How to Temper Chocolate using the Microwave

Tempering chocolate

Tempering is an essential step when using couverture chocolate for making a smooth, glossy, and evenly coloured coating with a good snap for dipping or decorating baked items or bonbons. Did you know that the process of tempering, in both steel and chocolate, is the same? It's true.

So what exactly is couverture chocolate, and why do we need to temper it? Couverture chocolate is real chocolate, the finest quality of chocolate that contains added cocoa butter, which is fat derived from the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter is the most expensive ingredient in chocolate. This is why couverture chocolate is generally more expensive than other types of chocolate because it contains a lot of cocoa butter. As a fat, cocoa butter is amazing — it has a crystalline structure that is polymorphic, which means the fat crystals in the cocoa butter behave differently at different temperatures. There are 6 kinds of identified fat crystals in chocolate, the one that is our best friend during tempering is called Beta 5.

The purpose of tempering chocolate is to use time, temperature, and motion to get the fat crystals to transform and behave they way you want them to. This process is also called pre-crystallization — the chocolate is heated, then cooled, and stirred constantly to distribute the temperature until only the desired type of fat crystal - Beta 5 - remains.  When this happens, the Beta 5 fat crystals in the cocoa butter "seed" or persuade all of the other fat crystals to change to Beta 5 as well. It's kind of like how frost forms and spreads across a wet window on a cold cold day.

The formation of Beta 5 crystals in the chocolate guarantees stability - a perfect finished product with a satin gloss and a hard snap. Like tempered steel. Saying that chocolate is "tempered" is the same as saying the chocolate is "crystallized" Confused? That's okay, join the club. Read on and let's give it a try. 


The most important rule is to not hurry or rush when melting chocolate and always use low heat.  DO NOT let the temptation to turn up the heat to try to hurry the process, as rushing the process will ruin the flavour and texture of the chocolate.

While working with couverture, room temperature should not exceed 20°C-24°C otherwise the couverture might not set up properly. If the room is warm, work the couverture at 1-2 degrees cooler.

Here are the correct tempering temperatures for Cococo couverture chocolate (Note: different couverture chocolate from different manufacturers may have different crystallization temperatures).
Dark Chocolate (semisweet, bittersweet) : 27°C-32°C
Milk Chocolate : 27°C-30°C
White Chocolate : 27°C-29°C
Ruby Couverture : 28.5°C – 29.5°C, though for maximum workability you may need to heat Ruby as high as 31°C -32°C.

Tempering chocolate using a microwave – the ‘seeding’ method

What you need:
• heat proof bowl
• 250g to 500g Semisweet couverture, Bittersweet couverture, or Milk chocolate couverture, chopped into small pieces
• spatula
• thermometer (optional)

Chop the couverture into small pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl. A good quantity for this method is 500g; any amount less than 250g may scorch or burn in the microwave. Put the couverture in the microwave and set power at high for 1 minute (30 seconds if using less than 500 g), paying careful attention that it doesn’t scorch or burn. Take the chocolate out of the microwave and stir well to distribute the temperature throughout. The couverture may just have started to melt or might be just warming up (depending on the power of your microwave or the temperature of your chocolate). That is okay. You've got this. 

Repeat heating at short intervals until the chocolate couverture is half-melted, then reduce microwave time to 10 second intervals on high, stirring thoroughly at each interval. Do this until only small pieces of the chocolate are still visible in the bowl, then remove from microwave and stir well until all of the pieces have been melted and a smooth consistency is obtained. It is better to remove the chocolate from the microwave early and stir very well for a long time than risk burning it by keeping it in the microwave too long. If you have a reliable thermometer, check the temperature of the melted couverture to see if it is in the desired temperature range for the type of chocolate you are using.

To check if the chocolate is correctly tempered, dip the tip of a teaspoon into the couverture or spread a thin layer of chocolate on a parchment paper. Let harden. If the chocolate hardens quickly and is shiny (in 2-3 minutes) then it is tempered and ready to be used in dipping or enrobing. Congratulations! Now you must work quickly to do your dipping or enrobing before the chocolate cools and gets harder to work with. Place the bowl of tempered chocolate on a placement or folded towel so that the heat from the chocolate isn't leeched out by the cold countertop or kitchen surface.

Now the next challenge is to maintain your tempered chocolate at temperature so you can finish your dipping project while the chocolate is fluid enough to work with easily. There are two ways to do this.

1) Once you notice the chocolate thickening and being hard to work, then pop it back into the microwave for 5-7 seconds. Be conservative! All is needed is a little bit of heat and more stirring to distribute the temperature. Repeat if necessary. Be careful: too much heat and you will throw your chocolate out of temper and you will have to start ALL over again from the beginning (that's when you might be tempted to throw a "temper tantrum").


2) Use a heat gun or clean hair dryer (watch out for hairs please!) to briefly blow warm air on the tempered chocolate while you stir to distribute the warmth. Five to ten seconds should do it. Repeat as needed, but only a little bit of heat at a time.

Finally, do a temper test before you dip, otherwise you might risk using untempered chocolate and wasting your efforts. Do another temper test with the spoon or parchment, and/or check the temperature of the couverture to see if it is in the desired tempering temperature range for the type of chocolate you are using.

Good luck, and keep on dipping!

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