How to melt chocolate: low and slow is the way to go

How many times have you scanned through a recipe and come across this phrase: “Melt the chocolate …”? Recipes including solid chocolate in place of (or in addition to) cocoa powder will call for you to melt the chocolate (obviously) before using it. But seldom do those recipes tell you exactly how to melt chocolate, which can be super simple but only if you take steps to avoid some potential pitfalls.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Choose your chocolate

First, choose the chocolate you’re going to melt. Common knowledge used to hold that bar or chunk chocolate was better for melting than chocolate chips. Chips contain soy lecithin, an emulsifier that also slows melting (and helps the chips stay intact in cookies). But most chocolate you can get these days, including fancy bars and chunks, includes lecithin. So if chips are what you have on hand, go ahead and use them.

If you’re melting bar chocolate, use a heavy knife to chop it into pieces. The smaller and more uniform the pieces, the more evenly and quickly the chocolate will melt.

Are all chocolates created equal when it comes to melting? Not exactly. Compared to unsweetened, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate, white and milk chocolate are less forgiving. Their melting point is lower, so you need to be more careful not to overheat (and potentially scorch) them.

Decide on your heat source

So do you just dump that cup of chocolate chips into a saucepan and set it over a burner? No! Chocolate scorches easily, so the first rule to observe when learning how to melt chocolate is “low and slow.” And there are several ways to gently heat (and successfully melt) solid chocolate.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

How to melt chocolate: the double boiler (or clone)

You may have seen a recipe instruction telling you to melt chocolate in a double boiler. If you have one, use it; but you can easily duplicate this special pan by using a heat-safe bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.

Put about 1/2” of water in the bottom of the saucepan and set the bowl of chocolate into the pan. The bowl should ride high enough that it won’t touch the water in the bottom of the pan, even when it’s bubbling and boiling.

Heat the pan over medium heat until the water boils. Turn it down so it’s somewhere between a simmer and a boil. The bowl will get hot and gradually melt the chocolate; count on about 8 to 10 minutes for a cup of chopped chocolate or chips.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

When you see the chocolate becoming shiny around the edges of the bowl, give it a quick stir. If it seems soft and melty, keep stirring; if it seems stiff and resistant, let it heat longer, until it softens to the point where the solid chocolate readily melts as you stir.

Remove the pan from the heat and keep stirring over the hot water until the melted chocolate is completely smooth.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Watch those drips and splashes!

Caution: keep any water (condensation, steam) far away from your melted chocolate. Why?

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Just 1/4 teaspoon water was enough to turn my perfect melted chocolate into a lumpy mess.

Even a small amount of water will cause your lovely, smooth melted chocolate to “seize” — that is, turn into hard, dry lumps.

Why does this happen? That small amount of water, believe it or not, is enough to turn some of the sugar into syrup, to which cocoa particles cling — resulting in the situation you see above. And oh, by the way, this includes extracts as well; adding a teaspoon of vanilla to your melted chocolate will turn it into a stiff, recalcitrant mass.

So, is seized chocolate a lost cause? Not at all. By adding a tablespoon or so of water and reheating briefly you can semi-liquefy the chocolate. That’s sufficient to turn it into frosting (with the addition of some confectioners’ sugar and a splash of milk or water), but it’ll never revert to its original smooth self.

Your recipe calls for melted chocolate. Do you know how to get there without landing in hot water? Click To Tweet

Double boiler and clone
Pro: Impossible to burn the chocolate
Con: Possibility of splashing water into the melted chocolate, causing it to seize

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

How to melt chocolate: the microwave

Now, if you’re anxious about your chocolate seizing, you might want to try heating it in the microwave instead. The chief danger here is burning the chocolate, but that’s fairly simple to avoid if you employ some patience.

Rather than set your timer for 2 minutes and walking away, heat the chocolate in 30-second bursts at regular power.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Microwaving 1 cup of chocolate chips to the point of shininess takes three bursts (90 seconds) in my microwave.

Depending on how much chocolate you’re melting, at some point it will begin to look shiny.

Once the chips are shiny, remove them from the microwave. Wait 1 minute; this will give any last bits of chip a chance to soften.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Stir until smooth. If you still have a few lumps, reheat for 15 seconds and stir again.

Microwave
Pro: Quick and easy
Con: Just a few seconds too many can burn the chocolate

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

How to melt chocolate: the modified sous vide

Sometimes you just want a little bit of melted chocolate to drizzle over cookies, or to write “Happy Birthday” on a cake. In that case, here’s a simple trick.

Place chips or chopped chocolate in a zip-top bag. Close the bag securely.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Place the bag in a bowl of very hot tap water; your faucet’s hottest setting should be fine.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Partially sink the bag with a spoon or other weighty object; but remember, you don’t want water anywhere near the bag’s opening.

You might recognize this melting by hot-water bath as a very modest form of sous vide: bagging food and cooking it at a very low, constant temperature.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

After 10 minutes or so, remove the bag from the water and massage it until the chips melt.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

Snip off one corner. For pleated bags, open the pleat and snip off one corner, leaving the other one intact. Make the tiniest of snips; you can always go back and make the opening larger if you need to, but it’s impossible to make it smaller.

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

I’ve always said I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene! The method works fine; chalk this sad piping up to user error.

Squeeze melted chocolate out of the bag onto your cookies or cake.

Modified sous vide
Pro: Perfect for small amounts of chocolate to pipe or drizzle; no need to dirty a piping bag and tip
Con: Not suitable for large amounts of chocolate

How to melt chocolate via @kingarthurflour

How to melt chocolate: your takeaways

Find a method you like, and stick with it. You have a double boiler and know how to use it? Great. You’ve nailed the exact time it takes your microwave to melt 1 cup of chips? Stir and repeat. Whatever melting method works for you is the right one to use.

