Calling all Chocolate Lovers!
So we all know the basic types of chocolate: white, milk, dark. And we all have our favorite. Mine is milk chocolate and my husband’s is white. But that’s not all. There are different forms and levels of chocolate that you use for different items and recipes. Using the wrong type could lead to disaster. I have learned this along the way. Let’s start with defining each type and don’t worry I won’t go into too much detail. I’ll leave that to the chocolatiers.
Firstly, know that pure cocoa is called chocolate liquor. No not alcohol: while spelled the same, it is not. Chocolate liquor is the purest form of chocolate and is chocolate at 100%. However, chocolate liqueur is alcohol! It is liquor based, like whiskey or vodka, with chocolate added. Great for cocktails!
WHITE: While known by its color, this type of chocolate has the highest amount of cocoa butter and sugar. It is the sweetest and has a bold taste of vanilla. It is 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk, and up to 55% sugar. When stored properly it only has a shelf-life of up to four months.
MILK: Milk chocolate is the most popular type of chocolate in the world. For the balance of bitterness and sweetness, it is very versatile. Containing at least 10% pure cocoa, and up to 40% cocoa, and 12% milk. Typically, vanilla is added to enhance the flavor. This makes for a balance of the chocolate, milk, and vanilla we all know and love. You may be surprised but stored properly milk chocolate has a shelf-life of up to 16 months.
DARK: Dark, semi-sweet, bittersweet, all fall in this category. Dark chocolate contains at least 15% pure cocoa, but most at are least 50%. The amount of pure cocoa defines if it is dark, semi-sweet, or bittersweet. Dark is over 70%, bittersweet is 70% with a sugar content of 30%, semi-sweet is 60% cocoa and 40% sugar. Ghirardelli, who I worked for in the past, has a dark chocolate at 92%! While very bitter, some people love it for its lower sugar content. This is the best kind for making bonbons or types of chocolate candies because of the snap it gets from tempering. What’s tempering? The process of heating and cooling chocolate to get this texture. A hard technique that a good amount of pastry chefs have yet to master. A topic for another day. Dark chocolate has a shelf-life of up to 20 months!
When baking, the quality of your chocolate matters. While we all love to go the cheap route, some things you just cannot substitute. Baking or dipping, you want to use the right kind of chocolate.
CHOCOLATE CHIPS: While there is dark, semi-sweet, milk, and white, they all have a high content of sugar and cocoa butter. Typically used for baking in the oven such as cookies, in this form the chocolate has stabilizers to help keep the shape. You can even make ganache with this chocolate by melting it down via hot cream. Super simple way to make your cake, cupcake, or dessert of choice get to the next level. (Ex. picture above)
BAKING CHOCOLATE: Baker’s chocolate brand is what comes to mind when I think of baking chocolate. A solid bar of chocolate that can be used just like chocolate chips but without all the stabilizers. It comes sweetened or unsweetened. Great for melting into brownies, cakes, and frostings. Or chopped up and added to cookies or whatever dessert or pastry. Typically used in the unsweetened form, it is not great for eating by itself. Trying it unsweetened is like you’re at Disney and trying the Coca Cola beverage Beverly. For my Disney fans out there, you’ll know what I mean.
COCOA POWDER: Basically 100% chocolate crushed into a powder and does not contain cocoa butter (which is what holds chocolate together). This is unsweetened and great for baking. It is also the base for most hot chocolates. It gives it a deep, rich chocolate flavor, just add sugar and milk and sip away. Furthermore, it is great for dusting desserts for the final touch or dusting on your presentation plate for a styled finish. Just don’t use too much or you’ll be making that pucker face from the bitterness.
COUVERTURE CHOCOLATE WAFERS: My favorite and yet the most expensive. This is high quality chocolate. You’ll only want to spend the money on this type of chocolate if you’re making bonbons or truffles or really want to have a higher-class dessert. This quality of chocolate allows for the process of tempering. Tempering, which I mentioned previously, is a topic for another day. This high quality chocolate contains a higher amount of cocoa butter for easy melting. In contrast, it is not good for baking since there is a different proportion of fat to sugar. So only think of couverture chocolate for tempering or dipping. My favorite brands are the most popular as well: Callebaut and Valrhona.
MELTING CHOCOLATE: In recent years I have seen “melting chocolate” or “candy melts” make its way onto grocery store shelves. I asked myself, “what is the difference between that and the expensive couverture chocolate?” Well in doing research I found out. Melting chocolate is compound chocolate. Compound chocolate is made with cocoa powder instead of pure cocoa liquor. It also substitutes the cocoa butter with oil or shortening. While most people can not tell the difference in flavor, a true chocolatier knows there is a huge difference, the main one being the waxy taste and texture you get from this cheaper chocolate. Compound chocolate is great for dipping treats (cake pops) and fruits (yum chocolate covered strawberries). However, this type does not firm up or shine as much as couverture chocolate and is likely to melt quickly from the warm touch of your hand or a hot day.
Whether you prefer white, milk, or dark, knowing the different levels of chocolate will benefit you in the kitchen. Chocolate chips are great for keeping the shape. Baking chocolate is great for melting down into a recipe like brownies or cakes. Cocoa powder is also great for brownies and cakes, as well as dusting. Couverture is great for making chocolates like bonbons and truffles. And lastly, melting chocolate, or candy melts, is great for dipping fruit and treats. So the next time you go to the store to pick up some chocolate for your recipe, you will know what kind will work best.