Cocoa beans, the fruit of the cacao tree, yield the most delicious ingredient – chocolate.
Cocoa beans are bitter and unpalatable when raw. After harvesting, the raw beans must be carefully fermented, roasted, and aged before they begin to develop the flavor and aroma of chocolate.
The roasted beans are shelled, and then ground using a heavy press or mill. The heat from this process releases the beans’ natural fat called cocoa butter. When the cocoa butter is removed, it leaves a dark paste known as cocoa liquor which contains the flavor and aroma of chocolate.
Real chocolate contains cocoa butter, not vegetable, cotton, or palm oil substitutes. Read the ingredient label when buying chocolate to ensure you are purchasing real chocolate containing cocoa butter and not imitation or chocolate-flavored items. In quality chocolate, cocoa butter should be listed high among the list of ingredients, and there should not be any type of oil listed.
There are three main types of chocolate; dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. Dark chocolate has a full-bodied flavor with less sweetness and no milk flavor. Milk chocolate is sweeter and milder with a milky taste. And white chocolate is milky and sweet and no chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate isn’t an official American standard, and many dark types of chocolate fit into the “dark” category such as semisweet, sweet, and bittersweet.
Today’s bakers can choose from a wealth of chocolate types, both U.S. manufactured and imported.
- Popular and easy to find brands of baking chocolate in most grocery stores include Nestle, Baker’s, Hershey, Guittard, and Ghirardelli.
- Premium and often more expensive brands include Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, Lindt, Godiva, Valhrona, Cacao Barry, and El Rey.
For more Chocolate Information see:
Bittersweet Chocolate: Bittersweet chocolate typically contains at least 15 percent cocoa butter, up to 50 percent chocolate liquor and 35 to 50 percent sugar. Bittersweet chocolate is similar, and often used interchangeably with semisweet chocolate, but will generally contain a higher amount of cocoa solids giving a deeper and richer flavor than semisweet chocolate.
Bittersweet chocolate has a dark, intense flavor with just enough sweetness to make it palatable and enjoyable; it is often used in baked goods and desserts.
The ingredient label in bittersweet chocolate will normally include chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin (a natural soybean product to reduce viscosity), and vanilla.
Carob: Carob is not chocolate, it is the ground, dried pulp of the carob or locust bean. Carob is also called ‘honey locust”, “locust bean powder”, and “Saint John’s Bread.” Because it has the vaguely similar taste of chocolate it is a popular substitute for chocolate or cocoa in baking, especially for those allergic to chocolate. Carob is also used by some as a healthy alternative to chocolate, since it contains less fat and no caffeine.
Carob is normally available in powder form or chips. Carob powder is made by drying, and then grinding the beans. Carob chips normally have vegetable shortening, sugar, and milk solids added.
Chocolate Chips and Morsels: Chocolate chips are a common ingredient used in cookies, such as the beloved Chocolate Chip cookie. Chocolate chips hold their shape when baked because they contain less cocoa butter than regular chocolate.
For recipes that call for chocolate that needs to be chopped, shaved, or melted, use bulk or bars of chocolate, not chocolate chips. Melted chocolate chips will not produce the same desired results for general baking and candy making; chips are processed in a different way than baking and bar chocolate, they do not melt as readily and will not have as smooth a consistency as regular chocolate. You can sometimes get away with substituting chocolate chips in recipes that call for baking chocolate, especially when the chocolate needs to be melted, but for best results it is desirable to use good-quality bar chocolate.
Chocolate chips are typically available in semisweet, milk, and white chocolate, however they may be either real or imitation chocolate; imitation chips are often called “baking chips.” Real chocolate chips contain cocoa butter, imitation chips are made with oils. Make sure and read the label carefully to understand what you are buying.
Make your own chips by chopping good-quality chocolate into the size needed for your recipe in place of store-bought chips. You will be surprised and delighted with the flavor difference when using a good chocolate.
Compound Chocolate: Compound chocolates, also called “summer coating”, “confectionery coating chocolate”, “chocolaty coating”, “candy melts”, “candy coating”, “vanilla flavored candy coating”, or “almond bark” is a non-chocolate product. It is easy to use, easy to melt, and is often used by home candy makers for candy making, candy molding, and as a dipping coating for fruits, nuts, and cookies in place of real chocolate. Coating chocolate is not real chocolate as the cocoa butter has been replaced by other less expensive fats such as soybean, coconut, palm kernel, cottonseed, or vegetable oils. Coating chocolate is made with sugar, milk solids, vegetable oils, flavorings and colors, plus cocoa powder if chocolate flavored.
Confectionery coating is normally sold in blocks or small discs and is available in a rainbow of colors. It is easy to use as it does not need to be tempered prior to use; you just melt and use it. Once it is melted it is ready to be used for molding or dipping and produces a shiny finish. It is less typically expensive than regular chocolate; however the downside to this product is that it doesn’t have the rich taste and texture of regular chocolate.
Couverture Chocolate: Couverture is a French word meaning “covering” or “coating.” Couverture chocolate is used almost exclusively by professional pastry chefs and confectioners. It is more expensive than regular chocolate and generally sold by wholesalers. Couverture chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa butter added which results in more fluidity when melted, so that it spreads and coats more evenly and thinly than regular chocolates. The extra fluidity allows the melted chocolate to flow quickly over candy or pastry to give a think crisp shell, the characteristic of confections produced by professionals and fine chocolate shops, and making couverture chocolate perfect for dipping and coating truffles, candies, and other confections.
Couverture chocolate contains approximately 15 percent chocolate liquor, 35 percent cocoa butter, and 50 percent sugar.
Couverture is tempered before using, a process where the chocolate is heated, cooled, than reheated again to specific temperatures, giving a better snap and glossier look than regular chocolate. See Tempering Chocolate.
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate, also called “luxury chocolate”, “bitter chocolate”, “black chocolate”, or “continental” chocolate, has a high percentage of cocoa solids, around 75 percent, with little added sugar. It has a rich, intense flavor and a very dark color.
Dark chocolate is distinguished by the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar, and range from 30 percent (sweet dark) to 70 or 80 percent for extremely dark chocolate. Dark chocolate may be described as semisweet chocolate, and extra dark chocolate described as bittersweet chocolate.
Mexican Chocolate: Mexican chocolate is flavored with cinnamon and a hint of almond flavor. It is sold as bars, discs of solid chocolate, powders and syrups and has a grainier texture than other chocolates with visible undissolved sugar crystals. The bars and discs of chocolate are not meant to be eaten like a chocolate bar, although it can be just eaten; but instead melted and blended with other ingredients.
Mexican chocolate is typically made with ground cacao nibs, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nutmeg and allspice may be added, and sometimes chilis. The most well known and readily available brands of Mexican chocolate are Ibarra, Nestle, and Taza.
Mexican chocolate is used to make a traditional foamy Mexican hot chocolate andMole Poblano, a traditional Mexican sauce used in Mexican cuisine.
Substitute your own version of Mexican chocolate in recipes. Substitute 1 ounce of Mexican chocolate with 1 ounce of semisweet chocolate, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1 drop of pure almond extract.
Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate has a mild chocolate flavor and is generally made with powdered or condensed milk, flavorings, and additional fat such as vegetable shortening, in addition to sugar.
Milk chocolate is approximately 10 percent chocolate liquor, 20 percent cocoa butter, 50 percent sugar, and 15 percent milk solids.
The ingredient label in milk chocolate will normally include chocolate, sugar, milk solids, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla.
Because milk chocolate has such a mild sweet taste it is not commonly used in baked goods and desserts, unless it is added as chips or chunks to cakes and cookies. But is a popular eating chocolate and is used in many candies we purchase. Milk chocolate is nice to use as a candy coating for truffles and other confections for those that prefer a mild and sweet chocolate taste.
Semisweet Chocolate: Semisweet chocolate is often used interchangeably with bittersweet chocolate, but semisweet has more sugar added for a slightly sweeter taste. Semisweet chocolate typically contains about 15 percent cocoa butter, at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, and about 40 percent sugar.
Semisweet chocolate is excellent to use in baked goods, and its sweetness makes it popular for just eating on its own.
The ingredient label in semisweet chocolate will normally include chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla.
Sweet Chocolate: Even sweeter than semisweet chocolate, sweet chocolate is not as commonly used for baked goods. However Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate is the chocolate of choice when making the famous German Chocolate cake.
Sweet chocolate is typically 15 percent chocolate liquor, 15 percent cocoa butter, and 70 percent sugar.
Sweet chocolate will have a higher proportion of sugar than other chocolates, with sugar listed high in the list of ingredients.
Unsweetened Chocolate: Unsweetened chocolate, also called “baking chocolate”, “cooking chocolate”, or “bitter chocolate” is the purest form of chocolate. The ingredient label should have just one ingredient listed: chocolate.
Unsweetened chocolate is approximately 95 percent chocolate liquor and 5 percent cocoa butter.
Unsweetened chocolate contains no sugar, vanilla, or other additives, making it bitter tasting on its own. To use in baking it must be combined with a liquid, batter, or dough that contains sugar.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: Unsweetened cocoa powder, also called “natural” cocoa powder, is manufactured by removing most of the cocoa butter from chocolate liquor leaving a dry cake of cocoa solids that are then ground to a fine powder. Since not all of the cocoa butter is able to be removed, cocoa powder still contains 8 to 24 percent fat.
The ingredient label in unsweetened cocoa powder should have just one ingredient listed: cocoa.
Natural unsweetened cocoa is a non-alkaline cocoa (containing a natural acid.) It is a medium-brown color that imparts a deep, fudgy chocolate flavor to baked goods and desserts. Because of its intense flavor, it is excellent to use in recipes such as brownies, old-fashioned chocolate cakes, and chocolate cookies.
Cocoa powder, like unsweetened chocolate, contains no sugar, vanilla, or other additives, making it bitter tasting on its own. To use in baked goods or desserts it must be combined with a liquid, batter, or dough that contains sugar.
Natural unsweetened cocoa is almost always paired with baking soda as a leavener. Because natural cocoa powder is quite acidic it is used as the necessary acid to activate baking soda in baked goods that contain a leavening agent.
Replacing natural unsweetened cocoa in a recipe calling for a large amount of Dutch-processed cocoa may cause the mixture to become overly acidic. However adding a small amount of baking soda or increasing the amount of baking soda already listed as an ingredient, will work to reduce the acidity.
If the recipe you are using simply calls for cocoa, you can normally assume the ingredient is natural cocoa. If you are unsure, look at the leavener used; if the recipe calls for baking soda, then natural cocoa should be used. If the recipe calls for baking powder, then Dutch-processed cocoa should be used.
Unsweetened Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder: Dutch processed cocoa, also called “alkalized cocoa powder” has been treated with a small quantity of an alkaline solution to reduce the cocoas’ natural acidity. The process darkens the cocoa’s color making it a darker, often red-tinged brown than regular unsweetened cocoa, and with a softer mellow flavor. The process was invented in Holland in the early 1800’s; therefore the name is Dutch-processed.
The ingredient label in Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder should have one ingredient listed: cocoa processed with alkali.
Because this cocoa is neutral, it does not contain sufficient acid to activate baking soda. Therefore, baked goods with Dutch-processed cocoa almost always use baking powder as the leavener.
For baked goods using baking soda as the leavener and no other acid is added, Dutch processed cocoa is not the correct cocoa to use. However if there are other acidic ingredients used in the recipe, or if you add an additional acid such as cream of tartar then Dutch-processed cocoa will work.
This cocoa is excellent to use for icings, custards, European-style cakes, nut cakes, biscuits, and any recipe where an overly sharp chocolate flavor would overpower other delicate flavors. When recipes call for a dusting of cocoa as a finishing coating, Dutch-processed is a good choice.
Natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powders may be used interchangeably as long as there is no leavening in the recipe. Use the chocolate flavor you prefer when making things like chocolate pudding, hot cocoa, or any recipe without baking soda or baking powder as a leavener.
White Chocolate: White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, only cocoa butter, providing a subtle chocolate flavor but no chocolate color. Because it does not contain chocolate liquor, white chocolate is not classified as “real” chocolate. It is made by adding milk solids, sugar, and vanilla to melted cocoa butter.
Since white chocolate does not contain chocolate solids, it is a very sweet confection. White chocolate does not keep well because of its high fat content; therefore it is best to buy just the amount you need for a recipe. It also must be melted with care as it does not withstand heat as well as regular chocolates.
White chocolate should contain a high percentage of cocoa butter, with no vegetable oils. Make sure and read the label carefully to understand what you are buying. The best white chocolate should have the rich pale yellow of pure cocoa butter, not a stark white color.
Ingredients in white chocolate normally include sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, lecithin, and vanilla.