Melting chocolate is not the same as tempering chocolate, although melting is a necessary step in the tempering process. Melting chocolate can be accomplished in a microwave or over a hot-water bath. There are a few fundamental guidelines to successfully melting chocolate:
- Make sure the chocolate is chopped into uniform pieces to ensure even melting. Never try to melt large bars or blocks of chocolate that have not been chopped.
- Avoid all contact with water! Chocolate will seize and become unworkable if it comes into contact with even a few droplets of water. Make sure your bowls, workstation, and spatulas are completely dry.
- Melt the chocolate slowly over low heat. Chocolate is very delicate and can become lumpy or grainy if overheated.
- Stir the chocolate frequently with a rubber spatula, once the outer edges start to melt.
- Chocolate retains its shape when melted, so the only way to know if it is truly melted is to stir it. Do not rely on appearances alone.
Melting Chocolate in the Microwave
The microwave is a great tool for melting chocolate. If used properly, it can melt chocolate more quickly than a double boiler with minimal effort and mess. The most critical part of melting chocolate in the microwave is choosing an appropriate container. Ideally, you want to melt your chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl that remains cool or only slightly warm after several minutes of near-continuous microwaving. If the bowl is too hot for you to handle after it has been microwaved, it is too hot for your chocolate. If you have overheated your chocolate, immediately pour it into a cool bowl add chunks of unmelted chocolate, and stir continuously.
It is preferable to melt your chocolate on a low (50%) power setting, to avoid scorching or burning it. If your microwave does not have this option, heat the chocolate in shorter intervals and stir between each bout of heat. Additionally, if your microwave does not have a turntable that rotates the bowl of chocolate, manually turn the bowl each time you stop and stir the chocolate.
It is very difficult to determine exact microwaving times, as it can vary depending on microwave wattage, quantity of chocolate, and even the cocoa butter content of the chocolate. However, as a rough guide, estimate about 1 minute for 1 ounce of chocolate, 3 minutes for 8 ounces of chocolate, 3.5 minutes for 1 pound of chocolate, and 4 minutes for 2 pounds. Run the microwave in 30 second-1 minute increments, stirring in between and rotating the bowl if necessary. Finish heating when most, but not all, of the chocolate is melted. Stir the chocolate continuously until it is smooth, shiny, and completely melted.
Melting Chocolate With a Double Boiler
The traditional method of melting chocolate is to use a double boiler. A double boiler is a specialized set of pans consisting of a saucepan that holds hot water, and a bowl that fits securely over the saucepan. Chocolate is placed in the top bowl and allowed to melt over gentle, indirect heat. If you don’t own a double boiler, any metal or glass bowl that fits snugly over the top of a saucepan can be used.
Begin by filling the saucepan with hot water from the tap. You want enough water to provide heat, but not so much that the bottom of the chocolate bowl touches the water. Heat the saucepan over low heat until it just begins to simmer, then turn off the stove and place the chocolate bowl over the water. If you are melting large amounts of chocolate, begin with 1/3 of your final quantity and melt in batches, waiting until the chocolate in the bowl is melted before adding more unmelted chunks. Let the chocolate begin to melt, and then stir it gently with a plastic spatula. When almost all of the chocolate is melted, life the top bowl from the saucepan and set it on the counter. Stir continuously until it is shiny, smooth, and completely melted.
Melting Chocolate With Liquids
Many recipes call for melting chocolate along with liquids like milk, cream, water, or liqueurs. Melting chocolate with liquids is often faster and more convenient, since it often speeds melting times and prevents common chocolate problems like overheating. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when melting chocolate with other substances.
Chocolate should never be melted with very small amounts of liquid. Always use at least 1 tablespoon of liquid for every 2 ounces of chocolate. This prevents the dry particles (cocoa and sugar) in the chocolate from binding together and becoming lumpy. Very dark chocolates may require more than this guideline, so be prepared to add another spoonful or two of liquid if necessary. When adding large quantities of liquid, add it all at once, rather than in small amounts, to prevent the chocolate from thickening.
Cold liquids should never be added to melted chocolate, as it can cause the chocolate to seize. Instead, ensure that your liquids are warm (but not boiling) when you add them to chocolate. Additionally, many recipes, like ganache, call for hot liquids to be poured over chopped chocolate. The heat from the liquid melts the chocolate, while the room temperature chocolate cools down the liquid. If you are following this method, allow the hot liquid and chocolate mixture to sit for a few minutes, then gently whisk them together until completely incorporated. Another useful tool for combining chocolate and hot liquids is an immersion blender. This handheld gadget does an excellent job of creating a smooth emulsion without incorporating air bubbles. Food processors, blenders, and electric mixers can also be used at low speeds.