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Chocolate - I need educated!

Ok...who doesn't love chocolate - any kind.....it really doesn't matter (ok...maybe not the cheap chocolate). But when it comes to baking and cooking with it, can someone give me a lesson as to the different types of chocolate, and when it's ok to sub other kinds? (for example, baking bits/chips, bars, baking bars, etc) (like, can you chop up a chocolate bar and use it in place of chips? Can you sub chocolate chips for a baking bar?) Also, I see lots of recipes that say "get the best chocolate you can find". Where does one usually find these sorts of chcolate? I know the major grocery chains are usually not the supplier of these fine cooking/baking chocolates.....what do the chocolatiers usually use? Thanks!
PS - I was up waaaay too late last night trying to find this topic using the search feature, but never found anything - so please let me know if I missed it!)

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  1. Lots of good info here to get you started: http://www.joyofbaking.com/chocolate.... and http://www.joyofbaking.com/ChoosingSt...

    As to what the best chocolate is? I'm not a chocolate snob, so take this for what it's worth.

    The best chocolate in my opinion is the chocolate that tastes the best to you.

    You like sweet milk chocolate? Then that's the best chocolate.

    You like the bitter aroma of dark? Then go for it.


    1. When I read "use the best chocolate you can find" I usually reach for something like Valhrona. Ipsedixit is correct that the definition of best chocolate is subjective, but high-end chocolates are now readily available in many grocery stores...look for a display that includes things like Lindt, Valhrona, Chocolate Love, Lake Champlain, and similar brands; they won't usually be with the baking supplies but on their own display rack. Trader Joe's has some high-end chocolates, too. Personally, I have no problem subbing chopped chocolate bars for chips, but would not sub chips for "good" chocolate, mostly because commercial chips seem waxy to me. My husband and I frequently have one square of good chocolate each for a treat after dinner. We buy all kinds of different brands (we generally go for the dark chocolate that's at least 65% cocoa, although anything over 75% can be too bitter for us). Our definition of good is creamy mouthfeel, no "off" flavors. Chocolate bars that don't make the cut for eating as is are put into a plastic bag in the pantry and used for baking in our house. As to what chocolatiers use, that's a whole different discussion. My friend, who makes copious amounts of fruit dipped chocolate and all types of chocolate nut barks buys Merkens chocolate discs at a cake supply place to use.

      1. Yes, you can chop up bars, but if you chop up eating bars, they can be $3.50-6, and it can get expensive.

        If you live near a specialty shop or restaurant supply store, you can get chocolate chips or discs, or bars from brands like Valrhona or Callebaut.

        5 Replies
        1. re: jaykayen

          Callebaut is my favorite, and that's who makes the Pound Plus bars for Trader Joe's - you can't beat the price at $3.49 for nearly 18 ounces of premium chocolate!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            I've seen tons of different chocolate bars at Trader Joe's - and have even sampled many of them (I tend to love dark chocolate - almost bitter!). Are those bars meant for baking - or just eating?

            1. re: cooking_geek

              I bake with the 72% one all the time.

              1. re: cooking_geek

                As a starting point you need to understand what chocolate the recipe author has in mind. In particular pay attention to the cocoa solids ratio.

                Unsweetened is all chocolate (and too bitter for eating alone). Bittersweet has some sugar added, semisweet more, milk chocolate even more sugar, plus milk which makes it softer and lighter in color. Increasingly chocolates (such as those sold at TJ) are labeled with the chocolate %.

                Most baking recipes either call for unsweetened ('bakers' in many older ones) which is melted, or semisweet for use as chunks or chips. Baking also makes use of cocoa powder.

                The higher ratio dark chocolates are too new (on the US market) to appear in many recipes. When I started buying the Pound Plus bars at TJ, bittersweet was the strongest they sold. Then they added the 72% (one of my favorites). And now I'm enjoying their 85% bars - but in much smaller pieces. You have to be a serious dark chocolate fan to enjoy the bitterness of 85%.

                Once you master the chocolate/sugar ratio you can start to worry about brands and cost.

              2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                I also use the TJ pound plus bars for baking, but they are $4.99 in Pennsylvania. For very special desserts, I still prefer Valrhona.

            2. You can generally substitute chopped chocolate for chips, but not always vice versa. Chips usually contain wax or something similar that helps them keep their shape, so they may end up not melting as smoothly as chopped chocolate. For most things, though, you can use them interchangeably.

              You should pay attention to the level of sweetness called for in the recipe -- is it milk chocolate, semisweet, bittersweet, unsweetened? It's usually fine to substitute depending on what taste you prefer, but you may need to adjust the level of sugar in the recipe (for instance, if it calls for bittersweet chocolate but you think milk chocolate sounds better, you may want to decrease the sugar a little).

