100 Techniques

Technique #94: Temper Chocolate for Shiny Candies and Cookies

Make the snappiest chocolate with your microwave.

Published July 30, 2023.

This is Technique #94 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master. 

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Chocolate is temperamental. Melting it to incorporate into brownies and sauces is easy enough, but melting it with the goal of creating shiny, snappy coatings for candies and cookies brings out a whole different personality in chocolate.

A good-quality chocolate bar has a glossy sheen and a satisfying snap. But if you simply melt that bar and use it as a coating or for drizzling on baked goods, it will set up into a blotchy, dull-looking mess that melts willy-nilly all over your hands.

This is because the crystal structure of the cocoa butter in the chocolate has changed. To get that glossiness back, all you need is this technique and a microwave.

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How to Know When Chocolate Is Tempered

Cocoa butter can solidify into any of six different types of crystals, each of which forms at a different temperature. But only one type—beta crystals—sets up dense and shiny and stays that way even well above room temperature. When a chocolate is made up of beta crystals, it is said to be in temper.

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Traditional Tempering Process versus Our Easier Technique

Traditional tempering is a painstaking, multistep process. First the chocolate is melted so that all its fat crystals dissolve. It is then cooled slightly, which allows new “starter” crystals to form. Finally, it is gently reheated to a specific temperature high enough to melt the less stable crystals and allow only desirable beta crystals to remain, triggering the formation of more beta crystals that eventually form a dense, hard, glossy network.

We developed an alternate technique that’s easier and more foolproof. It uses the microwave to control the temperature and thus the structure of the cocoa butter crystals. 

Our technique starts with chopping about three-quarters of the chocolate into fine shards and (mostly) melting it at 50 percent power, being careful not to let it get too warm. Then we deploy our secret weapon: We finely grate the remaining chocolate and stir it into the melted chocolate to disperse these small flakes evenly throughout. As they melt, their temperature stays low enough that most of their beta crystals remain intact, thus “seeding” the melted chocolate with beta crystals. This tempered chocolate boasts a lovely luster and great snap once it has cooled and set.

Tempering is key to the chocolate component of our Millionaire's Shortbread recipe.

Step by Step: How to Temper Chocolate Using a Microwave

Here are the key steps to our easier tempering method.

Step 1: Chop Chocolate

Chop about three-quarters of chocolate into very fine shards.

Step 2: Grate Chocolate

Grate remaining chocolate on fine holes of box grater.

Step 3: Microwave Chopped Chocolate

Microwave chopped chocolate at 50 percent power, stirring every 15 seconds, until just melted but not much warmer than body temperature (hold bowl in palm of your hand to gauge). Chocolate will still be slightly lumpy.

Step 4: Add Grated Chocolate

Add grated chocolate and stir until smooth, returning chocolate to microwave for no more than 5 seconds at a time, if needed, to complete melting.

Step 5 (Optional): Dip

IF DIPPING: Dip item to desired depth. Tap item against surface of chocolate 4 or 5 times, pulling up sharply each time, to remove excess.

Step 6 (Optional): Scrape Off Excess Chocolate

To prevent thick “foot” of hardened chocolate, gently scrape bottom against edge of bowl.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to test out your newfound knowledge of tempering? Try it with any of these recipes.


Millionaire's Shortbread

Britain’s triple-decker combo of buttery cookie, sweet caramel, and dark chocolate makes a perfect holiday gift. But only if every layer is flawless.
Get the Recipe

Buckeye Candies

Our target: a sweet, snappy, and satisfying take on this Ohio favorite.
Get the Recipe

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