Good chocolate starts with good ingredients. People who really know their chocolate ignore labels like bittersweet or semi-sweet. Instead, they look for products that are 60%-70% cocoa. If you cannot get a percent on the package, then go with bittersweet. It should have less sugar and, thus, be a higher percentage of cocoa.
If you can find it, your best bet is already tempered chocolate disks. They are called fèves and they contain extra cocoa butter. Prior to use, your chocolate should be stored in a dark, temperature stable environment in airtight containers. Do not put it in the refrigerator. If chocolate is not stored properly, the cocoa fat can “bloom” on the surface, making it look dull and gray and rough to the touch.
Different Preparation, Different Results
If you want dipping chocolate that is smooth, glossy and crisp, you need to temper it by heating it gradually. Although most methods give complicated instructions relying on the use of a thermometer, it is possible to do this more simply. Le Cordon Bleu in Paris teaches chefs to test the temperature by dabbing the melted chocolate just below their bottom lip or on the inside of the wrist, in much the same way that many parents test the temperature of baby formula in a bottle.
In order to keep it silky smooth, it needs to be kept warm but not too hot. This can be accomplished by keeping a pot of hot water handy and submerging the bottom of the bowl in hot water for a second or two and stirring thoroughly.
Dipping chocolate is time sensitive. So, prior to melting it, you should prep and set out any food items you plan to dip. Foods like fruit should be washed and then dried because excess moisture will make chocolate seize. Use waxed paper to line a baking sheet. This will make it easy to put it in the refrigerator.
There are three ways to melt chocolate: On the stovetop, in a microwave or in an oven.
For the stovetop, if you have a double boiler, you can use that for melting chocolate on the stove. If you do not, you can put some water in a normal pot and float a small glass or ceramic bowl in the water in place of a double boiler. Make sure no water splashes into the chocolate and make sure the bowl does not touch the bottom of the pot. The water is intended to transfer heat without causing the chocolate to overheat. Do not cover with a lid. Condensation from the lid can drip into the chocolate. Do not overfill the bowl with chocolate. Work with small batches. Use medium heat and stir frequently.
You can melt chocolate in the microwave by placing a little chocolate in a microwave safe dish and heating it for 30 seconds on medium heat. Then remove from the microwave and stir. Repeat until it is all melted.
To melt chocolate in the oven, you need to spread it evenly on the bottom of a baking dish. Metal bakeware is preferable because it heats more evenly. Put it in the oven, close the door and turn it to its lowest setting. If that is still too hot, you can leave the door ajar. Stir periodically. It should take about an hour.