• For best melting when working with larger amounts of chocolate (more than 1 cup), divide and conquer. Place 1 cup of the unmelted chocolate in a large enough bowl to hold all the chocolate you plan on melting. Once that first cup is melted, stir the second cup of chips into the melted ones, and repeat the heating/stirring process. Continue until you’ve melted all of the chocolate.

Trust your recipe. If the recipe tells you to melt chocolate with some of the liquid in the recipe, that’s fine. Melting chocolate in conjunction with a sufficient amount of liquid (as opposed to adding a touch of liquid to melted chocolate) actually prevents it from seizing.

What about tempering?

If you’re melting chocolate as an ingredient rather than a topping or garnish, then it really doesn’t matter how pretty it is. But sometimes you want to use that melted chocolate as a dip for strawberries, a coating for cookies, or the shell of a truffle — in which case you’d like it to hold onto its satiny gleam and rich color.

Tempering chocolate takes melting one step further: you need to keep it under, and then at, a specific temperature. For great advice on tempering chocolate, please see our blog post, A basic guide to tempering chocolate.

Have you ever tried melting chocolate in your oven? What about a slow cooker? If so, please share your results (or any other tips around melting) in “comments,” below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. MJ Sella

    When I have to melt a small amount of chocolate (<6 oz), I just use the warmer on my coffee maker. I measure the required amount into a small heat proof bowl (Pyrex) turn on the coffee maker – no water or coffee :). Let it heat up and put the bowl on the burner portion. It's got an automatic shut off if I forget. And I have never burned a batch yet.

    Reply
  2. Margaret

    Thank you for posting this information about melting chocolate. Some interesting info here that I did not know. The double boiler is my preferred method. My nemesis is the white chocolate! Sometimes we are friends sometimes we are not! So now I know, low and slow is the way to go. Love all your articles PJ. Thanks again!!

    Reply
  3. Shari

    Thanks so much for this article! However, I’m curious about something. I have a fudge recipe, in which Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate is one of the ingredients. I microwave it in 30 second increments, stir and continue, and after it’s melted and stirred, a teaspoon of vanilla is added. I’ve never had a problem with the chocolate seizing. Is this because it’s Baker’s chocolate? By the way, I add a thin layer of Andes Crème de Menthe chocolate pieces on top of the chocolate bottom layer and then add a layer of melted Baker’s White Chocolate on top. It’s always requested by family and friends during the winter holiday season!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Your fudge sounds so delicious and festive, Shari! Your vanilla might have less water content than others, so whatever you’re using — keep using it! Annabelle@KAF

  4. Kathy R.

    As a candy maker, I melt about 150 lbs of chocolate melts a year.I have a small(read miniscule) business. I use white,milk and dark melts. I also color and flavor the chocolate. To melt it I use my microwave exclusively. However, having burned a few bowls along the way, I melt it at 2 power for two minutes at a time. Ocassionally, I will do it for 3 minutes at 3 power if I have a large amount to begin the melting and then revert to the two minutes. Microwave burnt chocolate is one of the worst smells and even if only the bottom looks burnt the whole batch will smell and taste burnt.

    Reply
  5. Rebecca Weygandt

    Your interesting ‘Fruitcake’ article brought back treasured memories of my Victorian Grandma…
    She was born in 1880 & was 60 years old when I was born…
    We usually always went to Her house for Thanksgiving (many times she would roast a
    goose). She would have her
    fruitcakes ripened & ready to join the pumpkin
    & dried apple pies…Her fruitcakes were dark
    & moist & tender, but best of all she didnt use
    the citrus rind or citron fruits – she would drain fruit cocktail overnight then dust it gently with flour so it wouldnt sink to the bottom in the batter…even as a
    little Kid I loved those cakes!…

    Reply
    1. Cindy McGhee

      Do you think you could post or email me your grandmothers fruitcake recipe. I love making fruit cakes especially the dark ones. My email is outlanders3(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you

  6. Danielle Durand

    Thank you PJ Hamel and King Arthur Flour, this is really interesting, quite a few things that I did not know… and the answers to questions are very useful as well. Always a pleasure reading you and cooking with you! 🍫🍩🍪🍮

    Reply
  7. SarahD

    I use the lazy and slow way to melt chocolate. My gas stove has an intermittent burner (two actually) that turns itself on and off. I stick the chocolate in a heavy bottomed saucepan over the intermittent burner on the lowest setting so it comes on for something like 10 seconds and goes off for 50 seconds, on for 10, etc., and just walk away for a long time. I come back to perfectly melted chocolate.

    Reply
  8. Tamara

    Now I understand why my chocolate seized when I added peppermint extract to make peppermint bark candy. The question is, how do I prevent this seizing when I want to add an extract to my chocolate.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tamara! One thing you can try is to take a spoonful or two of the chocolate out of the big bowl and mix that with your little bit of peppermint extract in a little bowl so the ratio of chocolate to extract is high enough that it shouldn’t seize. Then, add that chocolate/extract mix to the big bowl of chocolate to combine. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  9. Tiara

    Thank you for your article! I do have a question – I frequently melt the chips for dipping or as a glaze for cakes. Once it’s cooled, they become very hard. Is there a way to keep the chocolate from becoming solid again? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tiara! The only way to keep chocolate from hardening is to add fat or an invert sugar (a sugar that’s liquid at room temperature) such as corn syrup. See the recipe for a chocolate glaze here. If you want it to just be pure chocolate, the only way to keep it from hardening is to keep it at a warm temperature around 100°F. Annabelle@KAF

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