What happens when chocolate “seizes”?

Another good question in a long list of chocolate queries (I swear I really did make an Opera cake, shortly I’ll put up the pictures to prove it). Melted chocolate “seizes” when it comes into contact with small amounts of water. The question is: why? The answer is that melted chocolate is a flowing mixture of fat, cocoa solids and sugar that’s easily upset. It contains almost no water at all, but when a small amount is added, several things happen. First, the sugar in the matrix grabs hold of the water (sugar does that) and a syrup is created. That syrup is quite sticky and it acts like glue on the cocoa solids, causing them to clump together. The result is that the molten chocolate stops flowing and turns into a grainy paste. Can anything be done about it? Funny you asked that. It just so happens I have my camera handy…

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10 Responses to What happens when chocolate “seizes”?

  1. Kelly says:

    So, does that mean that unsweetened chocolate won’t seize? I always thought that something similar happened to other fatty substances when water is added–peanut butter, for example, seizes when you add water (or water in the form of honey). But pure peanut butter doesn’t have sugar in it…

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Kelly!

      No, the amount of sugar doesn’t impact seizing. It’s the chocolate solids that stick together. Something different is operating when you add water to fatty mixtures: a lack of an emulsion. You need to really apply elbow grease to establish one…if you can. Some mixtures just don’t have the molecular gunk (emulsifiers) in them to keep one going!

      Thanks for the question!

      - Joe

  2. Lisa says:

    Did NOT work for me. I added a tiny bit of water, and it became softer again, but not smooth…ended up looking like a bowl of chocolate cottage cheese. :(

  3. dr.annie@arawnjohnson.com says:

    I have a chocolate mousse recipe that I’m really struggling with and that I so want to master!
    To melted chocolate I beat in some egg whites that have been whisked to the firm peaks stage before folding in the remainder of the egg whites. The chocolate turns into a thick paste as soon as I start whisking in the egg whites EVERY time!
    I am then unable to incorporate the egg whites into the chocolate without folding and folding until I have no bubbles left in my mousse. Please help!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Dr. Annie!

      I see what you’re saying for sure. That little bit of water (from the whites) is causing the chocolate solids to swell, get sticky and clump. The cure for that is more water which creates more syrup and helps the chocolate solids flow again. As far as advice I’d suggest trying a chocolate low in solids (contrary to the recipe) since that will lessen the water absorption and sticking. A really nice European milk chocolate would be perfect, and is normally the basis for a mousse like this. These types of recipes weren’t designed for the sort of dark solid-intensive chocolate that’s so fashionable now. Go back to the very elegant old-school milk chocolates and you won’t have a problem I don’t think. If the chocolate does seize severely, just stir in some more of the whites until it loosens up to the point that you can start folding.

      Have fun!

      - Joe

      • dr.annie@arawnjohnson.com says:

        Thanks for the advice! I tried it with Lindt Swiss Classic Milk chocolate and it worked a treat. Can’t thank you enough!

  4. Mary says:

    I tried adding the small amount of water and it worked perfectly !! Thanks so much for the good advice :)

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