They say that cooking is love made visible, and there’s perhaps a no better testament to that quote than the world’s favorite dessert: chocolate. Crack open a gooey chocolate chip cookie, bite into a homemade brownie, or cut into a chocolate lava cake, and you’ll know what we mean. From mousse and fudge to cake and ice cream – or eaten all by itself – nothing compares to chocolate’s rich taste and decadent texture.
You know you’re in for a treat if you order a chocolate dessert, but baking one yourself can be a challenge. As if tempering and melting weren’t tricky enough, grocery stores stock their shelves with more types of chocolate than you ever knew you needed. Bittersweet or semisweet? Milk or dark? How dark? Chips or bars? Bars or blocks? And what in the world are nibs? It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up, grab a box of ready-to-bake brownie mix, and call it a day until now.
Here’s the 411 on buying and baking with chocolate.
Bars, blocks, powders, or chips?
First things first: you should never use chocolate you wouldn’t eat by itself. While you probably wouldn’t drop $12 on an artisanal bar, you might have higher standards than a fun-size Hershey’s. Pick chocolate that’s both delicious and practical for baking.
That said, pay close attention to what your recipe requires. There are five main forms of chocolate:
- Bars are the most versatile and commonly found form of baking chocolate. It is 100% chocolate (a.k.a. chocolate liquor) without any added sugar or flavors, and you can chop into smaller pieces for melting or folding into a dough.
- Blocks are similar to bars but are a bigger size when you plan to do a lot of baking. Like, a you-own-a-bakery amount of baking.
- Wafers are small, disk-shaped pieces of chocolate. Unlike chips, they do not contain stabilizers, which makes them melt quickly.
- On the other hand, chips contain stabilizers and preservatives, which help them maintain a perfect shape. While that typically works well for cookies, chips’ high melting point makes them bad for baking just about anything else.
- Cocoa powder has a flour-like texture that makes it best for baking cakes and brownies. It should be unsweetened. If not, you’re baking with a hot chocolate mix.
How dark is too dark?
You are allowed some discretion when choosing baking chocolate, but the flavor’s intensity should pair well with the recipe.
- White chocolate has cocoa butter in it but does not contain any chocolate liquor. Because it’s just cocoa butter and sugar, people argue that it’s not chocolate, but it can still taste great when combined with nuts and a good amount of salt.
- Milk chocolate is sweeter and less complex than dark chocolate, which is why it’s usually not recommended for baking. Instead of mixing it into an already sugary batter, use it as a sweetener for pancakes or muffins.
- Semisweet chocolate has a cacao content of around 40-60%. You will often find it in baking chips, but it can also be n bar or block form. It’s a great baking ingredient to have on-hand as it works well in most recipes.
- Bittersweet and dark chocolate are interchangeable. Dark chocolate hovers around the 70% cacao range, which gives it a super strong taste. Let dark chocolate’s extra-rich flavors be the star of the show by highlighting its intensity with sea salt or a bit of espresso powder.
- Unsweetened chocolate is very bitter and crumbly and is best for melting with other ingredients like butter or cream. Use in recipes that call for a significant amount of extra sugar. Remember that cocoa powder contains unsweetened chocolate, which makes it a strong finish for truffles or cakes.
Surprise your loved one with a date night they’ll never forget. Chef Lynn Michelle can teach you how to make some Valentine’s Day-inspired versions of your favorite chocolate desserts in a private cooking class or prepare a romantic dinner for two in the comfort of your kitchen.
Click here to book The East Coast Chef® for your next meal.