Getting to Know: Chocolate

Passionate about chocolate? Here’s what you need to know to get cooking with this miracle ingredient.

What is Chocolate?

To make chocolate, the seeds of the tropically grown cacao bean are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground into a paste. The paste is called chocolate liquor, and it’s the base of all the chocolate we eat. Chocolate liquor contains about 55 percent cocoa butter (which provides silky texture) and 45 percent cocoa solids (the source of chocolate flavor). The combination of cocoa butter and cocoa solids makes up the cocoa percentage in processed chocolate (ingredients such as sugar and milk make up the remaining percentage). Here are the types of chocolate we use most in the test kitchen, along with our carefully vetted taste test winners.


BITTERSWEET/SEMISWEET: Two words for the same thing: Federal regulations mandate that chocolates with these labels must contain at least 35 percent cacao. Note that semisweet chocolate chips have a similar cacao percentage but less cocoa butter, so they are cheaper to produce and melt less readily

Test Kitchen’s Pick

Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar or Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips


MILK CHOCOLATE: Mild, creamy milk chocolate needs to contain only 10 percent cacao. It’s the star of our fantastic Milk Chocolate Cheesecake

Test Kitchen’s Pick

Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate


UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE: This is usually pure chocolate liquor formed into bars. We like it in baking recipes because its lack of sugar means we can use different sweeteners.

Test Kitchen’s Pick

Hershey’s Unsweetened Baking Bar


COCOA POWDER: Simply dried, pulverized cocoa solids, Dutch-processed cocoa is less acidic than natural cocoa, but you can use the two interchangeably.

Test Kitchen’s Pick

Hershey’s Natural Cocoa Unsweetened


Because white chocolate contains no cocoa solids (only cocoa butter, along with sugar, vanilla, milk solids, and often hydrogenated oil), it has zero chocolate flavor.

Store It Right

Unopened chocolate should be stored in a zipper-lock bag in a cool, dry place (such as a kitchen cabinet). Opened chocolate should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and given the same treatment. Improperly stored chocolate sometimes develops a white surface lm called bloom; while harmless, bloom is unattractive. Luckily, it disappears when the chocolate is melted.

Temper, Temper...

If you’re melting chocolate to mix with other ingredients (as when making brownies), all you really need to do is melt it gently enough so that it doesn’t burn or clump. But if you’re melting it to frost a cake or to dip strawberries or cookies into, you need to temper it.

Good chocolate has a bright sheen and a snappy texture. But when it’s melted and cooled, its chemical structure changes; if it is not tempered before it resolidifies, it will look dull and lack snap. The multistep tempering process usually involves a careful regimen of heating and cooling and then reheating the chocolate, taking its temperature along the way. But we developed an easier method.

1. Microwave Chocolate

Finely chop 3 ounces chocolate and place in microwave-safe bowl. Micro- wave at 50 percent power, stirring every 15 seconds, until just fully melted (chocolate will be slightly warmer than body temperature).

2. Add More Chocolate

Add 1 ounce finely grated chocolate (use small holes of box grater or rasp-style grater) and stir until smooth, returning bowl to microwave for no more than 5 seconds at a time if necessary until chocolate is fully smooth and incorporated.

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