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Tempering Tip Tuesday
Heating it Up – Two Ways to Safely Melt Chocolate

The first step in tempering chocolate is to melt it.  Chocolate melts at 45˚ c / 113˚ f. Because chocolate is sensitive to extreme heats and burns easily, one needs to melt chocolate gently away from direct heat. There are two simple and safe ways you can melt chocolate in your kitchen.  The first is with a double-boiler (what the French call a bain marie) and the second is with a microwave.

A double-boiler consists of one pan nested on top of another that had a small amount of water in it (about 1/4 full).  There can used nesting saucepans designed just for this purpose and called double-boilers or you can create your own by placing a metal bowl on top of a sauce pan.  Either way you are heating the chocolate gently over water.

Double-boilers.  The pan on the left is a Revere Ware Double-boiler.  The pan on the right is a homemade double-boiler: a metal mixing bowl resting in a sauce pan.

A note of warning when working with water around chocolate.  Water will cause chocolate to seize.  Be careful that water does not get into the chocolate.  Only fill the saucepan 1/4 full of water so that the water doesn’t boil over.  If you need to refill the  water in the bottom pan, remove the pan with the chocolate and then add the water.

To heat chocolate in a double-boiler place the chocolate in the top pan of a double-boiler.  Try not to fill the pan more than  2/3rd full of chocolate so you have room to stir.  Plan the double-boiler on the stove and turn the heat on med high.  Stir the chocolate while it is melting so that the chocolate melts evenly.

As soon as most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat off and stir.  The additional stirring will melt the remaining chocolate.  When the chocolate is completely melted, pour the chocolate into a plastic bowl.  The purpose of this is to put the chocolate in a container that does not retain heat so you can begin the cooling process.


The second way to heat chocolate in a home kitchen is in a microwave.  This method is gaining popularity with professional and home chocolatiers alike.   The benefit of melting chocolate in a microwave is you can melt it at precisely the temperature that chocolate melts without getting the chocolate hotter than it needs to be.  The ability to have complete control of the temperature of the chocolate is one of the advantages of using a microwave instead of a double-boiler.

Chocolate in a plastic bowl ready to be melted in a microwave. For amounts 1 pound or less begin heating for no more than 1 minute.

To melt chocolate in a microwave, place the chocolate in a microwave safe plastic bowl.  I recommend using plastic and not glass because the plastic will not retain heat.  Fill the bowl no more than 2/3 full because you will need room to stir the chocolate without chocolate spilling out.

Heat the chocolate in short intervals until it starts to melt.  My rule of thumb is 1 minute for every pound of chocolate.  If you are melting less than one pound, start at 1 minute. After the first minute, remove and stir.

This will be the first of many heating sequences in the microwave.  You want to do it long enough to get the melting process started, but not so long that you burn the chocolate.  Because the intensity of the heat can vary from microwave to microwave, I recommend using med-high instead of high to avoid burning the chocolate.

Food in a microwave heats from the inside out.  Chocolate melted in a microwave will retain its shape until stirred.  What that means is that the chocolate may not look melted but once you stir the chocolate you see that the chocolate is indeed changing to liquid form.

After the initial heating sequence, repeat the sequence of heating the chocolate for 20-second and stirring until the chocolate is mostly melted.

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