temper chocolate and when to temper chocolate and today someone asked us how to flavor and color […]