A Beginners Guide to Chocolate

Since I’ll be sharing a few chocolate recipes this year, I thought it would be important to have a post about how to handle chocolate. Now, weirdly I am much better with sugar. I can sculpt roses by hand out of sugar, but man when chocolate and I get together I seem to find it in the weirdest places afterward and make a complete mess doing it. How does chocolate even get on your elbow when you haven’t melted any yet? This post will go over the basics of chocolate, how to temper, and any tools you may need. Let’s get started!

This course is a part of the ‘How to Sleigh the Holiday Season‘ series. This series is about making food gifts (all candy/desserts this year) for friends, family, and neighbors. I have two courses similar to this one so far:

Sugar Basics Course

Making Food Gifts Safely Course

I created these courses because I am making more difficult treats this year and wanted everyone to be caught up on what’s needed for the recipes. My schedule for the posts got a little off track, so I already have a ribbon candy post up and next Saturday I will be releasing a chocolate recipe! Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of this! I strongly recommend getting familiar with this post for next weeks recipe 😉 .

Chocolate Basics (Tips, Tricks, Facts)

Chocolate Course 5

  • Chocolate should never be stored in the fridge. You can use the fridge to harden the chocolate, but it should not be stored in the fridge. It will degrade the taste and texture of the chocolate as it absorbs unwanted odors and condensation. Instead, store it in a cool, dry place that is out of direct sunlight (the pantry is perfect).
  • Tempering chocolate is important no matter how small an amount you’re using. Untempered chocolate can appear dull and bloom (more below). So that tiny drizzle may seem like it won’t matter, but it could make your treat look less than fresh and unappetizing.
  • Blooming is when the chocolate gets white dots or streaking. This is because the chocolate was not or improperly tempered. The cocoa butter in untempered/improperly tempered chocolate slowly rises to the top creating the whiteness we call blooming (which can make the chocolate look old or bad, but it technically isn’t).
  • Tempered chocolate doesn’t melt as easily at room temperature. Just another reason to temper.

    Chocolate Course 6

  • You should never add water to chocolate. Adding a bit of water directly to chocolate will not thin it out. Instead, the chocolate will seize up and turn into an unusable mess. If you need thinner chocolate you should heat it up more to make it runnier.
  • Be careful when adding wet ingredients to chocolate. Like the tip above, chocolate doesn’t play well with other liquids (besides other fats like cream or butter). Be careful if adding extracts, coloring, or even wet fruit to chocolate. You should pat off all additions that may contain moisture (like chopped cherries for a bark should be patted off and dried well to prevent the chocolate from seizing up).
  • Never get chocolate too hot. Chocolate melts at a very low temperature compared to most things. Because of its low melt point, it can also burn a lot easier. Melt chocolate just until the majority is melted and there are still some small lumps. At that point, you can remove it from the heat and stir it to melt the rest (unless tempering, then bring to the desired temperature).
  • Keep chocolate warm with a heating pad, chocolate warmer, or by returning it to a double boiler when needed.
  • If melting the chocolate in the microwave, use short bursts and stir often (even if it looks like nothing is happening). Microwaves do not heat evenly, so it’s important to only put the chocolate in for 30-second bursts and to stir every time after to move any hot spots around to prevent burning. Stop microwaving when most of the chocolate is melted and there are small lumps left, they will melt with the residual heat.

    Chocolate Course 7

  • CHOCOLATE IS MESSY! Chocolate gets everywhere simply because it is very close to body temperature when it is warm so you won’t notice a little chocolate on the side of your hand and now you got chocolate all over the kitchen. Chocolate is also not the easiest to clean up. You need twice as many paper towels to clean up a small spill of chocolate compared to water and you have to practically rub it off. So be careful and work in a clean and organized kitchen for best results. Also, cleaning as you go is so important in chocolate making. Okay, lastly, change gloves or wash your hands often. I cannot tell you how many times I have been covering something in chocolate and go and mess it up because a little chocolate got somewhere it wasn’t supped to be.
  • Never add anything cold to melted chocolate. For the same reason you don’t want to add anything wet, melted chocolate will seize up if something cold is added to it and again turn into a right mess. Cold means anything colder than room temperature (like from the fridge/freezer).
  • Use a good quality chocolate for important projects. You can use chocolate chips for a quick drizzle, but if you are trying to impress family and friends get a bar of good quality chocolate. There will be less cocoa butter (which is kinda a chocolate filler), it will taste better, and temper better. Candy bars are not good bars of chocolate they often contain a lot of extra because they are ready to eat and not intended to be melted and used in chocolates. Do NOT use Hershey bars of chocolate, they are a candy bar and not the right chocolate for making your own stuff.
  • The higher the cocoa percentage the more heat it will need to melt. The main difference between milk and dark chocolate is the percent of cocoa and milkfat. Dark chocolate will have a higher percentage of cocoa and need to be heated slightly higher to fully melt. White chocolate containing no cocoa and a lot of milkfat will need the least heat to melt fully.

Why Tempure Chocolate?

Now I’ve already mentioned a few reasons you should temper your chocolate above, but let’s review!

When chocolate is tempered it will have a nice snap, be shiny and smooth, and even in color. Untempered chocolate can bloom (cocoa butter rising to the surface causes white dots or streaks called blooming), it will look dull, be softer/crumbly, and generally undesirable.

