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Choose Your Chocolate
Tempered chocolate is the secret to professional-looking chocolate candies! Chocolate that has been tempered is smooth, with a shiny finish and a satisfying snap. Chocolate that is simply melted and not tempered tends to be soft or sticky at room temperature, and can also have gray or white streaks or spots. Tempering is the solution to avoiding these common problems and to producing beautiful, delicious chocolate candies.
Before you get to the actual tempering, let's talk about what kind of chocolate to use. It is best to use at least 1 pound of chocolate, as it is easier to temper (and retain the temper) of larger amounts of chocolate. If this is more than you need, you can always save the extra for later use. Choose a chocolate that you enjoy eating and that does not contain any solid mix-ins like fruit or nuts.
It's easiest to temper dark chocolate, so if this is your first time, I recommend using dark chocolate, without any milk solids. Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with milk chocolate or white chocolate. Make sure that the chocolate you start with is in good temper, meaning it is shiny and hard. If it has white or gray streaks or is crumbly, it is not a good chocolate to use with this method of tempering. Avoid chocolate chips, which are much more difficult to temper.Continue to 2 of 12 below.
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Gather Your Equipment
You don't need much in the way of special equipment to temper chocolate. The one specialized tool you will need is a chocolate thermometer. Tempering is, at heart, simply heating and cooling chocolate to a specific temperature, so you will need a reliable thermometer to check the temperature of your melted chocolate during the process.
Chocolate thermometers are not the same as candy thermometers--while candy thermometers often go up to 450 F in 2-degree increments, chocolate thermometers have a much smaller range (typically only up to about 130 F) and give readings in one-degree increments. If you will be tempering chocolate regularly, you might consider upgrading to a nicer, sturdier model, but for casual usage, a no-frills version is fine.Continue to 3 of 12 below.
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Chop Three Quarters of Your Chocolate
Separate out about a quarter of your chocolate, and set it aside, intact, for now. Chop the remaining three-quarters of the chocolate into small pieces, and place them in a microwave-safe bowl.Continue to 4 of 12 below.
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Melt Your Chocolate
Microwave the bowl of chopped chocolate in 30-second increments. Stir after every 30 seconds, and heat and stir until the chocolate is entirely melted and smooth.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Heat the Chocolate to 115 F
Bring the chocolate to 115 F (46 C) for dark chocolate or 110 F (43 C) for milk or white chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, take its temperature with the chocolate thermometer. If it is not at 115 F, heat it in short bursts until it reaches that temperature, but watch it carefully. Do not allow the chocolate to exceed its recommended temperature.
Bringing the chocolate to this specified temperature ensures that all of the bonds that hold the chocolate's fat crystals together have broken. The purpose of tempering is to force the chocolate to form bonds in a specific crystal pattern, which means that all of the old bonds must be broken first. If it's not heated to a high enough temperature, the tempering process might not be successful.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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Add the Chunk of Chocolate
Add the remaining chunk of chocolate to the bowl of melted chocolate, and stir gently to incorporate. The chocolate that you add must be tempered because it is going to "seed" your melted chocolate. Good crystals from the tempered chocolate will be released through the melting process and will encourage all of the other chocolate to form the same crystalline structure. It seems a little complicated, but all you need to know is that your big chunk of tempered chocolate is doing an important job, and will help you produce beautiful candies!Continue to 7 of 12 below.
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Stir the Chunk of Chocolate Into the Melted Chocolate
Stir almost constantly to melt the big chunk. The warm chocolate will melt the chopped chocolate, and the newly added chocolate will gradually bring down the temperature of the warm chocolate.Continue to 8 of 12 below.
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Cool the Chocolate to 90 F
Cool the chocolate to 90 F (32 C) for dark chocolate or 87 F (30 C) for milk or white chocolate. Continue to stir the chocolate almost constantly while it cools, until you reach the prescribed temperature.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Test the Chocolate
Smear a small spoonful of chocolate on a piece of parchment or waxed paper and watch it to see if it sets. Properly tempered chocolate should begin to set in just a few minutes. You will first see it lose its shine and take on a slightly more matte look, then it will start to set around the edges. At cool room temperature, a streak of tempered chocolate should set within 4 to 6 minutes. Don't stick it in the refrigerator to speed up the process--this will not tell you if it's actually in temper!
If it doesn't appear to be tempered, continue to stir and cool the chocolate until it goes down another 1 to 2 degrees, then test it again. Different brands of chocolate and different environmental conditions sometimes require slightly different tempering temperatures.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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Remove Any Unmelted Chocolate
If the block of melted chocolate has not melted away entirely, remove it from the melted chocolate so that it does not continue to cool down the chocolate too quickly. You can save it and chop it up to temper at a later date.Continue to 11 of 12 below.
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Your Tempered Chocolate is Ready!Continue to 12 of 12 below.
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Keep Your Chocolate in Temper While Dipping
To use tempered chocolate, you must keep it warm but not hot, ideally in the 85 to 88 F degree range for dark chocolate (86 F for milk and white chocolate). You can either keep it over a pan of warm (but not simmering) water, stirring occasionally or try placing it on an electric heating pad set to “low,” with a towel between the pad and the bowl. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to stir often so that the chocolate remains a uniform temperature throughout and to keep an eye on the temperature so it doesn't climb too high.
Your other option is to not place it on a heat source at all but to watch the temperature, and to microwave the bowl for 5 seconds when it starts to get too thick or difficult to dip. If you get it too hot it will go out of temper, so very short bursts of heat are key!