double-boilers & chocolate

To be perfectly honest, melting chocolate can be quite the disaster.  It is a process that must be done very gently.   The second that chocolate starts to burn, it can seize up.  When chocolate seizes, it creates these mean little lumps of angry chocolate and, unfortunately, can no longer be used.  This has happened to me far too many times, and let me tell you, there’s nothing more devastatingly heartbreaking than having to toss out a big batch of ruined chocolate.

I’ve found that the best way to melt chocolate is by using gentle, indirect heat.  Some people have luck using the microwave to heat small batches of chocolate in tiny intervals, stopping to stir every few seconds.  While for certain projects or for certain people, this may be a perfectly suitable way of melting chocolate, is seems that most microwaves tend to heat things unevenly.  Uneven heat can cause little “hot spots,” which, in turn, can lead to the seizing described above.

A double-boiler is an easy way to create indirect heat for the preparation of many different ingredients in many different recipes.   Using a double-boiler is a great way to slowly and evenly soften and eventually melt your chocolate with a very minimal chance of burning.  To create a double-boiler, simply fill a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a couple inches of water and bring the water to a simmer (not a boil) over the stove.  Place the desired amount of chocolate to be melted into a glass bowl that fits snugly onto the saucepan.  Make sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching any of the simmering water in the saucepan, and if it does, empty out a little bit of the water.  This contraption is your double-boiler!

The double-boiler allows for the steam from the water to heat the glass bowl and gently melt the chocolate.  It’s important to consistently stir the chocolate and keep it moving as it melts, while also scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.   Once the chocolate is almost completely melted, turn off the heat and remove the bowl from the saucepan.  Place the bowl on the counter top and stir, allowing the remaining solid chocolate to combine and melt.

When melting chocolate, try to always have some extra on hand, just in case it burns or seizes up and has to be thrown away.  If a recipe calls for any type of liquid to be added to the melted chocolate, such as heavy cream in a ganache, try to heat up the other liquid before mixing it into the hot, melted chocolate.  If you attempt to combine a cool or even a room temperature ingredient into hot chocolate, there’s a good chance it will seize up.

A great way to add a bit of richness to any dessert is by serving it alongside a smooth, warm chocolate sauce.  The perfect shiny, thick chocolate sauce follows very specific proportions.  Here’s a great recipe:

Chocolate Sauce

1 ounce unsalted butter (about 2 tablespoons)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

½ cup cream

2½ ounces confectioner’s sugar (just over ½ cup)

10½ ounces bittersweet, dark, or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Combine butter, milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan over low medium-low heat, warming until butter has melted and liquid is barely simmering.  Pour hot liquid over chocolate in a medium glass bowl and let it rest for 2-3 minutes to allow the chocolate to soften.  Whisk mixture together until chocolate has completely melted and mixture is homogeneous.  Set aside to cool until desired consistency is reached, as the longer the sauce rests, the more it thickens.  Sauce may be reheated in a double boiler or gently and gradually in a low microwave.


Below is a basic chocolate glaze recipe, used to coat eclairs and other pastries.  The semisweet chocolate can be replaced with dark or white chocolate, depending on particular use of the glaze.

Chocolate Glaze

6 ounces unsalted butter (about ¾ cup)

½ cup water

¼ cup light corn syrup

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Combine butter, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan over low medium-low heat, warming until butter has melted and liquid is barely simmering.  Pour hot liquid over chocolate in a medium glass bowl and let it rest for 2-3 minutes to allow the chocolate to soften.  Whisk mixture together until chocolate has completely melted and mixture is homogeneous.  Set aside to cool until desired consistency is reached, as the longer the glaze rests, the more it thickens.

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