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Baking Chocolate Taste Test

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i usually bake with Scharffen Berger chocolate. i decided to do a little face off, let Scharffen Berger go mano a mano with the standard grocery store Baker's chocolate, just to see if all those extra bucks i'm plunging into chocolate are worth it. if i did a blind taste test, would i be able to tell the difference? would anyone else?

so, yesterday, i used the same brownie recipe (Baker's one-bowl brownies) and made two batches, one with Scharffen Berger and one with Baker's. it's a pretty good recipe, super fudgy, which made it a bit messy and difficult to cut attractively (although that could just be the fact that I'm completely lacking in food presentation skills.)

a friend gave me the blind taste test, taking extra care that I didn't peek. i tasted one brownie. i cleansed the palate (poland spring). i tasted the other brownie. they were shockingly close. but i tried them both again and i decided one had fruitier and caramell-ier notes than the other. it turned out to be the scharffen berger. i'm not sure the difference was so pronounced that i'd turn my nose up at a Baker's brownie, but the scharffen berger won the first round.

for the second round, i did a random Pepsi-Challenge-ish taste test with 15 more-than-happy-to-oblige coworkers. i was amazed, but 11 of the 15 heartily preferred the Baker's. some said it was sweeter, some said it was less sweet (odd, since i used unsweetened chocolate and 2 cups of sugar in both recipes.)

now, i'm wondering if i should be shelling out the extra shekels for the scharffen berger. if most people prefer the bakers, or don't even care, is it worth it? i mean, if we had some random chowhound potluck and i was bringing something chocolate, there's no contest which i'd use. but for the masses, i'm disappointed to report that i think the grocery store options would suffice.

i'm also wondering, am i all snooty about the baker's chocolate just because i'm predisposed to be, as a chowhound? do i like what i like because i know i'm supposed to like it? or because i really like it?


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  1. I think if the chocolate is being used with very few other ingredients, it would be more noticeable... like melting it for a ganache or something.
    But hey, a blind taste test is a blind taste test....

    1. I think it depends it depends on preference. I am a chocolate person and really appreciate the different flavors in chocolate, but others I know can't taste the difference or prefer the tastes of their childhood (which might be bakers chocolate).

      1. For recipes like brownies I don't know that the pedigree of the chocolate matters that much. However for something like truffles, I can taste the difference but then I've been making my own chocolates for awhile now. Like jsaimd said perhaps others can't taste the difference or prefer those they're familiar with.

        1. People are predisposed to prefer flavors they are familiar with. We can't help it, it's just how humans are wired. I saw an episode of Kitchen Nightmares on the BBC where Gordon Ramsay did a blind taste test with a "chef" at a restaurant. He had the guy try different high quality food and then tossed in a taste of cup o' noodles. This chef prefered the instant noodles to the other fresh food. The point was it was because that's what he ate all the time so his pallate was tuned to the cheap food. Your coworkers are probably not eating quality chocolate if they like the Baker's. But like others mentioned, the process of adding ingredients and baking makes the subtle flavor differences harder to detect. If you want to do a true blind taste test of chocolate, just have them taste the chocolate.

          1. What percentage Scharffen Berger were you using? If you were using 70% I have a hard time believing you could not tell the difference. I've baked many products only with that chocolate (at work it's all I have) and the taste is overwhelming, definitely not subtle. I've made recipes with all 70% SB and then made them again with half 70% SB and have a semisweet (51% e. guittard) and had the same item taste entirely different. I've used the 51% e. guittard exclusively and can detect its waxy texture.

            Bakers chocolate it is ok, but you are paying more for SB (or valrhona, etc.) presumably b/c you like a richer taste. for cocoa powder, you can definitely tell so it's best to get high quality.

            1 Reply
            1. re: linz

              it was the 99% cacao unsweetened.

              maybe i should save my pennies on the SB unless I'm making truffles or ganache.

            2. How interesting! One question--the Scharffenberger you used was unsweetened? I didn't know they had unsweetened. I found SB last time I was in the US and brought back a bar to try, since I'd heard so much about it. But I didn't find any unsweetened ones.

              I actually wasn't a huge fan of the SB. It may be that my taste is too unsophisticated, but I definitely didn't think it was worth the cost. I have a brand here in the UK that I like, but I'd go for Lindt over SB any day. I also like Valrhona, but at £5 per bar, it's a bit silly, and I can barely tell the difference in my baked items between it and Lindt, which is way cheaper. Then again, I'm not making truffles. It's usually cakes and brownies.

              I'm also not a fan of Baker's, but I haven't had it in a long while.

              Since you mentioned that you came down marginally on the side of SB, it might be interesting for you to try a test between SB and a brand slightly "above" Baker's. Like Lindt, Ghirardelli, or Green & Black. Or to try truffles or ganache and see what happens.

              It's funny that some people will always insist that the most expensive, "pedigreed" item is always best, even if a taste test goes against them (the tasters must be used to cheap, low-quality food!). Best thing is to ignore the hype and go with what tastes best to you.

              1. Interesting. Somewhere I recently read of a similar brownie taste-off, (forgotten where), and they were extremely nose-up about the Baker's chocolate. I've forgotten the descriptors, but they basically said it was nasty.

                I think that's funny because I have baked w/ Baker's all my life. Occasionally I'll use a higher end chocolate in a cake for a special occasion, but Baker's is my standard, and I think it works fine. In fact, since people became aware of the existance of better chocolate for baking, I've had lots of people say stuff like "You used, "x" chocolate in this, didn't you?" My theory is that people have had so many crappy brownies made with sub par ingredients, that when they taste something with real eggs and butter, and none of the chemical crap in a mix, and lots of chocolate -regardless of provenance- they are impressed.

                That said, I think for cocoa powder it's well worth buying Valrhona, higher end chocolate chips are worth it in choc chip cookies, and Sharfengerger is what I would use to make truffles and ganache frosting. But for a product where the chocolate is very much adulterated, I don't think the difference is worth the cost.

                I'm not sure why you are "disappointed" that grocery store brands will suffice. If you, a serious Chowhound on a mission, had a hard time deciding which brownie was the best, then I don't think it's any surprise that the casual taster wasn't struck over the head by the difference. So why be sorry you can save some cash?? The money I save on baking chocolate gets WELL used up by my taste for Vosge and other wildly overpriced "eating" chocolates.