How to Thin Melted Chocolate
There is no doubt that chocolate is high on the list of favorite treats and as an ingredient or flavor in many desserts, drinks, and recipes. And who doesn’t look forward to eating the ears off a chocolate bunny each spring? There are endless possibilities when it comes to working with chocolate for both chefs and hobbyists. However, working with chocolate sometimes requires manipulating it to become thinner and easier to work with. This is referred to as changing the viscosity of chocolate.
Viscosity seems like a complicated word used by chemists to explain how the molecules in chocolate interact and behave. Lucky for us, the only thing we need to know is that sometimes chocolate needs to be thinned to flow the way we want it to, and it is pretty easy to do. There are various ways that this can be accomplished and most of them involve adding an additional ingredient to your melted chocolate. (See our article on How to melt chocolate)
Depending on your goal and preferences, brand and type of chocolate, you may need to thin your melted chocolate in order to make it more suitable for dipping or for placing it in a mold. If you intend to serve it as a “fondue” in a traditional pot, or the ever popular chocolate fountain, your chocolate may need to be further thinned. The easiest and most popular way to thin chocolate is to add an additional ingredient (fat) to the melted chocolate. The choice of the fat is dependent upon availability, preference, and desired outcome. This article will introduce the more popular choices available as well as the pros and cons of each fat choice.
Probably the number one question I get as a culinary continuing adult educator is, “Why did my chocolate come out clumpy when I dipped strawberries?” In this particular case, there are several possible factors including the wetness and temperature of the berries. More often than not, it is because the chocolate used was too thick. Most likely the chocolate was of good quality but it may have been formulated to retain its shape when melted, as in the case of chocolate chips for chocolate chip cookies. It is an easy fix for the next time.
Can I Thin My Chocolate With Milk?
When I pose the question of how to thin chocolate to people, the most popular answer I receive is “add milk”. That makes sense, since there is already milk in chocolate, particularly if you are thinking about milk chocolate, and it contains the aforementioned fat. Actually, instead of thinning the chocolate, it will make it immediately thicker, and nearly impossible to work with. This is called “seizing”. Seizing occurs when water meets chocolate and since a high percentage of milk is made of water, chocolate will not respond well when milk is added.
What Ingredients are Best for Thinning Chocolate?
Thinning chocolate requires the addition of an ingredient already found in the chocolate-and that is fat. It does not take a lot of fat to make a difference, but there is some variance depending on the types of fats used. In general, there are about five common fats used to make chocolate thinner.
Cocoa butter is the preferred fat of chocolatiers, simply because it is already present in the chocolate and it makes sense just to increase the amount to get the consistency you desire. However, it is not readily available and therefore not a popular choice for most hobbyists. It is worth a try if you can get your hands on some from the internet or a specialty store, otherwise there are other effective options.
Paramount crystals are a great ingredient for thinning chocolate, particularly if the goal is to have a “crunch” or snap when bitten. They look like little flakes of wax but are actually made from hydrogenated palm kernel oil. Most people have not heard of this product, but it is surprisingly easy to find on the internet, and in some craft stores. These crystals thin your chocolate or chocolate melts and give it a creamy texture. They are solid at room temperature so they solidify when your melted chocolate cools or hardens. They are tasteless and have a reasonable shelf life of a year or more. And if that’s not enough, they are reasonably priced, especially when compared to cocoa butter.
Assuming you don’t know ahead of time whether you need to thin your chocolate or not, it is good to know that there are more common everyday types of thinning agents at your fingertips. One such ingredient is vegetable shortening. Soft, yet solid at room temperature, it is a great option since most people have it in their pantry. It has no taste and is very affordable, especially considering that only a teaspoon or so is needed.
Butter is a common fat, and of course it is rather tasty too. The disadvantages of using butter slightly outweigh the advantages. For example, butter has, well, a buttery taste. Depending on your palate, that might be desired. Most of the butter we use has added salt. With the popularity of “sea salt” added to our chocolate, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, you are still left with the buttery and salty tasting chocolate. Still butter is solid at room temperature, so that helps the melted chocolate solidify. Naturally, butter is available in most kitchens. The greatest argument for not using butter however, is the fact that most butters contain some water. Water is not friendly toward chocolate. If you are curious, the percentage of water used in the butter is often stated on the package. If you would like to experiment with using butter, try working with a small batch.
Oil is much like shortening in that it is available, affordable, and for the most part tasteless. There are so many types of oil, but vegetable oil is the preferred thinning agent since it has a little or mild taste. Some have used olive oil, which works as well, especially if you like that “woodsy” taste. Because oil is a liquid at room temperature, it is more likely to set “soft”. This is not necessarily a disadvantage-it just depends what outcome you are looking for. In general, oil will thin chocolate nicely but it might be more suited for fondue or chocolate fountain usage.
Coconut oil seems to be the new kid on the block, for not only thinning chocolate but in many other baking recipes. It is creamy and looks much like shortening but naturally, it has a slight coconut taste. It works well to thin chocolate but it has the added attribute of making a bit of a crunchy shell. It is easily obtained at the grocery store and you can use it in many other recipes. It is solid at room temperature.
How do I Add a Thinning Agent to my Chocolate?
There is no set ratio of fat:chocolate formula to use when thinning chocolate. Some experts would suggest that you add your fat with your chocolate before you melt it. This works well if you have used that particular brand of chocolate before, along with that particular amount of chocolate. In most cases, you won’t even know if you need to thin your chocolate until after it is melted and you let it drip off your spoon a few times. Assuming this is the case, you want to start with a small amount of fat; about ½-1 teaspoon. Mix it into your melted chocolate and then assess if it will meet your needs. Follow the adage that you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. If your chocolate is too thin, you might be using it as a topping for ice cream instead of what you had intended. Your fats should be at room temperature before you add them to your chocolate.
Troubleshooting Chocolate That is Too Thick
Chocolate that appears overly thick, or sludge-like may need more help than a spoonful of fat. If your chocolate is not smooth when stirred, there might be another explanation. First, whether you are using pure chocolate or chocolate melting disks, excessive heat can result in the chocolate being overcooked. Basically, chocolate does not want to reach temperatures over 120F, less if it is white or milk. If it does, it will appear grainy and become difficult to stir. Before reaching for the dollop of fat, try to cool your chocolate down, either by adding more unmelted chocolate, or by transferring your chocolate to a new, dry, bowl. At this point you can assess whether your chocolate needs added fat or not.
Another reason you may have a bowl of thickened chocolate is if it becomes seized due to water mixing with the chocolate. Even a few drops from the bottom of a double boiler or a wet spoon can cause chocolate to seize. Though it appears that the chocolate is unable to be used, it can often be coerced to return to its previous smoothness by adding more liquid. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s one of those molecule magic moments. Heavy cream is a popular additive, though your chocolate will be on the softer side once it cools.
Chocolate couverture, tempered correctly, will most likely not need to be thinned. It is more expensive and not as readily available as supermarket chocolate chips or craft melting disks. Often the home hobbyist will choose the convenience of the chips or melting disks but with proper melting and thinning, chocolate can be prepared to perform as intended for a variety of outcomes.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore