When it comes to baked goods, what ingredient works best? The answer is, of course, chocolate! In fact, I’m of the opinion that pretty much any sweet treat benefits from the addition of some lovely cocoa. Sadly, you can’t just add a bar of milk chocolate to a cake mix and hope that it will turn out well. In fact, when it comes to baking with chocolate, it’s important to be aware of all the different types of cocoa-derived products and how to use them.
If you’re new to the world of baking and chocolate, make sure you read this before embarking on your culinary journey!
What is chocolate?
Regardless of the type, every chocolate is comprised of certain amounts of the same ingredients: Chocolate liquor, cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, flavoring, and lecithin. Some chocolate will omit some of these ingredients entirely, but pretty much every type is comprised of a ratio of these seven items.
Chocolate liquor: This is essentially ground up cocoa beans. It takes the form of a thick paste. Unsweetened chocolate is nothing more than solidified chocolate liquor.
Cocoa solids: These are the parts of the cocoa bean that remain after the cocoa butter has been extracted. They are in essence the source of the chocolate flavor.
Cocoa butter: This is the fat found in cocoa beans. There is little flavor found in cocoa butter; instead, it adds texture.
Sugar: Without sugar, chocolate is pretty bitter. Depending on the type, chocolate can have either none or large amounts of the sweet stuff.
Milk solids: For lack of a better term, milk solids are little more than powdered milk.
Flavorings: Depending on the chocolate, any number of flavors from mint, chili, or vanilla can be added to chocolate.
Lecithin: An emulsifier found in most chocolate. This gives the chocolate a thicker texture when melted and makes it easier to work with in liquid form.
Types of chocolate
Baking or unsweetened
This chocolate is comprised of 100% solidified chocolate liquor. This chocolate contains no sugar and is best used in baking recipes that already involve the use of sugar. When making cakes or brownies, unsweetened chocolate is ideal as it provides the necessary cocoa taste without enhancing the sweetness. Put simply, if a baking recipe asked for “chocolate” baking or unsweetened chocolate is almost always the best choice.
Bittersweet, dark, or semi-sweet
Depending on the manufacturer or the origin, bittersweet chocolate can also be labeled as “dark” or “semi-sweet.” These chocolates contain at least 35% chocolate liquor and no more than 12% milk solids. These chocolates contain sugars and are sweet than baking chocolate. This chocolate is best used in recipes that do not include sugar or as chips in chocolate cookies. Dark chocolate, in particular, works well in icing and glazes.
You’ve no doubt encountered this particular variety and probably eaten some too! Milk chocolate contains more milk solids and sugar than baking and bittersweet chocolate. While it may seem tempting, we don’t really recommend using milk chocolate for baking. Instead, use this chocolate for dips or toppings for already-baked items.
White chocolate does not contain any chocolate liquor or cocoa solids but does contain cocoa butter. However, instead of adding flavor, the cocoa butter mainly adds texture. White chocolate is extremely sweet and should only be used in recipes that do not require additional sugar. Thanks to its delightful sweetness, white chocolate also works well when added to certain icings.