We pepper our calendar year with chocolate-centric holidays. (It’s morale-boosting, no?) While there’s no chocolate not worth eating, not all chocolate is fit for baking and cooking. Rewind to early in my own home baking career: a childhood best friend and I decide to bake brownies using Aero chocolate bars from my family’s infamous candy bowl. An hour later we open the oven to tan “brownies”—no not blondies—with a surprisingly unpronounced chocolate flavour. My dad, as all fathers should for their families, ate the entire batch, saving his wife and children (and their friends) the pain and embarrassment.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t disappoint your lovers, friends, family or self with botched chocolate-based baking.
Meet the stalwarts of baking-appropriate chocolate and use them wisely.
It’s all in the name (and likely the majority of your chocolate-flavoured home baking). Baking chocolate is traditionally sold in bars ranging in their ratio of chocolate (or cacao, the seed used to make chocolate) to other ingredients. Unsweetened baking chocolate, the most bitter and darkest in colour, is made of pure cacao with no added sugar. Meanwhile, bittersweet and semisweet are reminiscent of dark chocolate candy bars and versatile in use when either baking or cooking. They contain at least 35% cacao with some added sugar and in the case of semisweet, cocoa butter, and are generally interchangeable, depending on your personal preference. Sweet baking chocolate contains at least 15% cacao, and milk chocolate at least 10% as well as cocoa butter and sugar. Finally, there’s white chocolate, or more accurately white “chocolate”. It’s composed entirely of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and flavouring—and absolutely no cacao. Like sweet and milk, it’s best used as a chocolatey addition rather than the main flavour component of your dish or baked good.
Unless you’re baking on a commercial scale, you’re likely to never encounter chocolate blocks. (Two pounds of chocolate, anyone?) However, if you do, shave the chocolate off an end with a serrated knife rather than attempting to chop it into chunks.
No, I am not referring to those sandpaper-dry rectangular cookies. Chocolate wafers are small, disc-shaped chocolate, ideal for melting for glazes or frosting. Unlike chocolate chips, they do not contain stabilizers, the food addictive which allows a chip to maintain its classic shape. They are available in the same percentages of cacao as baking chocolate and blocks.
What’s there to say about the beloved chocolate chip? They can be used in place of wafers for meltable delicacies (although ultimately wafers are superior for this use), as additions to cookies, brownies, muffins and breads or as a mid-baking session snack.
Unsweetened natural cocoa powder is best for cakes and brownies. Dutch process cocoa powder has a lower acidity level—it’s its reason for existence—making it more likely to react to other ingredients. As a result, use it only as a garnish, say a sprinkle over hot chocolate or homemade truffles.
Leftover candy bars, truffles or individual chocolates
Who would ever leave unfinished chocolate lying around forgotten and alone? I assure you, many. Think back to this post after Valentine’s Day and you will understand. When it comes to baking, pre-made chocolates are best used as garnishes, chopped and sprinkled over a glowing glaze or like the chocolate chip as an addition. Candy bars and individual chocolates, given their own creation processes, simply don’t have the reliability to serve as a structural component in baked goods.