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Baking 101: When to use different kinds of chocolate

When you’re baking, do you just toss in whatever chocolate you have on hand? We’ve got the scoop on why that’s the wrong move and how to make your chocolate desserts shine. Hint: It’s all about the chocolate.

Several chocolate varities |

A tale of seven chocolates

When you’re baking, do you just toss in whatever chocolate you have on hand? We’ve got the scoop on why that’s the wrong move and how to make your chocolate desserts shine. Hint: It’s all about the chocolate.

When you get to the baking aisle, you may be overwhelmed by the number of brands and varieties of chocolate you see. Does anyone really care? Chocolate is chocolate, right? Actually, it’s not. The type of chocolate you need depends on the type of baked good you’re making and the specific recipe. The good news is, we have a cheat sheet to help you navigate the chocolate river like Willy Wonka himself!


Milk chocolate

Milk chocolate is delicious as a tasty treat and may even be great melted into homemade hot cocoa if you like it sweet, but generally, it’s inappropriate for baking. You should never substitute milk chocolate in a recipe that calls for any other kind. That said, if a recipe does call for it, choose wisely.

European-style chocolate is more expensive, but American-style chocolate has a lot of additives that make it cheaper and more shelf-stable (less melty), which leads to a waxy or chalky flavor.

Notice we said “style.” There are American companies who make very high-quality European-style chocolate. Chances are, if it’s sold at a convenience store, you should skip it for baking.


Semisweet baking chocolate

The most common chocolate for baking is probably semisweet. It can be used in baking and in candy and some people even enjoy eating it. It’s less creamy and sweet than milk chocolate, giving it a more aggressive chocolate flavor when used in baking. It’s usually interchangeable with bittersweet chocolate.


Bittersweet chocolate

Bittersweet chocolate has a richer chocolate flavor and is less sweet than milk or semisweet chocolate. Like semisweet chocolate, it’s edible on its own (and is, in fact, the darkest chocolate that falls into the eating category). If you like a richer flavor than your semisweet is giving you, try bittersweet instead.


Baking chocolate

Baking chocolate isn’t meant for eating. It’s used for baking and is a great option for cooks who want more control of the sweetness. If a recipe calls for baking chocolate, you can’t substitute it for something else.



Best for pastries, couverture is used when you need a glossy chocolate that’s thinner when it’s tempered and melted, such as for a candy coating, but it may be used in other recipes. It comes in milk and dark varieties and may only be available at really high-end stores and online.


White chocolate

White chocolate can be eaten or used in baking. It’s not really a chocolate since it doesn’t have chocolate solids. But it does have cocoa butter-like quality chocolate and it mimics the snap and luscious mouthfeel of its darker counterparts. It can be used in any baking recipe that doesn’t call for baking chocolate or eaten.


Cocoa nibs

Cocoa nibs aren’t actually chocolate, but the roasted and broken beans of the coca plant. They taste a lot like coffee beans, so they are a great addition to recipes containing coffee. They can also be eaten and are most often sold covered in chocolate.

Tips for baking with chocolate

  • Unless it’s baking chocolate, don’t bake with any chocolate you wouldn’t eat.
  • Read the ingredients. If it names any fat other than cocoa butter, put it back on the shelf.
  • If a recipe calls for chocolate that isn’t white, consider adding a bit of coffee in place of some of the liquid, which will bring out the rich, dark notes of the chocolate.
  • Always opt for a slightly pricier brand when in doubt or buy both and try them out.

More on chocolate

Tips for pairing chocolates and wine
Drink up: Study shows hot chocolate helps your brain
Chocolate pairing: What flavors work best with different kinds of chocolate

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