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11/04/2011 09:39 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Melt Chocolate

Melting chocolate is fairly simple, but there are some important basics to know, says Chef Peter Greweling of The Culinary Institute of America. To begin, he starts with block chocolate, which he chops with a chef's knife. (You can also use pistoles, which don't require chopping.) The two things that can ruin chocolate are excessive heat and exposure to moisture, so be sure your cutting board and knife are dry. Even a little bit of water causes chocolate to thicken, and too much heat makes it form clumps.

Chef Greweling puts his chopped chocolate in a stainless steel bowl, then sets the bowl over a pan of simmering water. (You don't want the bowl to touch the water itself.) Stir the chocolate constantly to ensure even melting. If you're melting milk or white chocolate, you have to be extra careful about the heat. Dark chocolate can be heated to 120F, but milk or white to only 105F or 110F, tops. By keeping the heat very low and stirring constantly, you can always melt without overheating. You can use a thermometer, but don't need to if you watch carefully. When you see the chocolate is almost melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir until it's smooth and shiny.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Greweling from the Culinary Institute of America, and today I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to melt chocolate.

Chocolate is commonly available in a couple of different forms. You can buy it in pistoles, which is very convenient because they don't have to be chopped, and it's also available in block form. If you're using block chocolate, you have to chop it prior to melting. It's important to chop it into small pieces so it melts easily without overheating. Today I'm gong to use a chef's knife, and I just put my left hand on top of the knife like this and kind of cut corners off the chocolate, so that we're cutting small pieces. As I'm cutting this with the knife, you can see the chocolate is crumbling and breaking into these small pieces that are going to melt evenly without overheating.

The two things that ruin chocolate faster than anything else are excessive heat and exposure to moisture, so we're going to take great care to avoid both. The cutting board has to be perfectly dry, and all the tools that will handle the chocolate have to be perfectly dry. A little bit of water will cause chocolate to thicken; too much heat also can cause it to thicken or to form clumps.

Once the chocolate is chopped, we're going to put it into a bowl. I'm using a stainless steel bowl, because I'm going to put it over a water bath. The water bath to melt chocolate should not be too deep. I've got about an inch of water in my pan, so the bowl of chocolate never comes into contact with the water itself. If it comes into contact with the water, it will be too hot. Now I'll rest my stainless steel bowl in the saucepan, over the water. The water should never come to a full boil but a gentle simmer.

Chocolate should be stirred pretty regularly as it melts. For stirring, I like to use these plastic paddles that are made exclusively for stirring chocolate. If you don't have one of those, a wooden spoon works beautifully.

Today we're melting dark chocolate. If you're melting milk or white chocolate, you have to be even more careful about the heat. Dark chocolate can be heated to about 120 degrees fahrenheit; milk or white chocolate are much more sensitive to heat than that, and you should never heat them to above 105 or 110 degrees, tops. By keeping the heat very low, making sure your water's at a very gentle simmer, and by stirring the chocolate constantly, you can always melt it without overheating it.

If you want to use a thermometer at this point, you can - but truthfully you really don't need to as long as you don't see steam coming out, and as long as you keep moving the chocolate. Just gentle stirring will make sure that those last remaining chunks melt. Now we have our melted chocolate, which is perfectly suited for use in recipes like fudges, cake batters, or for tempering.

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