              Personally, I usually don't splurge on super-fancy chocolate for baking. I like Ghirardelli or Lindt, which seem like a good compromise between the cheaper brands which taste more artificial to me and something like Valrhona.

              1. I recently went through something similar. Chocolates are similar to coffee or wine. They come from different countries and the beans have differing profiles. Some years crops are better than others.

                Chocolatiers will use certain lines of chocolate (couvertures) from suppliers such as: E. Guittard, El Rey, Sharffen Berger, Vahlrona, Felchlin, Belcolade, Callebaut, Cluizel, Cacao Barry. There are also higher end chocolates like Amano, DeVries, Taza, Theo (exactly, you've probably never heard of them, I hadn't). These companies are usually based in Europe or the US but the beans come from Latin America, South America, The Caribbean, and Africa (just like coffee).

                These companies can make vastly different types of chocolates with differing flavor profiles and different percentages (I've seen from 33% up to 100%). Some will make lower end chocolates as well as higher end and some companies will have multiple brands. Some are large corporations and others are a few guys making micro batches of chocolates.

                For baking purposes you want to get a 'good' chocolate that you can buy in bulk at reasonable prices. Chocolate bars can cost over $4 / oz and that's not something you usually want to be 'wasting' on a cupcake - or maybe you do! Generally avoid Nestle, Hershey, Bakers ... start with something like Ghiradelli and then tryout El Ray, Vahlrona, Lindht, etc. on upwards until you hit a price point you balk at. You should be able to find good brands for under $1 / oz. at wholesale clubs,higher end groceries, or specialty stores and there's always the internet.

                All that said, sample various chocolates and pick the stuff you like... just because some people rave about a 2002 vintage Ecuadorian 85% chocolate doesn't mean you'll like it at all or that it's better than the 33% milk chocolate you enjoy.

                3 Replies
                1. re: amokscience

                  Taza & Theo are actually becoming more mainstream - i see them popping up everywhere.

                  i recently sampled several varieties of Cordillera Colombian chocolate (i think they were 59, 65 & 70%) and i wasn't really impressed...the flavor was a bit stale & musty.

                  1. re: amokscience

                    I have never seen the higher-end chocolates referred to, and hate to think how much they cost, considering how much I pay for Felchlin and how much I've seen Valrhona priced at.

                    Speaking of Valrhona, has anyone tried their "Manjari" chocolate? I bought several chocolates from a highly-rated store in Montreal that uses Manjari, and found that they all had a spicy aftertaste, which I disliked. I was wondering if that is a characteristic of Manjari.

                    1. re: souschef

                      i haven't had Valrhona's Manjari, but it's made from Criollo ad Trinitario cacao beans - the same blend as the Colombian Cordillera chocolate i tried recently and didn't love...i didn't think it was "spicy," but it had a sharp astringency that i found to be harsh & unrefined.

                  2. The nicer grocery stores have good chocolate, nowadays. I use Callebaut. I don't use Valhrona because I can't afford it but it is good chocolate. World Market and Trader Joes has chocolate. Dove, Ghirardelli and Lindt are good. A high end grocery store near me even has 1 pound chunks of Callebaut in their bulk foods area.

                    The two things you want to pay attention to with chocolate is percentage of cocoa solids and percentage of cocoa butter. With dark chocolate the two added together will exceed 90%.

                    In fact about the only ingredients in dark chocolate is cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate had milk powder added and white chocolate is coca butter, vanilla or vanillin, milk powder, sugar and an emulisfier.

                    If the cocoa solids get above 60%, it will be very rich but won't be very useful as a dip as it will harden in a very thick layer. If I want to dip truffles for instance and want a thin shell, I use 54% cocoa solids chocolate with 30% cocoa butter. The cocoa butter allows it to dry thin. Most of the experts use the 64% chocolate for their genache and 54% chocolate for the dip. I usually use 54% on both and have never had any complaints other than people cursing me for killing their diet.

                    Chocolate chips are good but most have had stabilizers added so they don't melt so fast in your toll house cookies. You can use them for baking and genaches. You probably can't use them for dipping.

                    If you want to learn a lot about chocolate, I recommend Nick Malgieri's book "Chocolate". http://www.amazon.com/Chocolate-Simpl...

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Wow - lots of GREAT information from everyone! I had no idea that chocolates could almost be like wine in terms of vintage, etc. How funny is that!? I really *could* become a chocolate snob - haha!

                      @Hank - so, the percentages you are talking about - like 64% and 54% - that's not the percentage we typically see on the front of the bar, is it? (like 72% is pretty dark chocolate...and 85% is pretty bitter). You're talking about percentages of cocoa butter? Is that usually on package somewhere?

                      Thanks for all of the replies!

