Alton Brown's Top Tip For Tempering Chocolate

Hand-dipped strawberries or other chocolate-coated fruits and confections can make a great homemade gift to show a loved one you care, but since melting chocolate isn't as easy as it sounds, it wouldn't hurt to explain to them how hard you had to work to really drive that point home. Melting chocolate can be quite the task after all: It usually takes a double boiler setup (though it can be done in the microwave, provided you follow the correct steps) and is likely to turn out poorly if you take the wrong shortcut.

One of the keys to making all-star chocolate treats is to temper your chocolate. According to Alpha Foodie, tempering is a melting method used to give chocolaty treats that desirable glossy finish and satisfying snap. When chocolate (particularly the fats found in cocoa butter) is melted and reheated at the incorrect temperature without being tempered, your treat could come out dry, crumbly, and can even develop a chalky 'bloom' on the outside. Bloomed chocolate is still safe to eat and won't affect the taste, however, it does take away from the professional presentation.

Luckily for those looking to dip their toes into chocolate making, "Iron Chef America" and "Good Eats" host Alton Brown is here — as always — with a dash of science and wit to save the day.

Proper tempering takes a little heat and a lot of stirring

The key to properly tempering chocolate is controlling the temperature and the rate that the crystals form. According to Alton Brown, this is because the chocolate crystals in cocoa butter can form in six different arrangements. When properly tempered, they will take form five, but they will only do so in a particular temperature range. Any more or any less, and you're stuck with the wrong arrangement. Brown's trick to ensuring your chocolate comes out perfectly tempered is to use a very careful application of heat and a lot of stirring.

Brown recommends first giving your bowl of the proper (preferably couverture) chocolate a five-second dip into a shallow bath of simmering water before removing it and stirring vigorously for 30 seconds. The Food Network star says that the limited time on heat allows for careful temperature control and the agitation will encourage the growth of chocolate crystals, all while ensuring everything melts evenly. Keep repeating until your chocolate reaches a consistent liquid form.

Alpha Foodie notes that different chocolates will have different temperature ranges you will need to stick to in order to properly temper your chocolate. As a rule, chocolate chips should be avoided, as they often contain additives to help them keep their shape instead of melting.