4 Tips for Tempering Chocolate

Despite Lisa’s love of baking and her perpetual sweet tooth, one sugary culinary mystery always perplexes her: melting chocolate.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Despite Lisa’s love of baking and her perpetual sweet tooth, one sugary culinary mystery always perplexes her: melting chocolate. She likes to drizzle a dash of chocolate to pretty up the Peppermint Biscotti featured in our Farmstead Chef cookbook, but more often than she likes to admit, her melted chocolate turns into a hard glob of unsalvageable goop. Was there too much heat? Is extra butter needed? The mysteries behind these questions were answered quite simply by Claudia Wilson, owner of Café Claudeen, and her daughter and restaurant partner Kareesa as Lisa, our friend Brenda and others cozied up in the back kitchen of the restaurant.

Café Claudeen is located on historic downtown square of nearby Monroe, Wis. Always looking for opportunities involving baked goods, Lisa jumped at the chance to accompany our friend Brenda Carus (of local soup night fame) to one of Claudia’s recent cooking classes on a topic near and dear to our hearts: chocolate.

“I can go over things with you, but you really need to just get in and try it at home,” Claudia advised with a smile.

The first chocolate lesson: Don’t use the words “tempering” and “melting” interchangeably, as they technically are not. Tempering is a series of chemical events between the elements within the chocolate that enables it to soften and become a liquid form and then solidify again into a different form. There are a couple key things to remember when tempering chocolate so you don’t end up with Lisa’s glob of goop:

1. Choose the right chocolate.

Real chocolate with more than 50 percent cocoa butter, such as a good-quality chocolate bar, can be tempered. Chocolate chips might not have that right butter content and therefore can’t be tempered.

2. Use a double boiler—or make your own.

“I like to keep things simple in the kitchen and have things that serve multiple purposes,” Claudia says. “You don’t need a special double boiler, just find two pots that fit together, put some water in the bottom one, and you’re set to go.” Break the chocolate you’ll be tempering into the top pot, and slowly let it break down over low heat.

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3. Practice patience and consistency.

“The key is knowing consistency, waiting and watching until the chocolate is just right,” Claudia says. She slowly stirs the tempering chocolate until it reaches a glossy, melted state, where it just drips off the spoon.

4. If needed, add more chocolate.

Claudia offered an interesting and important insight: If the chocolate starts thickening, simply add more chocolate to thin. No butter, oil or other liquid needed, and the newly added chocolate will quickly melt when stirred into the existing warm, tempered chocolate.

Once the chocolate is in the tempered, liquid state, you can use it for a variety of purposes, such as making your own chocolate candies by stirring in your favorite ingredients, from nuts to cranberries. To finish candies, place a spoonful on parchment paper and let cool.

The best part of the chocolate class was the buffet of sampling at the end. In addition to tempering tips, Claudia covered a range of chocolate classics, from pudding to frosting to Lisa’s favorite: ganache, a mixture of chocolate and cream used in anything from truffles to cake filling—or for eating on a spoon!

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