Why Chocolate 'Burns' And How You Can Save It

Melting chocolate in a double boiler Have you ever been melting confectionery chocolate in a double boiler or microwave and watched as it dried out and crumbled to bits before ever actually melting? Many people have, and when it...

Melting chocolate
Melting chocolate in a double boiler

Have you ever been melting confectionery chocolate in a double boiler or microwave and watched as it dried out and crumbled to bits before ever actually melting? Many people have, and when it happens they refer to it as being 'burned.' This gritty clumpy mess is typically discarded and the project started over again.

However, the more accurate term for this phenomenon is 'seizing,' not burning. To understand why chocolate seizes, you must first understand what chocolate is. 

Simply put, chocolate is much like basic cookie dough. It's a combination of fat (from the cocoa butter) and dry solids (cocoa powder and sugar.) Like cookie dough, you don't want water anywhere in the equation because although the results won't be exactly the same, they won't be ideal. When water comes in contact with chocolate the previously dry particles become moist and begin sticking together. The result is a gritty, unappetizing mass of chocolate which is no longer suitable for dipping or coating.

If this has happened to you, don't worry! The chocolate is far from ruined. Though it cannot be used for dipping like you may have been planning, it's still perfectly good for baking. You can revive some of the chocolate's silkiness by slowly mixing in a tablespoon of solid vegetable shortening for every six ounces of chocolate. This chocolate can be stored and used for brownies, cakes, cookies, or any other baked goods which call for melted chocolate.

Smooth melted chocolate
Smooth melted chocolate

The best way to recover from seized chocolate is to avoid it altogether. You can do this by;

  • Ensuring bowls and utensils are completely dry.
  • Avoid using wooden spoons or bowls with your chocolate as they can leach moisture into it.
  • If using a double boiler, keep the water hot but not boiling. Rapidly boiling water can accidentally send droplets into your chocolate.
  • Avoid steam as it can cause chocolate to seize.
  • And finally, never use a lid to cover melted or melting chocolate. The heat trapped within will cause the water vapor to condense and make your chocolate seize.

That being said, it is still possible to overheat chocolate. Dark chocolate can only handle temperatures up to 120ºF, while milk and white chocolate can only go up to 110ºF. While not 'burned' like we discussed, overheated chocolate will lose its trademark silky shine, becoming thick and clumpy. The best thing to do if you suspect your chocolate is overheating is to immediately remove it from the heat source and begin bringing down its temperature. The best way to do this is to transfer it to a clean, dry, and cool bowl. Then, slowly stir in some solid chocolate chips to help bring the temperature down.  If you're still struggling with lumpiness, mix in a spoonful of vegetable oil or solid vegetable shortening. Alternatively, you could try adding a few drops of soya liquid lecithin, which is an emulsifier. If it's mostly smooth with only a few clumps, you can spoon the clumps out or pass the chocolate through a fine sieve. If none of these tricks help, you can settle for using this chocolate as baking chocolate and begin again.

Again, the best remedy for seized or overheated chocolate is prevention. Avoid heating your chocolate too high too quickly by using a candy thermometer. Also prevent any water from coming in contact with your melted chocolate, especially if you are using a double boiler. If you would like to read more cooking tips and tricks, we invite you to visit our website. Additionally, you may contact us with any questions or comments about this article or others. We look forward to hearing from you!