                      1. re: cooking_geek

                        The number you see on the front of the bar is usually percentage of cocoa solids. The higher that number, the less cocoa butter and eventually the less sugar so yes 85% is very strong and bitter. For instance Callebaut refers to their 50 -59% dark chocolate as semisweet, 60 - 69% dark chocolate as bitter sweet and 70% and above as extra bitter.

                        Good chocolate will certainly have the % cocoa solids. You can usually get the rest by reading the contents section on the label.

                        When people use the 70% plus chocolate, they are often using it for baking where sugar in some form is being added.

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          I have several types of TJ chocolate whose ingredients lists include one or more of:
                          cocoa mass, cocoa powder, cocoa butter.

                          I assume that cocoa mass is the roasted and ground cocoa beans. If the fat (cocoa butter) is removed, the remaining solids are cocoa powder (more or less).

                          Cocoa powder provides the color and complex bitter taste of chocolate; the butter is the smooth fat (with a complex melting range like milk butter).

                          So if a chocolate bar lists the powder and/or butter along with the cocoa mass, they are probably using those to tweak the flavor and mouth feel (texture) of the final product. I'm guessing that 'cocoa solids' (as in the %) refers to the combination of these 3 chocolate ingredients. The bulk of the remaining % is sugar.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I had never seen the term “cocoa mass” before so I did some research.

                            I came up with the following definitions:

                            Cocoa mass (cocoa paste) is ground cocoa beans. It has cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
                            Cocoa powder is ground cacao beans with the cocoa butter (fat) pressed out.
                            Cocoa butter is the yellowish fat pressed out of cocoa beans.
                            Cocoa solids are the non-fat solids found in cocoa mass. That sounds like cocoa powder to me.

                            I’m sorry. I’m not sure why they would list cocoa mass on the label but I suspect it is their recipe to attain a certain flavor profile.

                            Oh and as a price guide. Anytime you can get good chocolate like we have been talking about for less than about $5.00 a pound, you should jump on it.

                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                              (pretend you can hear a Russian accent) Opulence I has it.... but I like to save the money.. so when i hear about chocolate at under $5.00 a pound... i jump in it. hahahah.

                    2. A very good source for information on adapting recipes for different percentage chocolates: Alice Medrich's "Bittersweet". She knows the subject as well as anyone out there, having started a fancy chocolate bakery/truffle-making shop in the mid-70's in Berkeley, CA.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: buttertart

                        awesome information - thanks buttertart!

                        1. re: buttertart

                          Thanks again, buttertart - I just ordered a used copy from Amazon! :-)

                          1. re: cooking_geek

                            You'll love it. Get the Nick Malgieri too - it has the world's best brownie recipe in it.

                        2. Then there are single bean small batch producers. Very unique in taste.


                          The white chocolate is so good.

                          1. A more specific chocolate question. I usually make the Fantasy Fudge (Marshmallow Cream - original version). This recipe calls for chocolate chips. If I chop up some Trader Joe's chocolate, will it set up properly since it doesn't have that extra 'agent' that the chips have? I'm also open to other good foolproof fudge recipes! :-)

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: cooking_geek

                              In my opinion, truffles are easier and taste better. Never seen a grainy truffle but I have seen plenty of grainy fudge.

                              1. re: cooking_geek

                                If this is the recipe, then any chocolate will do:


                                As long as you don't need the chips to maintain the shape, regular chocolate is usually a better option.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  I remember sitting at the kitchen table when I was about 10, 60's era, eating my fluffernutter and reading that recipe on the back of the Marshmallow Fluff jar. While she often made fudge, I don't think my mom ever made that version with the maragine. I've seen earlier versions of this recipe, with the addition of nuts and called Mamie Eisenhower's Fudge. Was Marshmallow Fluff around back then? I guess so:


                                  Here's some classic college fudge recipes, untried by me but sound interesting to sublime:


                                  Hank Hanover is actually right, easier to make truffles than fudge, which can be tempermental.

                                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                                    Yeah, even poorly made truffles are good, just not as good as ones tempered properly but poorly made fudge can be almost gritty. I'm not a big fan of fudge, even well made fudge.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      I'll take a truffle anyday.

                                      Some years ago I got this wacky idea to make fudge and sell it from a table in front of my building in Brooklyn, for extra $$; I must have been out of my mind. The cops that drove by constantly in that neighborhood would probably have had something to say about no vendor license, and making all that fudge, the stirring, the frustration? Crazy.

                                      Happily mrbushy pointed out the error of my thinking...

                                2. re: cooking_geek

                                  I'm happy to say that I successfully used the Trader Joe's "Pounder" in place of the chocolate chips. My son (who didn't know I had done anything different) told me the fudge was the best I'd ever made!