Who doesn’t love chocolate?  I love to cook with this most luxurious of ingredients creating all sorts of delicious products. I use chocolate every day and love its versatility and ability to turn heads. For the recipes on this site, you don’t have to use the particular brand of chocolate that I use just ensure that your chocolate is of the highest quality you can afford and that the percentages of cocoa approximately match with those specified. 

This page is designed to give you a few tips and tricks to ensure that you have a superior product when working with this fragile ingredient. Chocolate has a reputation for being temperamental and being difficult to work with but following a few simple rules can eliminate most of the issues people have. 

As with most things that are worthwhile, practice and concentration as well as adhering to the rules will result in you becoming more confident and successful with chocolate. I will explain the basic tempering techniques of white, milk and dark chocolate and reveal the secret behind my wickedly addictive caramelised white chocolate. After this you can start to create the garnishes, finishes and other components you need to complete dishes and you can of course work on creating your own. It really is as simple as that; you just need to give it a go. Good luck!

Chocolate Melting

Always use chocolate buttons or finely chopped block chocolate. The more finely the chocolate is chopped, the better. When chopping chocolate, ensure the knife and work surface are both clean. Even the slightest amount of water will cause melting chocolate to stiffen and become unworkable, so ensure all equipment and work surfaces are completely dry also.

Microwave: 

Place the chocolate in an immaculately clean and dry plastic microwave-proof bowl. Heat the chocolate on high in short bursts of about 10 seconds, stirring with a silicone spatula after each burst of heat. Ensure the spatula is not left in the chocolate during heating. Never overheat the chocolate; 45ºC–50ºC (113ºF–122ºF) should be the ideal working temperature for all types of chocolate. This method is preferable for small quantities of chocolate (up to 3 kg/6 lb 12 oz) due to its ease and lack of moisture. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for information on how to use your microwave.

Bain Marie:

Place your chocolate in an immaculately clean, completely dry stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan with hot water. Ensure the base of the bowl does not touch the water and stir the chocolate regularly with a silicone spatula until all of it has been melted. The water in the saucepan should not boil and should ideally be held at 65ºC–70ºC (149ºF–158ºF) to ensure minimal steam evaporation, which may taint the chocolate. This method is used for quantities of chocolate larger than 3 kg (6 lb 12 oz); take care to ensure the chocolate does not heat too quickly and that no moisture finds its way into the bowl of chocolate.

Chocolate Tempering Or Crystallisation

To ‘temper’ chocolate means to stabilise the microscopic crystals within it by heating it to a particular temperature, then allowing it to cool. When creating garnishes, casting moulds, or making bars, lollipops and various other chocolate confections, it is necessary to temper store-bought chocolate. Successful tempering will result in shiny, smear-free chocolate that will snap cleanly when broken and will resist the heat from your hands during minimal handling.

Simply put, chocolate consists of cocoa solids (which provide the chocolate flavour and dark colour) and cocoa butter (a fat that provides the distinctive ‘mouth feel’ of good chocolate). A number of crystals are embedded in the cocoa butter, and these have to be aligned in order for the chocolate to be tempered. All of these crystals have different melting points, so the chocolate needs first to be melted and then brought down in temperature. It is not necessary to temper chocolate that will be incorporated into another mixture, for example melted and then combined with flour or butter in a batter for a cake or dessert. The following are two of the most simple and common methods of tempering chocolate. You will need a digital thermometer.

Seeding Method

600 g white, milk or dark chocolate, pistols or very finely chopped block chocolate

Heat two thirds of the chocolate (400 g/14 oz) to a temperature of 45ºC–50ºC (113ºF–122ºF). Add the reserved chopped chocolate to the bowl of melted chocolate and leave to stand for 1 minute. Using a hand-held stick blender, homogenise the two chocolates together well. The temperature of the mixture should now have been reduced significantly. Check the temperature of the chocolate and reheat the mixture to 31ºC–32ºC (88ºF–90ºF) for dark chocolate or 29ºC–30ºC (84ºF–86ºF) for milk or white chocolate. The chocolate is now ready to use.

Table Method

600 g white, milk or dark chocolate, pistols or very finely chopped block chocolate

Heat all of the chocolate to a temperature of 45ºC–50ºC (113ºF–122ºF). Pour three quarters of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab or similar surface and spread the chocolate out from the centre using a palette knife. Bring the chocolate back to the centre using a metal scraper and continue this action to cool the chocolate and continually break the crystals that are in formation. Ensure that the chocolate is mixed evenly; it will become thicker and set in places. The resulting uneven crystallisation should now be scraped back into the remaining chocolate and mixed well.

The chocolate should be approximately 28ºC (82ºF) for dark chocolate and 26ºC (79ºF) for milk and white chocolate. Reheat gently, while mixing gently to prevent crystallisation, to a temperature of 32ºC (90ºF) for dark chocolate and 29ºC–30ºC (84ºF–86ºF) for milk and white chocolate. The chocolate is now ready to use, but first take a sample – dip the tip of a palette knife into the chocolate and allow it to crystallise at a room temperature no higher than 22ºC (72ºF). After three or four minutes the chocolate will have set and be looking shiny and not grainy or smeared.

Using Tempered Chocolate

The trick now is to keep the chocolate at a stable temperature. This is best done with a heat gun or hairdryer. Use the chocolate as soon as possible after it has been tempered and keep it agitated in the container by mixing regularly with a silicone spatula and gently heating the edges of the chocolate with the heat gun or hairdryer. Ensure the chocolate does not overheat or it will have to be tempered again.