Chocolate Guide

Buy, use and store the best chocolate for your baking needs.

The percentages listed on a chocolate bar represent the amount of cocoa butter and cacao solids by weight. The rest is largely sugar. Depending on the quality of the bar, there might be other additives present, like vanillin or lecithin, but they generally total less than one percent. Milk chocolate must have a certain percentage (12% minimum) of either powdered or condensed milk added as well.

Chocolate comes in the following levels of sweetness, from least to most added sugar:

  • Unsweetened chocolate (which is exactly what it sounds like; it's also sometimes called baking chocolate.)
  • Dark
  • Bittersweet
  • Semisweet
  • Milk Chocolate

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, without any cocoa solids, so it's technically not chocolate at all.

Cocoa, which is key to the distinctive chocolate taste in baked goods and candies, comes in two styles: Natural (non-alkalized), and Dutch-processed (alkalized). These should not be confused with the instant sweetened versions intended for hot chocolate.

Cocoa powders are primarily used for baking, but make top-notch hot drinks when mixed with sugar to balance their bitter taste. Natural cocoas, like Hershey's or Ghirardelli, tend to be lighter in color than Dutch-processed varieties like Droste. Which is "better" on the taste front? Some bakers prefer the direct chocolate flavor of natural cocoa, while others vote for the mellowness of Dutch.

However, when using chemical leaveners (baking powder or soda), make sure to use the type of cocoa called for in the recipe. Natural cocoas are acidic enough to activate the baking soda in cakes and cookies; alkaline Dutch cocoas should be used in recipes that rely solely on baking powder for their lift.

Storing:

Keep chocolate wrapped well, in a cool, dry place (not the fridge). Milk chocolate keeps for up to a year; dark for even longer. If the chocolate develops white dots or streaks on the outside, that's called "bloom." It means the cocoa butter has become un-emulsified (separated), but it's still perfectly safe to eat.

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