Who could live without chocolate? When you are in the kitchen, knowing a little about this complex food and the best brands for cooking with chocolate will help you turn your chocolate cravings into a sweet reality. You’ll also be able to bask in the delight of your family and guests after you serve them these sweet treats!
Before we get started, it’s important to know the different types of chocolate as each recipe may call for chocolate in various forms.
There may be more types of chocolate than you think. Common varieties include:
Cacao – This is the basic form of chocolate; the bean without the shell. Broken pieces of the cacao bean are called nibs and are available either raw or roasted. The bean can also be ground into cacao powder. Cacao typically has a bitter taste.
Chocolate liquor – This is actually a paste made from cacao nibs. Almost all of the chocolate that is sold today starts as chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor, a paste made of grinding cacao nibs, does not have any alcohol content and consists of roughly 53% fat, or cocoa butter.
Unsweetened chocolate – Also called baking chocolate, chocolate or pure chocolate, unsweetened chocolate is cooled chocolate liquor. When chocolate liquor cools, it also hardens.
Bittersweet chocolate – Sometimes called semisweet or dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate includes cocoa butter, sugar and at least 35% chocolate liquor. The cocoa butter content and sugar content will vary according to brand.
Sweet chocolate – To be considered sweet chocolate, the product must have a minimum of 15% chocolate liquor. Cocoa butter and sugar content varies.
Milk chocolate – This form of chocolate has a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor and consists of at least 12% milk. The milk can come in various forms such as milk powder or cream. Sugar content and cocoa butter content varies.
White chocolate – This form of chocolate will have at least 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk or milk products. Sugar content will vary. Chocoholics may not consider white chocolate to be a “true” chocolate because white chocolate doesn’t have any chocolate liquor content.
Cocoa powder or unsweetened cocoa powder – Although cocoa powder is made from chocolate liquor, much of the cocoa fat is removed from cocoa powder during processing, leaving cocoa powder with a 10 to 20% fat content. This makes cocoa powder a low-fat alternative in baking.
Dutch chocolate powder – This is formed when cocoa powder is rinsed with potassium carbonate, resulting in a darker cocoa with less acid content than “regular” cocoa.
Chocolate extract – A strong chocolate-flavored extra that comes from soaking cacao beans in alcohol.
Most chocolate baking aficionados like cooking with baking chocolate because the chocolate is at its most “basic,” allowing the baker to adjust the sugar content and flavoring to personal preference. This can be defined as unsweetened chocolate in bar form.
However, baking chocolate, or baker’s chocolate, can be confusing for the uninitiated. This is because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate baking chocolate as a separate category, unlike other forms of chocolate.
The definition of “baker’s chocolate” varies widely. Baker’s chocolate is sometimes considered to be unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet baking chocolate, bittersweet chocolate or baking resistant chocolate.
Baking-resistant chocolate, such as chocolate chips, has less cocoa butter than other forms of chocolate, making it harder for the chocolate to melt when exposed to heat.
To add even more to this confusion, Baker’s Chocolate, which comes in bars of unsweetened, bittersweet and semisweet forms, is also a popular brand name that is carried by most grocery stores for baking.
If all of this has you wondering where to begin with your delicious chocolate sweet treats, rest assured that most recipes state the exact type of chocolate the recipe requires.
Beyond Baker’s Chocolate brand, another popular baking chocolate manufacturer is Ghirardelli, which you may also be able to purchase at your local grocery store. Other brands that you might like to try include Scharffen Berger, Callebaut or Valrhona Manjari.
You should be able to find Nestle, Hershey’s and Ghirardelli’s unsweetened cocoa at your local grocery store. Valrohona Manjari and Scharffen Berger also offer unsweetened cocoa.
Grocery stores generally carry Nestle Semisweet Chocolate Chips, a perennial favorite for the company’s famous Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe. Other brands that are delicious and readily available include Hershey’s and Ghirardelli’s.
Cooking and baking is all about taste, primarily your taste and the tastes of the people you are cooking for. So if you are really serious about finding the best brands for cooking with chocolate, you should do your own taste tests. It really doesn’t matter if a “chocolate expert” says that a given brand is the best in the world. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it again after trying it out.
It can also be helpful to compare chocolate products that are made by the same company. For example, Hershey’s offers its “regular” unsweetened cocoa as well as Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa. You won’t know which one is better until you try them out for yourself.
In addition, check out the smaller companies that offer chocolate cooking and baking products. For example, Dagoba offers products such as organic cacao powder and organic unsweetened dark chocolate. Guittard Chocolate has Cocoa Rouge unsweetened cocoa powder that’s definitely worth trying.
Go out and explore. There is a whole world of chocolate waiting for you to try out in your kitchen. Only you can really decide the best brands for chocolate to suit your inner chocoholic.