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I've tried a (few times) to melt chocolate but am obviously doing something wrong:

  1. Put a pot of water onto the boil
  2. Place a metal bowl over the pot
  3. Put chocolate into the bowl
  4. Wait for chocolate to go off!

(Obviously the steam is rising from the pot and going into the bowl)

What am I doing wrong? I'm not against using the microwave, would that be a better way?

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I've only ever melted chocolate in the microwave, but it works well. :D –  Kyra Jul 15 '10 at 23:06
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6 Answers

up vote 31 down vote accepted

The way you've described is precisely how I melt chocolate. If you have a double boiler, that's even better, but a bowl on top of a pot is fine too.

I can only think of two things that might be affecting the quality of your end result:

  • Is the bowl big enough? The melting bowl should be larger than the pot if possible; you want the steam to be forced under and around it.

  • Is the water temperature reasonable? You want it to be at a simmer. If it's rapidly boiling, the heat is too high.

As long as you keep those two things in mind, your chocolate should melt fine!

Edit: Thought of one other thing:

  • It's possible that the steam is actually rising above the bowl, then hitting something (like your range), condensing and then falling back into the bowl as water. You shouldn't even be getting much steam with this method, but just in case, turn your fan on, to make sure you aren't getting any condensation.
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+1 - the water shouldn't be on a rapid boil. You'll also run into burning it in the bottom of the bowl with too high a temp. –  s_hewitt Jul 15 '10 at 23:26
    
In addition, be sure your chocolate is in small pieces - just chop it up a bit (unless you're already using chips, of course). –  JustRightMenus Jul 17 '10 at 13:10
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I always melt chocolate in microwave. Once you are familiar with the process it saves you a lot of time.

Here is what I do:

  • Use chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate
  • Put them in large bowl and put the bowl in the microwave
  • Microwave for a small amount of time, say 30 seconds (you will easily decide how much time you need for the amount of chocolate you are melting once you do it a couple times)
  • See if any melting/softening occurs. If not, microwave for a little more time and check back. You should not be looking for complete melting of chocolate. Just make sure there is enough heat around.
  • Whisk until all chocolate melts
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I think this is the best answer. It's particularly easy if you've got a recipe where the melted chocolate gets mixed with melted butter, as you can microwave both at the same time. The butter melts a bit faster, and you can stir them together to get a quick melt without overheating the chocolate. –  Harlan Jul 16 '10 at 13:19
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This isn't a bad method, in a pinch, and I'll admit to occasionally using the microwave. But it's risky, and I wouldn't use it for baker's chocolate or for situations where you really need perfect consistency (like fudge). Good advice and I'm glad you posted it, although I wouldn't call it the "best" method as Harlan says. –  Aaronut Jul 16 '10 at 13:57
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+1 for the step-by-step. THE KEY IS TO GO SLOWLY, say 20 seconds at a time, perhaps lowering the power of the microwave, to avoid burning. This also works for butter. –  tomjedrz Jul 16 '10 at 19:27
    
Even though I answered this one and suggested the oven, I also use the microwave, but I start with a preheated bowl, as the microwave won't heat the bowl. As tomjedrz notes, one has to go slowly. –  papin Jul 16 '10 at 20:36
    
Be careful with this method because microwave chocolate will hold its shape. –  mikek3332002 Aug 27 '10 at 11:59
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I find the safest method to be the oven. Water is the big enemy of chocolate, even a drop or two will ruin a batch, so when I want to be safe, I melt my chocolate in the oven. I use an oven proof ceramic bowl. I place the chopped cooking chocolate in the bowl, turn the oven to its lowest setting (mine is 180°F) and place the bowl in the oven. Check it every three minutes by stirring it with a very dry spoon or one of those oven proof silicone spatulas. In most ovens it should not take more than ten minutes. Once out of the oven continue to stir, as the bowl will be a bit too hot for the chocolate.

Chocolate may melt in an oven and still retain its shape, that it why you have to test by stirring. Most cooking chocolates melt at about 100°F, which makes melting them in the microwave just as tricky as doing it on an improvised double boiler. After you get the hang of it, any method should work (in a hurry, I do it straight on the stovetop by putting the pan on and off the burner).

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Enemy of chocolate? Why? –  nalply Jul 28 '10 at 16:55
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The mouth feel of chocolate is important. Chocolate needs to melt and flow smoothly in the mouth. If one adds even 4% of water to solid chocolate it becomes a thick paste. The water dissolves the very finely milled sugar particles and lumps them up (like leaving sugar out in the humidity), giving the chocolate a grainy feel. Add more water and the sugar all dissolves eliminating the grains. –  papin Jul 29 '10 at 2:29
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According to Alton Brown, you can use a heating pad in a large bowl. Put your chocolate in a smaller bowl and put it on the heating pad. Turn the pad up and keep a close eye on the chocolate.

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I've found the safest way for me to melt chocolate is in a slow cooker on low heat. I have a small one that's intended for making dips that works perfectly, but if you only have a larger one, you could put a ceramic dish inside to melt smaller amounts of chocolate.

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I always make sure that the pot and bowl for the chocolate are of similar size. You don't want the pot to be tiny and the bowl to be large - you want an even surface area for the chocolate to melt on.

Stand by and keep the water simmering on a medium to low heat. It should not boil against the bottom of the bowl. If it does, you have too much water at too high a heat in your pot. You generally do not want to leave this unattended as it can heat up much quicker than expected and stir the chocolate frequently. Chocolate can burn against the edges of the bowl if it gets too hot.

Sometimes if I have other things to work on I will saran wrap the top of the bowl while it melts. This ensures nothing gets into my chocolate while I am not able to pay full attention to it.

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