Baking Chocolate 101

May 21st 016

Last week I got this question on my Outrageous Triple Chocolate Brownies recipe:

“What type of baking chocolate do you recommend for these? I have just been using semi sweet chocolate chips”

I’ve never met chocolate I didn’t like, but some are undoubtedly better than others, to eat and to bake with. Here’s what 2+ years of home baking has taught me:

May 21st 013

95% of the time chocolate chips are fine. I use these chocolate chips for my baking all the time. I eat them out of the bag sometimes. Don’t give me that look; who are you, the cops?

However, that other 5% of the time when I’d be baking to really impress someone—say, something for Paula Deen or Bobby Flay—I would look at the other baking chocolate options.

May 21st 019

Baking chocolate is available either in the baking aisle or with other specialty products. It usually comes in bar form as Scharffen Berger is in the top photo, but if you’re buying it by the pound it might be in chunk form like above. To use in recipes simply chop the chocolate into smaller sizes like chocolate chips come; this will help the chocolate melt more evenly.

Semi-sweet and bitter-sweet are practically interchangeable, so if you only have one and the recipe calls for the other don’t panic. Bitter-sweet has slightly less sugar so it will have a darker flavor. Don’t, however, interchange unsweetened chocolate with bitter-sweet or semi-sweet since that will throw the recipe’s flavor off entirely.

May 21st 032

When a recipe calls for cocoa powder, make sure you’re using pure cocoa powder, which comes unsweetened.

May 21st 036May 21st 037

The product on the left already has sugar in it and is better for hot chocolate mixes, whereas the one on the right is what most recipes will call for. Alkalized or dutched cocoa powder has been treated to remove some of the natural bitterness of chocolate. Most recipes are written for dutched cocoa powder but both will work; non-alkalized cocoa powder will have a more pure chocolate flavor.

Ultimately chocolate is chocolate and the best way to know if something’s good for baking is to taste it. You shouldn’t bake with a chocolate you wouldn’t eat. The higher percentage of chocolate that’s in the recipe the more you should consider what flavor it will bring.

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19 Responses to Baking Chocolate 101
  1. Chad @ thebreakupnote
    May 23, 2011 | 9:04 am

    This is good information – I like to use unsweetened chocolate exclusively (except for, say, chocolate chip cookies or something with chocolate chunks) because it lets me control the sweetness.

    Good advice on the cocoa powder!

  2. Victoria (District Chocoholic)
    May 23, 2011 | 9:04 am

    One issue with chocolate chips is that they have a lower cocoa butter content so that they retain their shape when baking. This is fine when you are using them as chips, but when melting them for use in brownies/cakes/truffles, the fat content won’t be quite right.

    This is also why chocolate chips feel kind of waxy compared to similar quantity bulk chocolate. Solution: Chop up chunks of Scharffen Berger bittersweet and snack on that.

    • Evan
      May 23, 2011 | 10:16 am

      You have expensive taste.

    • Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)
      May 23, 2011 | 10:57 am

      And also my sister is a food chemist/food scientist and she explained to me how there are stabilizers in choc chips which is why if all things are equal and one wants choc to melt, use a bar/block/bakers choc rather than choc chips b/c the stabilizers can make it trickier. Not a huge deal but just something to think about, too.

      • Wannabe Chef
        May 23, 2011 | 7:36 pm

        Unfortunately most baker chocolates I find have soy lecithin in them, too. Few brands are still purely chocolate. I think Scharffen Berger is and maybe German’s, but Callebaut and Vahlrona definitely aren’t

  3. Molly
    May 23, 2011 | 9:18 am

    What a helpful post! Thank you.

  4. Elizabeth
    May 23, 2011 | 10:20 am

    I saw this article last summer. One of my friends was upset because they were hating on Nestle. Haha.

    http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/06/what-are-the-best-chocolate-chips-brands-for-baking-cookies.html

    I have met chocolates I don’t like. Hershey’s and any chocolate several months past its “good until” date (unlike a fine wine, it does not get better with age). Now I’m craving some brownies :)

  5. Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)
    May 23, 2011 | 10:56 am

    “You shouldn’t bake with a chocolate you wouldn’t eat”

    Same could be said about wine that’s used in recipes, too!

    Great post Evan!

    For 95% of what I do/make, good old TJ’s choc chips are my chip and choc of choice. Have never tried the WFs 365 brand. Would love your thoughts on how those two compare.

  6. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence
    May 23, 2011 | 11:36 am

    I usually go for the Ghirardelli options. Cheaper than Scharffen Berger, but still very tasty. They make an unsweetened cocoa powder too. Great information. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine
    May 23, 2011 | 12:14 pm

    Orrrr you can just buy this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Callebaut-Semisweet-Dark-Block-Item/dp/B0018OKA1Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1306167220&sr=8-1

    You can never have too much chocolate on hand.

    • Evan Thomas
      May 23, 2011 | 2:34 pm

      Definitely adding that to my Christmas list.

  8. Ela
    May 23, 2011 | 2:02 pm

    Good points. I appreciated your mention earlier that chips are often cheaper than blocks. But I prefer to use my own sweeteners and therefore to use unsweetened chocolate (which chips aren’t). I tend to tweak the sweetening in the rest of the recipe, but I like chocolate darker and less sweet than most people do, and notice that using the regular sweetened choc is more crowd-pleasing.
    Do you play with unsweetened much?

    • Wannabe Chef
      May 23, 2011 | 2:36 pm

      Not usually in making my own recipes but in working with other people’s recipes I do.

  9. MarathonVal
    May 23, 2011 | 10:33 pm

    Ok, since you are the chocolate expert…any idea where I can find vegan white chocolate chips?? :) I;ve searched all over with no avail!

    • Evan
      May 23, 2011 | 10:37 pm

      I’ve seen them on online stores but the ingredients are always sketchy.

  10. Kristina at spabettie
    May 24, 2011 | 12:04 am

    great information, Evan! and now I have a huge chocolate craving.

    the COPS comment made me laugh. my post going live tomorrow talks about me eating chocolate chunks out of the bag.

    also? I want to be a food chemist like Averie’s sister!! that sounds FUN.

  11. Hannah
    May 24, 2011 | 12:20 am

    “Semi-sweet” and “bittersweet” labels don’t exist for chocolate here, but I appreciate the advice anyway :P

  12. The Chocolate Priestess
    May 24, 2011 | 5:03 pm

    I really loved the Guittard we were sent to review. I think I wrote 2-3 different posts about them explaining why they worked so very well in everything I made from them.

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