Before you melt your chocolate, you will want it in small, uniform pieces. Some brands of chocolate can be purchased in wafer sizes or bite-sized bars that don’t require chopping. However, if you buy large bars of chocolate or bulk chocolate, you will need to chop it before melting, so that it will melt evenly and not overheat.
There are specialty tools called chocolate chippers that can be purchased and used to break up chocolate, but a chef’s knife or a serrated knife works just as well. Choose a sharp, heavy chef’s knife (a large straight-bladed knife, usually 8-10 inches) and press down firmly and evenly on the chocolate, beginning with the corners and angling the knife slightly outward. Whittle the chocolate gradually, working from the corners, until the chocolate is chopped into almond-sized pieces.
A long serrated knife also works for chopping chocolate, and it requires less force to be effective. Again, begin at a corner of the chocolate and use a smooth sawing motion back and forth, pressing only as hard as necessary. Once you have made several cuts on a particular corner, rotate the chocolate and begin on a new corner until all of the chocolate is chopped into uniform pieces.
How to Temper Chocolate
Tempered chocolate is the secret to professional chocolate products. Chocolate that has been tempered is smooth, with a shiny finish and a satisfying snap. If you’re planning on making dipped chocolates or molded chocolates, the chocolate will need to be tempered so that it behaves properly and produces candies that are both tasty and beautiful.
- Chop your chocolate. 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. Be sure that your chocolate is in block or bar form, not chocolate chips. The chips have additives that allow them to retain their shape at higher temperatures, and so they will not temper properly.
- Melt 2/3 of your chocolate. Place it in the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water. Securely clip a chocolate or instant-read thermometer to the side of the boiler to monitor the chocolate’s temperature.
- Stir gently but steadily as the chocolate melts and heats up. Use a rubber spatula, not a wooden or metal spoon.
- Bring the chocolate to 115 degrees (for dark chocolate) or 110 degrees (for milk or white chocolate). Do not allow the chocolate to exceed its recommended temperature. When it is at the right temperature, remove it from the heat, wipe the bottom of the bowl, and set it on a heat-proof surface.
- Add the remaining chunks of chocolate and stir gently to incorporate. The warm chocolate will melt the chopped chocolate, and the newly added chocolate will bring down the temperature of the warm chocolate.
- Cool the chocolate. Once the chocolate gets below 84 degrees, remove the remaining chunks of chocolate. They can be cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and saved for another use.
- Reheat the chocolate briefly. Place the chocolate bowl over the warm water in the double boiler for 5-10 seconds, remove it and stir, and repeat, until the temperature reaches 88-89 degrees (87 for milk and white chocolate). Do not leave the chocolate over the hot water, or allow it to exceed 91 degrees.
- Your chocolate should now be tempered! To make sure it has been done properly, do a spot test: spread a spoonful thinly over an area of waxed paper and allow it to cool. If the chocolate is shiny and smooth, it is properly tempered. If it is dull or streaky, it has not been tempered correctly.
- To use tempered chocolate, you must keep it warm but not hot, ideally in the 85-88 degree range (86 degrees for milk and white chocolate)v. 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.” Whichever method you choose, it’s important to stir often so that the chocolate remains a uniform temperature throughout.
What You Need:
- At least 1 pound of chocolate
- Accurate chocolate or instant-read thermometer
- Double boiler, or a bowl fitted on top of a saucepan
- Rubber spatula