Chock Full of Chocolate Knowledge
By Chelsea Fisher
Chocolate chips and cocoa powder aren’t often what you’d think of as pantry staples, but when a potluck or sweet craving comes along, they’re certainly good to have around. Unfortunately, chocolate can be confusing. With so many different varieties it can be difficult to know what kind to buy or use. We hope our quick chocolate guide will save you time in the baking aisle, and hopefully prevent you from making a sad batch of chocolate chip cookies (it can happen to anyone).
If you’re interested in the health benefits of chocolate read our article “Calling Doctor Wonka.”
Cocoa powder is an ingredient we use in many of our naughty but nice desserts for its deep, rich chocolate taste. There are two types of cocoa powder commonly used in baking, “Dutch Processed” and “Natural.” Dutch Processed is cocoa that has been treated to make it less acidic. It is dark in color with a deep chocolate taste. Natural cocoa is made from cocoa beans that have simply been roasted and ground, keeping the beans’ natural acidity. It is lighter in color than Dutch Processed, and has a brighter chocolate taste.
As a rule of thumb, for recipes that call for baking soda use “Natural” cocoa, and recipes that call for baking powder use “Dutch Processed.” This way the acidity of the cocoa is kept balanced. If both baking powder and baking soda are used in a recipe it is usually okay to use the two powders interchangeably, but because of the differences in acidity, it’s usually in your best interest to stick with what the recipe calls for.
Never to use powdered drinking chocolate for baking. It’s formulated to be mixed with liquid, and contains a lot of sugar and dried milk solids. (see Ann’s Tips)
For more in depth information on cocoa powder check out David Lebowitz’s cocoa powder FAQ.
The common names for this chocolate really say it all. There is no sugar added, and it has a bitter, almost nasty taste when eaten on its own. Its only use is for baking and making chocolate desserts where enough sugar and spices can be added to transform it into deliciousness. Bakers often prefer this chocolate because they have full control of the sugar content in a recipe. We recommend buying the best chocolate you can afford. We like the Caillebault and Valrhona brands.
Bittersweet and Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Again, a bakers’ only chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate tends to have less sugar than semi-sweet chocolate, but they are often interchangeable in recipes. Both names are used to describe either blocks of cooking chocolate or bagged chocolate chips. The package or store display will usually tell you what percentage of cacao they contain, so it’s up to you what how rich you want the chocolate to be. Again, we recommend buying the best chocolate you can afford.
Finally some chocolate you can eat! This type of chocolate is sweetened with sugar and may have spices like vanilla added, but it does not contain any milk. If you like a rich dark chocolate flavor, dark chocolate is the bar for you. These days, many brands display the percentage of cacao on the packaging, so you can pick the one either with the highest content, or the one you simply prefer. Plus, good to know: dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, and eating a little bit of chocolate a day has been linked to heart health and other benefits.
As the name implies, condensed milk or milk solids and sugar are added to dark chocolate to make this tasty treat, but the percentage of cacao is low compared to dark chocolate. In the US it can be as little as 25%, and 35% for the EU. Baking recipes rarely call for milk chocolate, so if you’re looking for a reason to keep it in your pantry, sorry, we can’t give you one! It sure is tasty though, and good as an occasional treat.
The name here is a bit misleading. White chocolate does contain cacao butter, but it does not have any chocolate liquor or any cacao – the providers of chocolaty taste. White chocolate technically should have cacao butter in it, but some brands market candy that uses vegetable oils instead as white chocolate, so keep an eye on the ingredients.
I’m a big believer in one-stop shopping when it comes to pantry items, and shopping for cocoa powder is no different. I always walk past the “added value” sweetened drinking chocolates to buy unsweetened cocoa powder, usually Dutch processed because it has the taste I was brought up with. Unsweetened cocoa powder is all you really need in your pantry. Not only is it great for baking but, with the practical addition of sugar to taste and warm milk, you can turn it into deliciously decadent hot chocolate with a taste that the premade brands can’t equal.
We love chocolate at Cook For Your LIFE! Sugar should certainly be limited in any diet, but completely eliminating it sounds like a sad existence to us. A little treat here and there can be good for your spirit! Be sure to buy the best quality chocolate you can afford. It makes a real difference. Our picks are Valrhona and Caillebault for solid baking chocolate, and Droste Dutch Processed for cacao powder. Check out our Hot Chocolate, Orangey Tofu Chocolate Pudding, Dark Chocolate Brownies, and even Bruce’s Avocado Chocolate Mousse!
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