When chocolate melts, it is ideally a beautifully smooth, shiny, satiny mixture. However, there are a number of things that can turn your melted chocolate into a clumpy mess. If chocolate comes into contact with even a small amount of water, it will “seize,” or turn into a grainy, clumpy mess in the bowl. Similarly, if chocolate is overheated, it will become quite thick and lumpy.
If you run into problems with burnt, overheated, or seized chocolate, all is not lost!
Seized chocolate cannot be fixed, but it can be put to other uses in the kitchen. Overheated chocolate can sometimes be salvaged. Read on!
Why Does Chocolate Seize?
Chocolate is a mixture of fat (from cocoa butter) and dry particles (cocoa and sugar). When the melted chocolate comes into contact with water, the dry particles become moist and begin to stick together, quickly forming a gritty, rough mass of chocolate.
How Can I Prevent Seizing?
The most important thing you can do to prevent chocolate from seizing is to eliminate any chance of the chocolate coming into contact with water. Always make sure the bowls and utensils you are using are perfectly dry. Avoid using wooden spoons or boards, as they might retain moisture and impart this moisture to your chocolate. If you are using a double boiler to melt your chocolate, keep the water hot but not boiling, or turn off the heat before the chocolate is placed on top.
Boiling water might splash above the rim of the saucepan and cause droplets to fall in the chocolate. In addition, boiling water gives off a great deal of steam, and steam can also cause chocolate to seize. Be sure to wipe the bottom of the bowl the chocolate is melting in on a regular basis, to remove water and condensation.
Finally, never cover warm chocolate with a lid, as the heat of the chocolate might form condensation on the inside of the bowl, which will cause the chocolate to seize.
My Chocolate Has Seized! Can I Fix It?
If your beautiful melted chocolate has turned into a sodden mess, don’t throw it out! It can’t be used for dipping, but it can still be used for baking projects. Stir solid vegetable shortening into the chocolate, using 1 tablespoon for every 6 ounces of chocolate. Stir gently and evenly until the chocolate has loosened and the shortening is incorporated. You can now use this chocolate for brownies, cakes, cookies, or other recipes that call for melted chocolate.
What is Overheated Chocolate?
Chocolate is very sensitive to high temperatures. Dark chocolate should never be heated above 120 degrees, while milk and white chocolates should never be heated about 110 degrees. It is quite easy to exceed these temperatures if using a double boiler with boiling water, or if microwaving on full power. Overheated chocolate will lose the silky shine of melted chocolate and become thick and muddy. The best way to melt chocolate is to keep the water in a double boiler hot (but not boiling), and to employ a chocolate or instant-read thermometer while melting the chocolate.
How Can I Save Overheated Chocolate?
First, you will want to cool the chocolate, as it is harder to save overheated chocolate that has been at a high temperature for a long time. To cool the chocolate, remove the bowl from the heat source, transfer the chocolate to a dry, cool bowl, and stir in a handful of solid chocolate chunks. Stir constantly and allow the solid chocolate to bring down the temperature of the melted chocolate.
If the chocolate remains thick or lumpy, try straining it through a sieve first. If this doesn’t solve the problem, add a spoonful of vegetable oil or melted vegetable shortening and stir thoroughly. You can also try adding some freshly melted chocolate with a few drops of soy lecithin (an emulsifier, available at health food stores), or using a handheld immersion blender to smooth the chocolate.
If none of these tricks helps your chocolate, save it for use in baking recipes and begin again with a fresh batch of chocolate.