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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.

    Cheers.

    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.