Talking about chocolate not being good is sort of like talking about the sky falling, isn’t it?
Well, it did feel like the sky was falling the other day when a chocolate cookie came out tasting and feeling like sawdust. I can’t tell you how horrible it was, except to say that the double batch went out in the trash. And you know me, to trash a cookie is unthinkable, let alone to trash an entire batch. Even my husband didn’t eat them and he’s even more of a cookieholic than I am.
It took me until about 3 am (when I couldn’t sleep) to realize what I’d done wrong, and it was so simple it was disgusting. You see, I used chocolate in the cookie.
What!! You say I told you it was a chocolate cookie, what’s wrong with using chocolate?
What you should really be asking me is why it took me until 3am to figure out that “bittersweet” and “unsweetened” chocolate are not the same!
The recipe for this cookie calls out semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, and I had some unsweetened chocolate. I thought that if semisweet is good, and bitter sweet is good, why bother with the ‘sweet’ part? Unsweetened would be even better because it has more chocolate. Right?
The recipe was developed for the sweeter types of chocolate. Unsweetened might have worked with other modifications in the recipe, but without those the cookie was dry and dull. That was a hard lesson, but I guess I had to learn it.
To understand chocolate, we need to go back to Elementary School. Because the types of chocolate are described by the percent of cocoa bean in the mixture we need to discuss percentages. It seems you can’t get away from percentages, even in baking!
What does all this mean? For one thing, the percentage comes from this calculation:
Cacao Mass / Total weight of the chocolate product
The cacao mass includes all portions of the cocoa/cacao bean including cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and cocoa liquor. Cacao liquor is not alcoholic, by the way. The term simply describes the chocolate mass during a certain stage of production. Although if it were alcoholic, that might explain how we feel about chocolate!
By the way, I usually say “cocoa” and the experts all say “cacao” so I say, tomato tomahto about it all!
The total weight includes any sugar, milk and so on that has been added to the chocolate. For instance, Milk Chocolate has less Cacao and more sugar, milk and other ingredients than does Dark Chocolate.
Now that we know how the percentages are calculated, what does that mean in the chocolates typically available for home bakers?
While regulations vary from country to country (see Wiki article cited below) here’s what you can generally expect to see in your chocolate products:
Unsweetened Chocolate: 100% Cacao and very sandy in texture. Not smooth and rich like the chocolates below. It should be melted with butter before adding to recipes, and used in very sweet recipes. (My trashed cookies had that sandy texture and were just not sweet enough, because I used unsweetened chocolate.)
Dark Chocolate: 86% cacao, 14% sugar but may vary a lot. In the US, there is no legal distinction between Dark, Bittersweet and Semisweet chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate: In the US, Bittersweet must be at least 35% cacao, but is typically 71% cacao, 29% sugar. Bittersweet and Semisweet may be used interchangeably.
Semisweet Chocolate: Can vary in cacao content. In the US it must be at least 35% Cacao. My favorite baking product is Guittard Semisweet Baking Bar which has 64% Cacao. That may be why it’s my favorite!
Milk Chocolate: A lot less cacao, plus more sugar, and milk solids and vanilla. In the US a product can be called Milk Chocolate when it has 10% or more cacao and at least 12% milk solids.
White Chocolate: Can be 31% cacao fat; the rest is sugar, milk solids and more flavoring (eg vanilla) than the milk chocolate.
My favorite semi-sweet chips are Guittard’s, a gourmet chip with 46% cacao that has no added palm oil. I think they taste very good and make an excellent cookie!
Coating Chocolate: This is usually in the form of wafers and is made primarily to melt and coat things like candies. It may be called Compound Chocolate, or in Europe ‘pâte a glacee’.
Coating Chocolate is made of cocoa powder and butter oils and will usually include 35% cacao. Butter oils are added for smoothness and gloss. Coating Chocolate does not need to be tempered for use as a coating.
Would you like to learn more? Try these links:
Better Homes and Gardens
Do you want to make sure your cookies or cakes are good? Use the type of chocolate called out in the recipe (which I didn’t do) or know that switching it may mean that you need to try a few batches with varying adjustments to other ingredients to get it all right.
Like chocolate? Me too. A lot!
Have a chocolatey fall!