Tuesday's Tips – Chocolate

How to Melt Chocolate
Melting chocolate to use as a baking ingredient for candy work or decoration requires gentle heat. Chocolate that is overheated may scorch, lose flavor and turn coarse and grainy. Stir melting chocolate after it has begun to liquefy. Because of the sensitivity of milk solids to heat, milk and white chocolates should be stirred almost constantly while dark chocolate need only be stirred frequently during melting.

Here are two good methods for melting chocolate so that it is smooth and glossy.

In a Microwave Oven
Place coarsely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe container and microwave at MEDIUM (50 percent power) for 1 1/2 to 4 minutes, until the chocolate turns shiny. Remove the container from the microwave and stir the chocolate until completely melted. Stir milk and white chocolates after about 1 1/2 minutes. Because of their milk proteins, they need to be stirred sooner than dark chocolate. (If overheated, these chocolates may become grainy.)

In a Double Boiler
Place coarsely chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. Melt the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove the top part of the double boiler from the bottom.

Tempering InstructionsUsing a microwave oven in combination with the time-honored professional method of tempering chocolate on a smooth, hard work surface (preferably marble) is quickly done in 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the amount of chocolate being tempered. Although some manufacturers suggest you melt chocolate with the microwave oven set on HIGH (100 percent) power, it is a good idea to reduce this to MEDIUM (50 percent) power for even melting and to avoid overheating. Because milk and white chocolates contain milk proteins, they need to be removed from the microwave and stirred sooner than dark chocolate. If overheated, milk and white chocolates can become grainy.

Temper chocolate in a clean, dry microwave-safe glass bowl. Use a dry, rubber spatula to stir the melted chocolate. The slightest amount of moisture will cause the chocolate to seize.

Use an accurate easy-to-read thermometer when tempering or making hand-made chocolates. We recommend a digital pocket thermometer or an instant read dial thermometer with l-degree increments. Do not use a candy (deep fat frying) thermometer because the temperature gauge does not register low enough.

For an accurate temperature reading, the thermometer must be immersed in at least 2 inches of melted chocolate. If the chocolate is not deep enough, insert the stem of the thermometer at an angle. Do not let the tip of the thermometer touch the bottom or sides of the bowl because this can give a false reading. Always stir the chocolate thoroughly for at least 1 minute before reading the thermometer. The temperature of the chocolate will continue to rise even after it has been removed from the microwave.

Once the chocolate has been tempered, set the bowl on a heating pad (such as the type used for backaches). First wrap the heating pad with plastic to protect it from dripping chocolate. This is a simple and nearly foolproof way to maintain the temperature of the tempered chocolate. As you work, stir the chocolate frequently and turn the control dial on and off to control the temperature of the chocolate. You must be diligent in this; it is very easy for the tempered chocolate to overheat and to go out of temper, even when warmed gently by a heating pad.

  1. Chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks. Put half of the chocolate in a 1 1/2 quart microwave-safe bowl. (Use a 1 quart bowl when tempering 8-ounces of chocolate or less. When tempering more than 2 pounds of chocolate, use a larger bowl.) Microwave uncovered on MEDIUM (50 percent) power for 1 1/2 to 6 minutes, stirring every 1 1/2 minutes, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in the remaining chocolate chunks.
  2. Microwave uncovered on MEDIUM (50 percent) power for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Gently stir the chocolate and when it is completely melted, check the temperature. It should read between 110 and 120 degrees F (or the temperature recommended by the manufacturer.) If necessary, put the chocolate back in the microwave set on low (10 percent) power for 5 to 10 second intervals, until it reaches the correct temperature. (Stir the chocolate for at least 1 minute before checking the temperature.)
  3. Transfer the melted chocolate to another 1 1/2-quart (or a smaller or larger bowl depending on the amount of chocolate being tempered.) This will bring the temperature of the chocolate down to approximately 100 degrees F.
  4. Wrap a heating pad (normally used for backaches) in plastic to protect it from chocolate stains. Set the control dial to the lowest setting.
  5. Pour one-third of the melted chocolate onto a clean, dry work surface (such as marble or Formica). Keep the remaining chocolate in the bowl on the heating pad.
  6. Using an offset metal cake spatula, spread the chocolate evenly across the work surface into a rectangle. Using a pastry scraper, bring the chocolate together, and as you do so, scrape the chocolate off the spatula. Continue this spreading and scraping process until the chocolate cools to 80 to 82 degrees F for milk and white chocolates and 82 to 84 degrees F for dark chocolate, loses its shine and forms a thick paste with a dull matte finish. Work quickly so that the chocolate does not lump. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the amount of chocolate, the type and brand of chocolate as well as the temperature of the kitchen. The chocolate is now seeded. The professional term for this is “mush.”
  7. Add the mush to the bowl of 100 degrees F chocolate and using a clean, dry rubber spatula, stir the chocolate gently, until smooth. Be careful not to create air bubbles as you stir the chocolate.
  8. Check the temperature of the chocolate. It should register between 86 and 91 degrees F depending on the type and brand of chocolate. (In general, dark chocolate should register between 86 to 90 degrees F and milk and white chocolates should register between 86 to 89 degrees F.) If necessary, heat the bowl of chocolate in the microwave on LOW (10 percent) power for 5 to 10 second intervals, to raise the temperature the required number of degrees. (Stir the chocolate for at least 1 minute before checking the temperature. Be very careful not to overheat the chocolate.) The chocolate is now ready to work with. As you work, regularly stir the chocolate and check its temperature. Adjust the temperature and fluidity of the chocolate by turning the heating pad on and off. If for some reason the chocolate becomes too cold, simply reheat it in the microwave oven set on LOW (10 percent) power for 5 to 10 second intervals. (Stir the chocolate for at least 1 minute before rechecking the temperature.) Never let its temperature exceed 92 degrees F, or the stable cocoa butter crystals will start to melt and the temper will be lost.

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