Those are really the only reasons, but I mean they’re really important and good reasons to temper. Plus, tempering chocolate is not that hard. It adds on about 5-10 minutes to the overall process, but it makes it so much more worthwhile. So forget what you’ve heard about tempering being hard, it really isn’t.

Chocolate Course 4

When to Temper Chocolate

You do not need to temper chocolate for baking like in chocolate chip cookies, brownies, etc. Tempering chocolate is really for dipping, coating, or whole chocolate treats like truffles, bark, etc.

You should temper chocolate anytime you want a nice chocolate appearance and mouthfeel. You don’t necessarily have to temper for a simple drizzle, but it will look better if you do.

Everything You Need to Know About Tempering Chocolate

What is tempering in general?

Tempering is all about bringing the chocolate up to temperature and melting it, then bringing the temperature down while you stir to evenly distribute/align the crystals inside the chocolate.

For dark chocolate, you will want to bring it up to 114-118°F, milk chocolate to 105-113°F, and white chocolate to 100-110°F. Then, while stirring and through other methods, you will bring the temperature down to 88-89°F for dark chocolate and 84-86°F for milk and white chocolates. At this point, your chocolate is tempered and it is very important to keep it that way. Don’t let the chocolate get above 90°F when reheating (if it becomes cold) and don’t let it get so cold that it is becoming noticeably thick and hard to work with. Raising the chocolate above 90°F or below 83°F can untemper it, if you are worried it is untempered do the temper test (see below). If it is in fact untempered you will have to start from step one to re-temper.

Tempered chocolate is the best to work with between 88-90°F, it will give the best snap and gloss and will coat things evenly without being too thick. So after lowering the chocolate to temper, you will need to bring it back up to this temperature range to work with it if you are coating/dipping. If you are making bark or filling molds you won’t need to bring it back up to temperature unless it becomes cold enough that it is hard to work with or will become untempered. 88-90°F is ideal for coating/dipping because it will create a nice thin layer of chocolate without being too thick of a shell (hotter will cause the chocolate to be untempered).

Chocolate Course 3

I am going to teach you the easiest way to temper chocolate using milk chocolate as an example. First I am going to explain the two ways you can melt chocolate.

Melt Chocolate Using a Double Boiler

Using a double boiler (or a glass bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the glass bowl) stir the chocolate frequently until the desired temperature is reached, and then carefully remove to avoid getting any steam/water into the bowl of chocolate (will seize).

Melt Chocolate Using a Microwave

Now this way can be a little unreliable and risky, but it is easier and fewer dishes. I don’t personally recommend it, but you do you. Place the chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 10-15 second burst stirring every time (even if it looks like nothing is happening, it will distribute the heat more evenly). Keep heating and stirring until the desired temperature is reached.

How to Seed Chocolate for Tempering

Seeding the chocolate is a process in which you add small bits of chocolate to the melted chocolate to quickly lower the temperature and to help distribute/align the chocolate crystals.

  1. Take 2/3 of your chopped chocolate and heat until it has reached 105F-113°F using your desired method (microwave or double boiler).
  2. Stop heating the chocolate when it has reached temperature and slowly add small amounts of chocolate from the 1/3 you reserved earlier. Add small amounts and stir until it is melted before adding more. Keep doing this until the chocolate has reached 84-86°F.
  3. At this point, your chocolate should be tempered, check using the temper test (below). If it is tempered you can start using it and keep it between 83-90°F as best as possible, heat using the microwave or double boiler if it starts to become too cold. The best temperature for working with chocolate is between 88-90°F where it will be thin enough for coating, dipping, etc.

Chocolate Course 2

Other Ways to Temper Chocolate

Now seeding is arguably one of the easiest ways to temper chocolate for average home use. If you are using a large quantity of chocolate, this is another option. Melt the chocolate in a double broiler (microwave is not recommended here) until it is about halfway melted (still has little lumps of unmelted chocolate, and they are surrounded by a pool of melted chocolate). Pull off the heat and keep stirring it until all the little lumps are completely melted (the residual heat will melt them, just takes a few minutes). You can keep stirring until it gets cold, should feel cold comparatively or feel room temperature if you touch it and should be somewhere in the lower 80’s °F. You can also use a gloved hand (or bench scrapers) to swirl and move it around a clean work surface until it becomes cool enough (recommend for large quantities). Once it reaches temperature, you can then fill molds or coat items (would use hand to get a thin coating since chocolate will be thicker and colder).

If you used a bowl to cool it instead of swirling it on a work surface, you can return it to the double boiler to get it warm if it cools too much, but don’t let it go over 90°F or you will have to re-temper.

The constant agitation of the chocolate as it cools helps align the crystals to achieve a good temper, so keep stirring or moving it around with your hand as it cools.

This way would not work for dipping/coating unless you are scraping off the excess chocolate from the thing you are coating as it will be thicker from cooling down (unless you heat it back up).

How to Test Tempered Chocolate

Dip a butter knife into the chocolate you believe is tempered. Place the knife into the fridge for 1 minute. The chocolate on the knife should be smooth and shiny and completely set up if it was tempered correctly. If not, you’ll need to start from step one again.

Alright, that should be it. Let me know if there is anything I missed and I hope you learned something new. Over the next few weeks I will be releasing recipes that pertain to the three courses in this series, so look out for some tasty recipes and subscribe so you don’t miss any of this!

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