Cooking

Do It Right: Melting Chocolate

The best ways to melt chocolate at home
Photo: Katie Foster/Tasting Table
Melting Chocolate

The Task
If you bake, chances are you've encountered a recipe involving melted chocolate, and, most likely, your recipe provided at least some instruction. Pastry chefs and baking pros, including the four we spoke to, tend to have a preferred method for melting, and though they don't always agree, there are a few undisputed rules.

Chocolate requires a delicate hand—think of it as the brisket of the dessert world and take a low and slow approach. Never melt chocolate directly in a hot pan; it will scorch. Clean, dry tools are essential as even a small amount of water can ruin your beautiful chocolate.

Individual chocolate discs are great, but avoid chips, which are engineered to hold their shape and won't be as fluid when melted. Chop bar chocolate into small, uniform pieces, so it melts quickly and evenly, and go extra fine with milk and white chocolate, which are slightly trickier to melt.

The Technique: Double Boiler
Using a double boiler is the traditional melting method, though few people actually own a proper double boiler. Most home cooks and pros improvise by placing a heatproof bowl over a saucepan filled halfway with water. Despite the common warning that the bowl should never touch the water, it's actually fine, says Alice Medrich, author of numerous books on chocolate, as well as the recently published Flavor Flours. She likes to create an "open" water bath, in which the bowl of chocolate sits in a larger skillet of barely simmering water, so you can keep an eye on things and avoid overheating the chocolate.

Nick Malgieri, founder of baking programs at New York's Institute of Culinary Education, sticks to the double boiler setup but shuts off the flame before setting the bowl of chocolate on top. Either way, stirring is key. It doesn't need to be constant, says Lisa Vega, executive pastry chef for San Francisco's Dandelion Chocolate, but keep close by and use a rubber spatula to stir every few minutes.

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The Technique: Microwave
If simmering water and makeshift double boilers sound fussy, don't despair. Each and every expert we spoke to is completely okay with using the microwave. It's faster and less messy, and may be the best option if you need to quickly melt a small amount of chocolate.

Medium or half power may be ideal on some microwaves; defrost might be better on others. Malgieri has even had success using full power. The trick, he says, is to use 30-second intervals and stir after each burst of heat. Chocolate is often more melted than it appears, Medrich notes, so always stir before nuking any further. Microwaves may be synonymous with speed, but you still need to go slow.

Two More Options
If you don't own a microwave, there are two more possibilities. Mindy Segal, pastry chef and owner of Chicago's Hot Chocolate and author of the upcoming Cookie Love, recommends setting the bowl of chocolate on top of a 350° oven. It takes longer, but the oven's heat will slowly and evenly melt the chocolate—it's the technique she uses in her professional kitchen.

A faster approach is Medrich's hair dryer technique, which works only on smaller quantities but is easy and just plain fun. Start from a distance, aim the dryer directly into the bowl of chocolate and gradually move closer as it melts. Medrich's one warning: If you're not careful, smaller pieces may fly out of the bowl. And we certainly don't want to lose any chocolate.

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