If you’ve followed any of my own experiments with chocolate making, you’ll know that tempering chocolate is a difficult but necessary step. Without tempering, your chocolate will be soft, crumbly or bloomed. Temper it, and it will be glossy and crisp.
Tempering involves heating, cooling and heating the chocolate to very specific temperatures. Professional chocolatiers have expensive tempering machines or marble slabs to spread and cool the chocolate with.
They also have large quantities of chocolate to work with. As you might imagine, if you’re working with very small quantities of chocolate, it’s much more difficult to control the temperature precisely.
On our recent visit to Halen Môn in Anglesey, Green & Black’s Head Of Taste Micah Carr-Hill demonstrated a quick and simple method for tempering chocolate in a microwave. It’s the method Green & Black’s use in their development kitchen when they want to quickly experiment with a small amount of chocolate.
The key to this method is that you use chocolate that is already tempered (such as a bar straight out of the packet), and during the process, the chocolate never actually leaves a tempered state. You heat it in a very controlled way, so the temperature never goes about 30C for milk chocolate, or 32C for dark chocolate
Microwave Tempering Method
To temper chocolate in the microwave, take a couple of bars of unflavoured milk or dark chocolate and break them into small chunks in a plastic bowl. Plastic is best for this method, as it doesn’t retain the heat as much as other materials, so you’ll have better control of the temperature.
Start by giving your chocolate a 30 second blast in the microwave. If you’re using larger quantities of chocolate, you can probably increase that, but when in doubt, keep the time low. Remember, the key to this method is not to get the chocolate too warm.
After 30 seconds, take the chocolate out and stir it thoroughly. Initially, the chocolate will still be in chunks, but stir it anyway to make sure it’s heating evenly.
Give the chocolate a 10 second blast in the microwave, stir and repeat. When you’ve done this 2-3 times, you’ll notice the chocolate starting to melt. Initially, it will look a bit of a mess, but that’s Ok.
When the chocolate reaches this stage, start giving it 5 second bursts instead, stirring after each blast in the microwave.
If you have an accurate thermometer, you can start using it when parts of the chocolate start to flow. You want the chocolate to be able to flow, but to stay below 30/32 centigrade. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can touch a small dab of chocolate to your lower lip – one of the most sensitive parts of your body. The chocolate should feel cooler than your body temperature.
You’ll notice that some of the chocolate melts, but you’re left with some solid chunks, so stirring thoroughly is the key. You don’t want to overheat it, but you do want all the lumps to be melt.
You can probably do a better job than I did of keeping the chocolate off the sides of the bowl. That thin layer of chocolate on the side will heat more quickly!
As the chocolate melts further, you can reduce the microwave blasts to 3 seconds at a time. That may not seem like it would have much of an effect, but after each blast, you’ll notice the chocolate becomes thinner. The smaller the quantity of chocolate you have, the more careful you’ll need to be.
When the chocolate is all melted, but remains cool to the touch, it’s ready to go. It should be smooth, glossy, and pourable without being too thin.
If you do overheat the chocolate slightly, you can stir in a few unmelted chunks of chocolate to cool it slightly and seed the tempering process. On the few occasions I’ve used the microwave tempering method, I’ve had to do this once, and it worked well.
And if it all goes horribly wrong, don’t worry. Even Micah says he occasionally overheats the chocolate. That’s why he has an assistant.