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Why do I need to temper my chocolate?
Tempered chocolate hardens more quickly with and is both more darker and shiny than untempered chocolate. Untempered chocolate can be unsightly with streaks of light brown. Though poor tempering does not affect the taste as much as appearance and texture, the softer chocolate is more difficult to work with and makes a poor impression on tasters.

What does tempering do?
Chocolate contains cocoa butter in supsension as crystals until the chocolate is melted. There are several different types of crystals in chocolate and they don't all crystallize/melt at the same temperature. Tempering's goal is to get the best type of crystals to form. Wikipedia has a great overview of tempering and chocolate in general.

There are several ways to temper chocolate. My preferred way is with a tempering machine, of course, but spending several hundred dollars on equipment isn't necessary if you just want to dip chocolates once in a while in small volumes. Nevertheless, a tempering machine makes life much easier and will maintain the chocolate's temperature once tempered.

I first tried the marble slab technique with some success, but what a mess. Several years ago I took a chocolate class at Draeger's Cooking School in San Mateom CA. It was taught by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger and they described a simple method in class.


1 - 2 lb tempered chocolate (chocolate usually comes tempered when purchased)

Avoid tempering chocolate on excessively hot or humid days.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. This can be messy and/or dangerous. I find that a large serrated knife does a nice job. Reserve about 1/4 of the chocolate chunks and set to the side. Simmer hot water in a double boiler and add 3/4 of your chocolate to the double boiler and melt until the chocolate reaches about 110 °F. Take your time and don't get the chocolate too hot.

You can also use a microwave instead of a double boiler by using short, 10 second bursts, stirring frequently with a brief rest between bursts to allow the heat to evenly spread. If your microwave has a low setting, you may be able to increase the length of cooking—just be careful as overheated chocolate can scorch and the flavor will be compromised.

Remove the double boiler from heat and stir in the remaining 1/4 of chocolate chunks. Stir until completely melted. Check the temperature of your chocolate and let it cool to 80 °F. At this point, you need to slowly heat the chocolate again. Do this in short bursts by returning the double boiler to the hot water for a moment, stirring, and then removing to stir some more. Repeat this process until you bring the temperature to 88 - 91 °F for dark chocolate or 84 - 87 °F for milk or white chocolate.

Test the temper by smearing some chocolate on waxpaper and observing. It should cool to a nice sheen and break with a crisp snap. If gray or tan streaks appear, you will need to repeat the entire process.

Proceed to dip your treats carefully monitoring temperature. Return the chocolate to the double boiler with hot water as needed to maintain temperature. If the chocolate gets more than a few degrees outside the range specified, you risk losing both your's and the chocolate's temper. Cooled truffle centers can really bring the temperature down fast if you are dipping quickly, so pay attention, take your time and monitor your dipped chocolates for any streaks.

Alternate method: Use a tempering machine and follow manufacturer's instructions.  ;-)

Click any image below to enlarge
  1. Comment from Crystal 
    10:29 PM   02-Oct-2008
    So this is sooooo hard to do correctly on a consistent basis. I feel like Im playing a cross my fingers and pray game every time a whip up a batch of truffles.Do you have any additional hints for tempering by hand.. Also when adding color to tempered white chocolate for identification (ie. Green on a mint truffle) is there a rule of thumb to keep from scotching?
    1. Response from Brian
      10:00 PM   19-Oct-2008
      Hi Crystal, getting the feel for when chocolate is in temper takes practice. Remember you can always test the chocolate before committing to dipping a ton of truffles. Place one or two in the fridge to speed things up. I've found that white chocolate is just as sensitive to tempering and so I skip the microwave for heating white chocolate. When it is out of temper, it looks like old toothpaste.
  1. Comment from Diana 
    1:30 PM   23-Nov-2009
    Well, white chocolate is not actually chocolate so i think the best thing is to shy away from it because it will just be quote unquote GROSS. btw i own my own chocolate shop.
    1. Response from Brian
      2:16 PM   23-Nov-2009
      Yes, there are many who will argue that it isn't a true chocolate because it lacks cocoa solids. Whatever you call it, "white chocolate" does contain cocoa butter and should therefore also be tempered. I've tempered white chocolate for a dozen years and there is nothing gross about it at all. I use it mainly as a decoration on milk and dark chocolate enrobed candies and the contrasting stripes really add a nice touch.