All About Chocolate

Elevate your baking skills by learning these finer details of chocolate.

This December, we’re going to show you how you can achieve great taste using everyone's favorite treat: chocolate. This content was created in partnership with Food52.

We think we have chocolate figured out. We put it in a drawer; a cookie; our favorite frosting. But learning the finer points of cacao can only enhance our love and enjoyment of our favorite year-round treat — and knowing how to choose the right bar for baking is more nuanced than you’d think.

A standard chocolate bar is made up of three components of varying proportions: Chocolate liquor (another way of saying the meat of the cacao bean), cocoa butter (the naturally occurring fat in the cacao bean), and sugar. The ratio of these three ingredients (measured by weight) determines not only the taste of the finished chocolate, but also its texture and behavior when used in baked goods.

Dark chocolate has a high proportion of chocolate liquor; in other words, it contains less sugar and little to no cocoa butter. A chocolate bar with a high percentage of cacao will be less sweet, more bitter and less soluble as you increase its proportion to the other ingredients in a recipe. The quality of the bean and its processing is very important here, since it is the predominant source of flavor.

Semisweet or bittersweet chocolate must contain at least 35 percent percent chocolate liquor, but you’re likely to find bars under this classification with up to 70 percent cacao. Dark chocolate is a wonderful bitter complement for sweets; chop up a bar and fold it into cookies, melt it for ganaches and glazes, or turn it into ice cream or hot chocolate. Baking chocolate (or unsweetened chocolate) is 100 percent cacao and used as a base in sweet confections like brownies, cakes, and cookies for its rich chocolate flavor.

Live.Love.Lux Tip: Baking chocolate treats this winter? With an Electrolux wall oven you’ll never have to worry about uneven baking temperatures — thanks to convection technology.

When it comes to baking, the best policy is to stick to the cacao percentage instructed in the recipe — if it calls for semisweet or bittersweet but doesn’t specify a percentage, you’ll be safe not exceeding 60 percent.

Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor and contains a higher percentage of milk and sugar. The result is a creamier chocolate that lends itself as a source of sweetness, flavor and texture in recipes for candy bars, cookies, glazes, sauces and frostings. It’s also a wonderful bar to eat as is, since it tastes like a confection all on its own.

True white chocolate contains no chocolate liquor and is made from cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and flavorings, like vanilla bean. Mass-produced white chocolate is often made with vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter, but this compromises the luscious silky texture of the traditional treat. White chocolate can be used much like milk chocolate — with an obvious difference in flavor — in anything from candy bars to frostings to cookies. Similarly, it can be quite sweet, so you’ll want to look at it as an additional source of sugar when baking.