I’m soooo excited to launch this brand new series here on BBB which will provide you with all the smarts and skills you need to make you a better baker. The series will focus on all the details behind baking ingredients and techniques that will enhance your confidence in the kitchen. We are kicking the series off with my favorite ingredient – CHOCOLATE!!
Chocolate has a lot of fans and the number of recipes gracing the internet that contain chocolate is endless. Why it isn’t it’s own food group already I have no idea.
Today we are chatting all about the basics of dark, bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk and white chocolate so you know exactly what to use and when. When baking with chocolate it’s important to understand the different varieties and how they can effect your recipe.
Before we dive into the various kinds of chocolate, let’s first get a short lesson in how it is made. If you aren’t in the mood to nerd out on the science of chocolate, feel free to skip ahead. I won’t be offended.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CHOCOLATE ANYWAY?
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans which are dried seeds harvested from the cacao tree. The seeds are naturally bitter in taste and must be fermented. Once fermented, the beans are dried, cleaned, roasted and shelled to produce the cocoa nib. The cocoa nibs are then liquified through a heat process and this results in chocolate liquor.
A bit of a misnomer as there is no actual alcohol in the liquor. This chocolate liquor is then cooled and processed into two parts – cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These two components are then combined in various quantities with other ingredients to produce the different kinds of chocolate we eat.
Now that we know how chocolate is made, let’s get to the nitty gritty on the types of chocolate we use in baking and when it’s appropriate to use them in a recipe.
ALL THE CHOCOLATE PLEASE!
Also called bitter or unsweetened chocolate, this chocolate is solid in form and contains only cocoa solids and cocoa butter with no added sugar or oils. It’s just plain ‘ol unadulterated chocolate and it’s not the chocolate you likely want to sink your teeth into. This type of chocolate is very bitter and is typically used in recipes that have added sugars or other sweeteners to offset the bitter flavor.
DUTCH PROCESS AND UNSWEETENED COCOA
Powdered baking cocoa is essentially baking cocoa processed with alkali to produce a fine unsweetened cocoa powder. There are two kinds of unsweetened cocoa powder…dutch process and unsweetened. I won’t bore you with all the details on this one but basically dutch cocoa has been neutralized and therefore it does not react with baking soda. It must be used in combination with baking powder and it has delicate, mild flavor that makes it delicious in baked goods. Unsweetened cocoa powder, however, is very bitter and has a more intense flavor making it the perfect choice for brownies and rich cakes.
DARK, BITTERSWEET AND SEMI SWEET CHOCOLATE
Each of these chocolate varieties are a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, added vegetable oils and sugar. While the differences in cocoa percentages may seem subtle, these three types of chocolate have very different flavor profiles. Dark chocolate refers to any chocolate above 60% cacao and most are labeled at around 70%. Bittersweet chocolate has just a small amount of sugar added and refers to any chocolate containing at least 35% cacao. However, here in the U.S. of A. most bittersweet chocolate you find on grocery store shelves contains closer to 60% cacao. Semi sweet chocolate contains at least 35% cocao and is pretty much the Goldilocks of chocolate…not to sweet, not too bitter. It’s juusstt right. And because it’s so pleasing to the palate, its the most popular type of chocolate used in baking chips.
The award for sweetest chocolate goes to milk chocolate thanks to the addition of milk solids in addition to the cocoa butter and sugar. Recipes with milk chocolate are a bit fewer and farther between since it is so sweet. Since I’m a big fan of dark chocolate myself, I don’t bake with milk chocolate very often.
There are some that firmly believe that white chocolate is not chocolate at all since it does not include cacoa solids, only cocoa butter. Sugar and milk solids are added and usually a flavoring like vanilla. White chocolate is a bit tougher to come by in markets. Be sure to check the ingredient label for “cocoa butter” to be certain you aren’t buying an imitation product.
WHICH CHOCOLATE DO I USE WHEN??
When it comes to chocolate, quality matters. a general rule, if the chocolate is the star ingredient I like to break out the good stuff. I use only good quality dark chocolate bars for my classic chocolate chip cookies, chocolate ganache and dark chocolate snack cake. Good dark or bittersweet chocolate is also a good idea if you are making frosting, homemade chocolate truffles, or say, a flourless chocolate cake.
If a recipe calls for the chocolate to be folded into a batter in such things as muffins, scones or a chocolate chip bundt cake then chocolate chips are a suitable choice. Milk chocolate is great in cookies, pudding and even a milk chocolate buttercream. And I adore white chocolate for dipping shortbread cookies, drizzling over brownies and for making white chocolate macadamia nut blondies.
And because I knew you would ask…I’ve listed a few of my favorite brands of chocolate for you here.
So there you have it bakers…all the good stuff you need to know about my favorite ingredient. I’m not afraid to say that I am chocolate’s number one fan and you’ll be seeing a lot more of here on the blog this holiday season. Stay tuned for our second installment of A Better Baker coming soon. Thanks for following along and if you have any requests for future topics in this series please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!