Tempering chocolate is probably required for candy sold commercially, but most small-batch chocolate candies eaten at home or passed along as gifts don't necessarily require tempering.
Charity Ferreira, author of Brittles, Barks, & Bonbons (Chronicle Books, $16.95), writes that although she works with chocolate all the time, "I almost never temper my chocolate. It's a multistep process involving several different precise temperatures, and it's difficult to do with small amounts of chocolate."
Melting chocolate gently so that it never gets hotter than 91 degrees F helps ensure that it never gets hot enough to fall out of temper, she writes. When selecting chocolate for melting, look for cocoa butter in the ingredients.
Ms. Ferreira chops chocolate very finely, puts it in a glass bowl, and sets a pan of water on the stove. She brings the water to a simmer, turns off the heat and sets the bowl over the hot water. Be sure the bowl does not touch the water and that no water enters the chocolate. Stir frequently to encourage even melting.
If moisture does get into melting chocolate, try stirring in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and warm it again.
To melt a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, stir after each short 15-second burst in the microwave, usually at medium (50 percent power). Two to three 15-second bursts should do the trick. Stir the melting chocolate until the bowl no longer feels warm and the last morsels melt.
Remember: The idea is to melt the chocolate, not to heat it up.
Chocolate-dipped candy held longer than a day or two goes in the refrigerator to keep the chocolate firm and fresh, Ms. Ferreira writes. She lets it return to close to room temperature for eating.
"Once removed from the refrigerator, the chocolate's surface will dull after a few days, but it's pretty rare that anything that's been dipped in chocolate hangs around my house long enough for that to happen."
- MARTHA SHERIDAN