Tempering chocolate is a must for all at-home chocolatiers.

What Is Tempered Chocolate?

Fully understanding tempered chocolate involves a lot of science — from fatty acid crystals to nuclei. For a very simple explanation in layperson terms, tempering chocolate redistributes the cocoa butter in chocolate, making it more homogenous, shiny, and easier to work with.

Tempered vs. Untempered Chocolate

Properly tempered chocolate is shiny, smooth, and results in that characteristic "snap" when you break off a piece once it is set. If chocolate isn't tempered, it will look dull, streaky, and possibly greyish. It won't snap, and it will be difficult to work with. This is why tempering chocolate is an essential step when making your own chocolate treats at home.

chocolate dipped strawberry
Dipping strawberries in chocolate
| Credit: Brandy Clabaugh

Can You Temper Any Chocolate?

There are many types of chocolate that are perfect for cooking and baking, and melting chocolate is easy. Any type of chocolate can be tempered — dark, milk, and white — and in theory you could even temper chocolate chips or melts. But should you? That's another story.

The best chocolate for tempering is one with a high percentage of cocoa butter, which you won't find in chip form. This is called chocolate couverture. Don't let the name intimidate you — it simply refers to the amount of cocoa butter found in chocolate. To be couverture, the chocolate must have at least 35% cocoa solids and 31% cocoa butter. The more cocoa butter in the chocolate, the better it will temper.

So, in short, higher quality chocolate will temper more easily.

How to Temper Chocolate

To temper chocolate you will need:

  • 16 ounces of chocolate, preferably with a high percentage of cocoa butter
  • Double boiler (a stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan works well)
  • Rubber spatula
  • Candy thermometer

Step 1: Chop the Chocolate

Chop your chocolate into even pieces that are no larger than a 1/2-inch square, then place two-thirds of the chocolate in the stainless steel bowl.

Step 2: Prepare the Double Boiler

Fill a saucepan one-third full with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a very gentle simmer.

melting chocolate couverture

Step 4: Melt the Chocolate

Turn the heat down to low and place the bowl on top of the pan of hot water (the bowl should never touch the water). Gently stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it has melted completely and looks smooth.

Ensure that your water is not vigorously boiling and that no steam is escaping. Any moisture introduced here can cause the chocolate to seize — that is, turn it into a gritty, hard mess. For small amounts of chocolate, it is recommended to turn off the heat. Also, white chocolate, in particular, needs very gentle handling.

tempering chocolate

Step 5: Test the Temperature

Test the temperature of the chocolate. To temper chocolate, follow the target temperatures below. Do not let the chocolate go over the target temperature, as this can cause scorching.

Type of Chocolate Temperature (F) Temperature (C)

Dark chocolate

120 degrees F

49 degrees C

Milk chocolate

115 degrees F

46 degrees C

White chocolate

110 degrees F

43 degrees C

Step 6: Cool and "Seed" the Chocolate

As soon as the chocolate reaches the target temperature, remove the bowl from the heat, dry the bottom of the bowl, and begin the essential stage of cooling. We recommend cooling the chocolate by "seeding" — considered easiest for beginners and what we recommend trying at home.

To Seed the Chocolate:

  1. Gradually add the reserved chopped, un-melted chocolate to the bowl of melted chocolate. Stir until the added chocolate is melted.
  2. Keep stirring until the temperature falls to 82 degrees F (28 degrees C) for dark chocolate; 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) for milk chocolate; and 78 degrees F (26 degrees C) for white chocolate.
  3. Once cool, return the chocolate to the double boiler briefly to reach 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) for dark chocolate; 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) for milk chocolate; and 82 degrees F (28 degrees C) for white chocolate.
  • What is Tabling?
    Pastry chefs use a method called "tabling" to temper chocolate, a cooling-and-agitating method that involves pouring two-thirds of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab. The chocolatier quickly spreads it thinly with a metal spatula, scrapes it back into a pile with a putty knife, and spreads it thin again, repeating until the right consistency is reached. This cooled chocolate is stirred into the bowl of reserved warm chocolate. This is a more advanced way to temper chocolate and we don't recommend it for those of us who are tempering chocolate at home every once in a blue moon.

Step 7: Test the Temper

Test the temper by dipping a knife into the chocolate and letting it sit for two to three minutes. Tempered chocolate will dry quickly and have that tell-tale shiny appearance. If this is the case after testing, your chocolate is properly tempered and ready to use!

Is the chocolate still sticky? It's not in temper. Properly tempered chocolate should be firm to the touch after a few minutes. If at this stage your chocolate is not in temper, start over from step four.

Tips and Troubleshooting

I want to use less chocolate
You can always use a smaller quantity of chocolate than the 16 ounces called for here. Just melt two-thirds and keep one-third of the chocolate aside for seeding. Keep in mind that larger quantities of chocolate are easier to temper, as a smaller quantity can scorch more easily.

During seeding, my chocolate isn't cooling down
Cooling the chocolate during this step can take as much as 15 minutes, so don't fret. A stainless steel bowl will help the chocolate cool faster as compared to a glass one. Stirring the chocolate frequently will also facilitate cooling.

My tempered chocolate has cooled too much
If your chocolate ever gets too cool to work with, you can place it back on the double boiler and bring the temperature back up to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) for dark chocolate; 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) for milk chocolate; and 82 degrees F (28 degrees C) for white chocolate.

My chocolate is not tempered correctly
If your chocolate is ever out of temper, do not worry, and do not throw away perfectly good chocolate! You can always start over and go through all of the tempering steps again.

I don't want to go through all of these steps
Don't want to bother with tempering? You can buy products that melt easily and do not require tempering. These are called compound coatings, also known as confectionery coating, candy wafers, and melting wafers. These contain a vegetable fat (typically derived from palm oil) in place of cocoa butter, which removes the need to temper. Note, however, that these coatings will not have the same taste and mouthfeel as real chocolate.

Check out our entire collection of chocolate recipes for more reasons to temper chocolate, including: