Chocolatiering DIY Chocolate Making

How to Make Chocolate Hard (2 Methods)

how to make chocolate hard

Wondering how to replicate the hard chocolate shell on your favorite ice cream or candy? In this article, professional chocolatier Simon Knott explains how to make chocolate hard and the science behind hardening chocolate.

Some sweets just aren’t complete without the satisfying crack of a hard chocolate shell. I’m talking chocolate coated ice-creams, chocolate marshmallows, and a good ol’ fashioned choc-coated strawberry. But if you’ve tried to make these at home by simply melting chocolate and going for it, the results are often disappointing. Where is the beautiful snap? Why is it soft?

While it’s not as simple as just melting chocolate and dipping your treats into it, with a little know-how it’s not much more work than that either. In this article, our lovely resident chocolatier Simon Knott shares two methods for how to make chocolate harden with that satisfying crack you’re after.

Let’s hand over to Simon…

Table of Contents

How to Make Chocolate Hard

By Simon Knott, Professional Chocolatier (UK)

Aside from its complex flavor, most chocolate fans also enjoy the luxurious melting quality of chocolate as it dissolves in their mouth.

By coincidence, the melting temperature of chocolate is about 36°C (97°F), which is close to the human blood temperature of 37°C (99°F). This is why you can hold a piece of chocolate in your hand (typically between 27-32°C (80-90°F) without it melting, while at temperatures above 36°C (97°F), such as inside your mouth, it will quickly melt.

It’s partly the luck of this narrow temperature range that gives chocolate its tantalising appeal. However, if you’re less interested in how to melt chocolate and more interested in how to make chocolate harden, then what can you do?

The Science of How to Make Hardening Chocolate

The Role of Fat and Temperature in Chocolate Hardness

Cocoa butter, the vegetable fat element of chocolate, is very complex and usually comprises three triglyceride fatty acids (palmitic, stearic, and oleic), which account for 95% of cocoa butter mass.

In the cacao pod, these triglycerides’ formation depends on temperature and growing conditions as the tree adapts to the local climate. For example, plantations with higher temperatures generally produce pods with a higher level of palmitic acid. The crystal structures of these fatty acids are very versatile, and they can form into six different crystal types, some stable some not.

Chocolate tempering is a technique chocolatiers use to stabilise the fatty acids or cocoa butter crystals in melted chocolate. When tempering chocolate, the aim is to create enough beta crystals. Of the six crystal types, beta crystals create the strongest physical structure in chocolate, offering a good ‘snap’ when broken, as well as a good shelf life and the required hardness up to an ambient temperature of about 36°C (97°F).

Some chocolatiers struggle to understand that their smooth and uniform bowl of melted chocolate is full of fatty acid crystals. Super smooth chocolate and crystals just don’t seem to fit together. However, it makes more sense when you realise just how tiny these fatty acid crystals are.

coconut oil for hardening chocolate
Coconut oil is the best option for quick oil tempering, but will give a slight coconut flavor. Food-grade vegetable oil and nut butters also work.

Different Methods for How to Make Chocolate Hard

#1 Traditional Tempering

The most frequently used technique for hardening chocolate is tempering, which both chocolatiers and manufacturers routinely use in production. The process involves controlled heating of the chocolate, followed by cooling, agitation, and the addition of seed chocolate to initiate the crystallisation process.

Tempering chocolate is a straightforward technique once you get the hang of it. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in the different advice that is available online and in books. So, the best recommendation is just to start practising. It may not work properly the first couple of times, but nothing is lost, as you can use the chocolate again. More importantly, your experience and confidence will grow each time.

Advantages of Hardened or Traditionally Tempered Chocolate

For the chocolatier:

  • Better quality chocolate with a better ‘snap’
  • The chocolate has a glossy surface.
  • It doesn’t melt as easily.
  • It is more stable and has a longer shelf life.
  • Tempered chocolate shrinks slightly on cooling, which makes extracting chocolates from their moulds much easier.
  • Working with tempered chocolate is much easier when making decorations such as curls, ruffles, etc.

For the consumer:

  • A more enjoyable mouth feel when eating the chocolate.
  • It is less prone to melting in your hand.

#2 Quick Oil Tempering

Another quicker way of hardening chocolate is by adding fat or oil. This will affect the sheen of the melted chocolate and its hardening ability. Coconut oil is the most effective agent to harden chocolate. However, other oils and butter can be substituted, including sunflower, vegetable oil, nut butter, or even clarified butter, for its flavor.

Coconut oil comprises around 90% of saturated fatty acids and 10% of unsaturated fatty acids. In the same way as cocoa butter, as the temperature it is exposed to falls, it transitions to a crystalline solid at 21°C (70°F).

As its name suggests, oil quick tempering is a much faster method of hardening chocolate than traditional tempering. The addition of the fat or oil isn’t so temperature dependent, and there is no cooling phase to specific temperatures.

The technique is frequently used for chocolate coatings for fruit or ice cream, where the rigid crystal structure of tempered chocolate isn’t required.

Advantages:

  • It is quick, easy, and reliable.

Disadvantages:

  • If you use coconut oil (which is one of the best oils) it might impart a coconut flavor to the chocolate.
  • Doesn’t have a good shelf life.
how to make chocolate hard by tempering
When hardening chocolate by traditional tempering, a marble slab is used to cool the melted chocolate down to the correct temperature.

How to Make Chocolate Hard – Traditional Tempering (Advanced)

The temperatures for the different tempering stages vary from product to product and according to the chocolate type. Nearly all chocolate manufacturers will illustrate their tempering profile on their packaging. Also, Chocolatiering has already published an article by Chef Prish that explains how to temper chocolate; for a more detailed guide to tempering technique, jump over to that piece.

So, the following example for how to make chocolate hard by tempering, is just to illustrate the technique.

How to Make Chocolate Hard – Traditional Tempering (Example)

For this example, you will need:

  • Dark chocolate (eg 90g)
  • Callets or small chocolate pieces – one third quantity of dark chocolate (eg 30g)

STEP 1: Firstly, dark chocolate is heated to 50-55°C (122-131°F), which will break down any existing crystals in the chocolate. Milk or white chocolate needs a lower temperature of 45°-50°C (113-122°F). The heating can take place in either a tempering machine, a double boiler, or a microwave.

STEP 2: The chocolate is then allowed to cool down slightly when a third of the weight of the melted chocolate needs to be added as either small chocolate pieces or callets.

STEP 3: As the chocolate continues to cool, the new chocolate melts into it, distributing its own beta crystals into the mixture. Stirring helps the cooling process, but more importantly, it helps form even more beta crystals throughout the batch. The cooling can be achieved using the natural air temperature or by pouring the warmed chocolate onto a marble slab. The chocolate is worked with a spatula as the cooler marble gradually removes its heat.

STEP 4: Once the temperature reaches 31-32°C (88-90°F), the dark chocolate should be fully tempered and ready to use. For milk chocolate, 30-31°C (86-88°F); and for white chocolate, 29-30°C (84-86°F).

How to Harden Chocolate – Essential Guide
StepActionTemperature
Dark Choc.
Temperature
Milk Choc.
Temperature
White Choc.
#1Heat/melt chocolate to temperature…50-55°C
122-131°F
45°-50°C
113-122°F
45°-50°C
113-122°F
#2Add callets or chocolate pieces.n/an/an/a
#3Cool chocolate by stirring or working on marble slab. Measure temperature frequently.n/an/an/a
#4Chocolate is ready at temperature…31-32°C
88-90°F
30-31°C
86-88°F
29-30°C
84-86°F

How to Make Chocolate Hard – Quick Oil Tempering (Easy)

Quick-tempered chocolate is a convenient and fast replacement for traditional tempered chocolate. However, it doesn’t have all the physical qualities of tempered chocolate and may not work with all applications.

It does work well when applied to ice cream, and in this case is a great example of how to make hardening chocolate that snaps when you bite into it. When the chocolate and oil combination hits the cold of the ice cream, the crystal structure of the coconut oil and the chocolate creates a satisfying hard shell.

How to Make Hardening Chocolate – Oil Quick Tempering

For this demonstration, you will need:

  • Dark chocolate (170g)
  • Coconut oil (27g)
  • Items to coat in chocolate (eg strawberries, ice creams)

STEP 1: Melt 170g dark chocolate using a double boiler or a microwave to 48°C (118°F). Stir with a spatula until it is smooth and uniform.

STEP 2: Add 27g of coconut oil. Stir again until the oil and chocolate are well combined. When warm, the oil will make the chocolate thinner and create a glossy finish.

STEP 3: Coat or dip fillings in the chocolate and allow them to set.

EDITOR’S NOTE: From personal experimentation, I have found a 50/50 combination of coconut oil and food-grade cocoa butter works well for making a firm chocolate shell that holds shape even in warm environments; great for coating cookies. My theory is that this is due to the higher melting point of cocoa butter (34°C / 93°F), compared with coconut oil (24°C / 75°F). -Ayla Marika

Chocolate Hardening Tips & Troubleshooting

TEMPERING FRUSTRATION. Traditional tempering is an easy-to-learn craft but still requires careful temperature control, timing and accurate ingredient weighing. Keep practising until you feel at home with the process. For help, read Chef Prish’s article on tempering technique, and watch a few videos on YouTube.

MICROWAVE. Using a microwave for tempering chocolate can be problematic. It’s difficult to achieve the right timing and power, which may result in chocolate hotspots. Use a lower power for longer.

WATER. Water and sometimes even steam are the enemies in tempering and working with chocolate. The smallest contamination can have disastrous results on a batch. Keep all equipment scrupulously clean and possible contamination controlled.

DIPPING. Don’t try and dip either hot or cold centres in tempered chocolate. Make sure they are at room temperature. Otherwise, the difference in temperature will throw the coating chocolate out of temper, giving it a bloomed appearance.

HOT ENVIRONMENT. Hot summer days are not ideal for working with chocolate. If the ambient temperature is above 31°C, this is enough to start breaking down the crystal structure of your tempered chocolate, which may lead to defects when you cool the chocolates. If you don’t have a temperature-controlled room, it may be better to delay production. Similarly, very high humidity can also negatively affect the chocolate setting.

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article from chocolatier Simon Knott on how to make chocolate hard. To summarize quickly, Simon suggests the following two techniques for home cooks to harden chocolate:

How to Make Hardening Chocolate – Summary

Traditional tempering. In general this is the best technique for making hardening chocolate, however, it is more challenging to master the skill than quick oil tempering. It is not suitable for coating hot/cold items as the sudden temperature change can knock the chocolate out of temper.

Quick oil tempering. This is an easier technique for beginner chocolatiers to carry out, but is not as stable as traditional tempering. It is a good option for coating other food items, especially cold foods such as ice cream and refrigerated strawberries.

Although not discussed in his article, Simon did mention to me in passing that in industrial and lab applications, food hydrogels may be used to achieve chocolate hardening. However, these are substances intended for use by food scientists with access to the correct technology, not for home use, therefore no information has been provided on it here. I’m just mentioning this for your interest, in case you have trouble exactly replicating the hard chocolate coating from your favorite store-bought candy or biscuit.

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out these related articles:

What is tempering and how to do it – by Chef Prish

Best chocolate panning machines for coating nuts, candy etc. – by Simon Knott

How to use chocolate foil wrappers – by Simon Knott

Happy chocolatiering!

Article Author

  • Simon Knott

    Simon Knott studied a BSc Hons in Catering Management, Food Science, and Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and started writing in 2006, specialising in food and drink. He worked as Food & Drink Editor for two county magazines, interviewing chefs and local food producers. In 2010 Simon started a company making traditional fudges and chocolate products. The company quickly grew, supplying local outlets and Simon was awarded five Gold Great Taste Awards for his products. Simon recently completed a Diploma in Copywriting, and continues to write about food and drink, business and skiing.

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