If you’re new to baking, you’ve probably noticed there are lots of choices when it comes to chocolate. Do you use chips? What about a baking bar? Should you use semi-sweet or try bittersweet? What about cocoa powder or Dutch process?
I’ve put on my research hat and here’s the skinny:
- There are differences between chips and bars of chocolate
- There are different methods of melting chocolate
- There are correct ways to store chocolate
Let’s break it down. First, depending on whether you plan to use melted chocolate or you want the chocolate to retain most of its shape, determines which type of chocolate you should use.
- Bars vs chips: Chocolate chips, no matter if semi-sweet, bittersweet, or milk chocolate, contain preservatives and stabilizers. This is why when you bake with chocolate chips, they still look somewhat like chips in the cookie. If you are baking with the intent of having the chocolate melt, it’s best to use a bar of chocolate. These melt better without the possibility of seizing.
- Bittersweet: This chocolate has at least 35% chocolate liquor (which is finely ground cacao beans), with varying amounts of added cocoa butter and sugar. Good quality bittersweet chocolates can have a much higher percentage of cacao solids. Those that love that good chocolatey flavor, often choose bittersweet over semi-sweet (this is me!).
- Semi-sweet: This chocolate has at least 35% chocolate liquor and has more added sugar than bittersweet. This often can compete with sugar in a recipe and may result in an overly sweet dessert.
- Milk chocolate: This chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk, with added cocoa butter and sugar in varying amounts.
- White chocolate: Is not actually chocolate. Shocking, I know. 🙂 This chocolate contains no chocolate liquor, but has at least 20% cocoa butter and 14 % milk, with varying amounts of sugar and vanilla.
- Espresso powder:I first discovered this on King Arthur Flour’s website. I love their recipes and kept seeing espresso powder as an ingredient in many recipes. I am not a fan of coffee, so I was not swayed by reviews to use this. What took me so long? This stuff adds the best flavor – it enhances the chocolate and doesn’t overpower with a strong coffee flavor. It’s chocolate’s bff.
- Natural cocoa powder: Is solid unsweetened chocolate that’s had most of its fat removed before being ground into a powder.
- Dutch process cocoa powder: Is a natural cocoa that’s been treated with an alkalizing agent to lower its acidity. You get a much purer chocolate flavor with this.
Because these two cocoa powders are different in acidity, they cannot (for the most part) be interchanged in recipes. If you are baking something that has a leavening agent ( baking soda) and nothing else acidic (buttermilk, coffee, sour cream, yogurt), then natural cocoa powder is what you use. If you are making a recipe that uses baking powder (or a combination of both soda and powder, with powder the predominate one), either Dutch process or natural cocoa powder will work. In the photo below, you can see that Dutch process is darker than regular cocoa powder. Espresso powder is not used in place of cocoa – I just wanted you to see it. Espresso powder kicks up the chocolate flavor just a notch.
Now that you know the different kinds of chocolate, let’s talk about heating it. Remember when I said that chocolate chips have stabilizers in them? Chips are best used in recipes where you don’t want the chip to lose its shape. So, cookies, brownies, bars. That sort of thing. If the recipe calls for melting the chocolate, use whatever flavor of chocolate in bar form. These have less preservatives and stabilizers that would prevent it from melting. If you’ve ever melted chocolate chips, you know how easy it is for them to seize. If you are making ganache, simply heat the cream and pour over the chopped chocolate. If you need to melt the chocolate, do so in a double boiler, or a heat proof bowl set over a simmering pot of water. Don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. You don’t want water to get into the chocolate or it could seize.
Storing chocolate: don’t put chocolate in the freezer. This actually messes with the appearance as well as taste. You want it stored at room temp (between 65 and 70 degrees F), away from sunlight and moisture. So do what I do: hide your chocolate in the back recesses of a cupboard. I’m not even kidding. If I don’t do this, all my chocolate intended for baking suddenly disappears. The shelf life varies, depending on what type of chocolate. Dark chocolate can last a year stored in the right conditions. Milk and white chocolates should be consumed within 6 months. Also try to keep the chocolate away from other flavors as it can absorb some of those scents. I keep my chocolate stored in a plastic ziplock bag in my cookbook cupboard.
Feel free to comment or ask questions. I’d love to hear what you’re baking in your kitchen!