Do you know your cocoa from your cacao?
Nothing quite hits the spot like a big fat slice of home baked chocolate cake. But trying to choose the best chocolate for baking can leave even the most accomplished home cooks feeling a tad confused.
From sweet to bitter and dark to white, we’ve done our cocoa research so you can figure out which bar you’ll need to perfect your masterpiece – and what makes for the best cooking chocolate.
So what’s the difference?
Depending on what recipe you’re looking at, it may call for one of the following. Definitions of chocolate differ between the US and UK, so we’ve tried to make it easy to understand from a UK point of view…
Bitter Chocolate AKA Cooking Chocolate
- Contains little to no sugar depending on variety.
- Usually found in recipes with a lot of sugar like brownies and cakes as this chocolate is usually unsweetened, and not fun to eat on its own!
- Try Sainsbury’s Belgian Dark 60% Cocoa Cooking Chocolate, Taste The Difference.
Dark Chocolate AKA Plain Chocolate
- Produced by adding fat & sugar to cocoa with little to no milk added. Usually sold with percentages of cocoa ranging from 35% to 99%.
- High in antioxidants and low in sugar this a great snack option but has a bitter taste that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can be used in cakes and desserts for a very rich flavour, or will often be spotted in savoury dishes like chilli con carne.
- Make sure you buy at least 70% cocoa solids to get that real chocolatey, bitter smack in the mouth!
- Try Willie’s Cacao Venezuelan Dark Chocolate 72%.
- This is what’s left after the butter has been extracted from the cocoa beans. You can buy both Natural Cocoa Powder and Dutch Cocoa Powder. Although the UK does not differentiate between the two so you will mostly only find Natural Cocoa.
- When buying powder, do not substitute natural for Dutch, or the other way around. Natural (common) cocoa powder is used in cakes and brownies because it helps them rise. Whist Dutch cocoa will not.
- Also, do not mistake drinking chocolate for cocoa powder. This is usually sweetened with sugar and fats and will not have the desired effect in baking.
- Try Green & Black’s organic fair trade cocoa powder.
- Very high quality with a high percentage of cocoa butter.
- Used by professionals for dipping, moulding and adding that final touch When tempered it has a beautiful sheen and a great snap! This is the really fancy stuff so unless you’re entering the Bake Off, maybe don’t bother!
- Try Callebaut dark chocolate chips.
- The most popular for eating straight from the packet. This chocolate has much less cocoa solids and a higher percentage of milk and sugar to make it much sweeter than darker varieties. In the UK it must contain at least 20% cocoa.
- If you substitute darker chocolate for milk chocolate in a baking recipe, you may well be disappointed. Milk chocolate won’t give you that rich chocolatey flavour that brownies and gooey cakes need. Try using milk chocolate for coating sweet snacks like rice crispy treats or rocky road.
- For a change from your usual Dairy Milk, try Montezuma’s Organic Milk Chocolate Bar.
- Technically this isn’t chocolate at all! Made from sugar, milk and cocoa butter. There are no cocoa solids in this variety.
- If you don’t fancy brownies, try making blondies! White chocolate’s sweet vanilla flavour also tastes wonderful alongside raspberries and makes a great extra ingredient for butter icing.
- Try Menier White Chocolate Patissier.
- Cacao is considered the health food version or ‘raw’ version of cocoa withno dairy and no sugar. Cacao is made by cold-pressing instead of roasting, and this process is said to help keep the nutritional value of the cacao that is lost in other types of chocolate.
- You can buy cacao powder, liquor, butter as well as cacao beans and nibs. As the cacao is unsweetened, it is usually enjoyed in recipes including natural sweeteners like agave, date syrup or coconut sugar.
- A little harder to source perhaps, but totally worth it for the antioxidants! Visit your local health shop or try Holland & Barrett.
- Try Choc Chick Organic Raw Cacao Powder.
What the choc is bittersweet?
So you’ve scoured the shelves of every Waitrose in a 5 mile radius and you still can’t find anything that resembles ‘semi-sweet chocolate’ like Martha Stewart asked for. Cool it chef. This is a common confusion and an utterly annoying one at that.
Different countries categorise their chocolate in different ways. So if you’re looking at an American recipe, you might be asked to source something that we call by a different name. The best rule to work by is to focus on the percentage of chocolate solids, a recipe will usually specify if it wants fifty to sixty or over seventy percent. But if the whole bittersweet or semi-sweet thing is still giving you a headache, here are some suggestions…
- My recipe asks for ‘bittersweet chocolate’… Buy dark chocolate with 61 to 70 percent cocoa solids.
- My recipe asks for ‘semi-sweet chocolate’… Buy cooking chocolate with 50 to 61 percent cocoa solids
What to look for when choosing your best cooking chocolate…
Now you know what percentage of choccywoccy you need, make sure you check the small print!
Most importantly, is it Fair Trade? Cocoa farmers are some of the poorest people in the world, so making sure they’re getting what they deserve is something you need to consider. Look for the Fair Trade logo on the package, and if you can’t see that just give the brand a quick Google to make sure you know where they stand.
Try artisan! With incredibly skilled chocolatiers popping up all over the country you really don’t have to stick to the big supermarket brands. Try Seed and Bean, made in small batches in Northamptonshire. Or Willie’s Cacao which is made in his wonderfully hands-on factory down in Devon.
And finally, don’t be tempted to scrimp! Chocolate can get expensive, but when you’re trying to create a cake that wows, it’s best to invest in the good stuff.
Check out some of vouchercloud’s chocolate covered discount codes here, and good luck with that chocolate cake!