Chocolate is kinda like pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s good. But if you’ve just been tossing chunks of chocolate into your baked goods and hoping for the best, you’re doing it wrong. With just a little finesse and know-how, chocolate can totally bring your baked creations to life.
Let’s walk through everything you need to know about baking with chocolate.
What percentage means
When you buy quality chocolate, you’ll typically find it advertises a percentage on the label. That percentage represents the amount of cacao (pronounced kuh-KAY-oh) in the chocolate. Cacao is composed of cacao solids and cacao butter (fat). The higher the amount of cacao, the less room there is for sugar, so a higher percentage represents a less-sweet chocolate.
While having the same percentage of cacao doesn’t mean two bars are the same (the cooking process, cacao butter to cacao solids and more can be different), it does tell you exactly how sweet it will be, which can be all important when deciding what chocolate to pair with the other ingredients in your favorite recipes.
There are also small amounts of other ingredients that may or may not be included — like lecithin (an emulsifier to enhance smoothness) and vanilla or vanillin (usually synthetic) — but those are typically less than 1 percent of the makeup of the chocolate. Some chocolates may contain dairy (though European chocolatiers eschew this American practice outside milk chocolate), and the rest is sugar.
For most of us, melting chocolate chips to cover strawberries or dip truffles is good enough. But professional — and aspiring — pastry chefs use chocolate made with a higher percentage of cocoa butter called couverture. It’s more expensive and typically found in specialty stores, but it melts and coats more smoothly, giving your creations a more polished look and feel.
- Tempering gives chocolate a glossy finish. For best results, use the double boiler seeding method.
- Proper tempering involves melting over very low heat, cooling it, then reheating over very low heat.
- If you break your chocolate during the temper, use butter or vegetable oil over low heat, and mix until it comes back.
Originally published February 2016. Updated July 2017.