3 tips for baking with bean to bar chocolate
How to pick what chocolate you need for holiday baking. Plus, what is Dutch-process cocoa powder anyway?
‘Tis the season for baking! And if you’re more organized than I am, you might have plans and groceries put together for your holiday baking, but I’m going to try my best to convince you to use stellar chocolate in this year’s bakes!
Figure out what kind of chocolate you need to be using. This mostly means the type of chocolate, but considering the percentage that you need is important here.
Baker's Chocolate: The two most popular kinds of Baker’s Chocolate in recipes (or at least the ones that are floating around my family) are Unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate and German Chocolate Baker’s Chocolate, although the two are very different. You can swap out 100% chocolate for unsweetened, no problem. German chocolate is a little trickier; it’s 48% which is very sweet and very difficult to find without added milk, at least when you’re looking at bean to bar options. I’ll be honest with you — I need to do a little more experimenting with German chocolate recipes to be certain what to do here. Hypothetically, I would find the lowest percentage I could find, and maybe that means using milk or vegan milk chocolate. I’ll update you next time I make a German chocolate cake!
Semisweet: My thoughts on this chocolate are similar to German chocolate Baker’s Chocolate. Semisweet chocolate can range from 35 to 65%, although I’ve been known to embrace 70% because it’s generally my favorite and easier to find (in my house, at the store … it’s the same). I think it’s nice to have things a little more chocolate-y. It also contrasts with the sweetness of the rest of the baking, but I respect that others might want to tone it down. It’s fairly easy to find things around the 60% mark.
Cocoa powder: (What is Dutch-process cocoa powder anyway?) Cocoa powder is cocoa that has had the fat (cocoa butter) squeezed out of it — it’s just cocoa solids. Some recipes call for Dutch-process or natural cocoa powder, although you can often interchange the two. Dutch-process cocoa powder is alkalized, so the acidity is lessened, usually with baking powder or soda. The process also makes the cocoa powder a little darker. This article from King Arthur Baking, has some great details on when to make the choice, but you can use either unless the recipe is older. (In that case, use natural cocoa powder.) Valrhona has a relatively cheap, lightly Dutch-process cocoa powder that I use for most baking. Marou has a natural cocoa powder and it’s also great for baking.
Milk chocolate: Milk chocolate is chocolate that has milk added, often to make it sweeter. Keep your eye out for dark milk chocolate. It’s delicious, but darker.
White chocolate: White chocolate is chocolate that has no or little cocoa solids. Sometimes milk is added, but vegan varieties exist. Because of the milk in white and milk chocolate, these two don’t last as long as other varieties. Their shelf life is shorter.
Use your cast off bars. Sometimes a chocolate bar will enter your life that isn’t your favorite. That chocolate is still better than your average bag of chocolate chips, so keep that chocolate and chop it up for your baking. I love to use it in chocolate chip cookies. (Or whenever I need semisweet chocolate, since it gets to be kind of a mixture of percentages.) I store mine in a giant glass jar that used to hold honey. (If I have milk chocolate or white chocolate bars that I want to use for baking, I don't mix them with the dark chocolate and try to use them as soon as possible.)
Consider the origin. Dandelion Chocolate makes the most amazing brownie flights, where each brownie features a different origin. It really highlights the unique tasting notes. Some recipes are going to benefit from fruity or nutty or floral or another origin. Makers often include tasting notes, which can help guide you. Some experimentation might be in order, but that’s a pretty sweet task.
Here are some pictures of past chocolate projects to get you excited and inspired to make your own creations!
Chocolate recipe of the week
My family has made this chocolate cream pie recipe for three generations. My grandma found it in a cook book (I wish I knew which one!), and it has been an integral part of our Thanksgivings ever since! I know Thanksgiving is passed, but really, there should be more pie in your life.
Chocolate Cream Pie
1 baked pie shell (9 inch)
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut up a little
2 and 1/2 c. milk
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. vanilla
Combine cornstarch, sugar, salt and chocolate in saucepan. Add milk gradually.
Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil 1 minute. Then pour half of the mixture into the egg yolks and mix them well. Then add this mixture to the rest in the pan and boil one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from stove and add butter and vanilla, stirring to mix. Cool it a little and then pour into baked pie shell. Put a piece of wax paper over the filling to keep it from getting a skin on it. Cool pie thoroughly and add whipped cream just before serving.
Tips for making this with bean to bar chocolate
This year, I made it with Solstice Wasatch and my grandpa was so impressed. He told me the texture was "velvety" and he was right; the texture was next level. Because the chocolate was 70% instead of 100%, I had Matt do some math and we used 4.3 ounces to account for the extra sugar and used 3/4 a cup of sugar. (You could probably use less sugar, honestly, but the vanilla cream pie recipie called for that amount so we knew it wouldn’t mess with the texture if we dropped it down. We have dropped it as far as half a cup before, so there’s some flexibility on how sweet you like things.)
Here is this year’s pie. (It was not my most successful wax paper endeavor — you can see that an infamous skin has formed across the top.)
Here’s the first recorded bean to bar chocolate cream pie, circa 2016, made with Solstice Uganda 70%.
In past years, we’ve made it slightly easier on ourselves by using 100% chocolate. There are lots of great options, but we’ve had great success with Marou. (Next time, I’m thinking about trying to make the pie vegan with coconut milk which I know is already a great Marou combination.)
A chocolate cream pie (made with Marou 100% chocolate) that I made for Thanksgiving 2020.
Chocolate bar of the week
One of the great things about being chocolate obsessed, is that people are so thoughtful when they travel and they bring you back chocolate! Some of my friends recently went to South Carolina and they sent the sweetest gift with a couple of local (to North Carolina) chocolate bars.
One was a brand that I was familiar with, French Broad Chocolate. (I even have a cute cacao plant shirt from them that I bought at a past Northwest Chocolate Festival.) The origin they sent was the India 71%. I got bright, tart notes and the texture was quite smooth. You can get this bar on their site, where they also have lots of fun seasonal packages (bars, truffles, drinking chocolate, etc.) or if you’re local to Salt Lake City, at Caputo’s. Some of the seasonal bars are also available in store and online at Caputo’s. (French Broad also makes chocolate chips, if you’re interested in trying them since we’ve talked about baking in this issue. They’re available in dark and milk chocolate.)
The second bar was from Escazú, a brand I’ve tried at least once, but haven’t had the pleasure to try many times. The bar we tried was the 74% roasted pepita and guajillo chili bar. Pepitas have been on my list of favorite things this month, and this bar did not disappoint. Their crunch combined with the mellow blend of origins in the chocolate was perfect. I didn’t get much of a zing from the chili, it was incredibly subtle but I felt it a little in the finish. Chili can be fun in chocolate, but it’s not an inclusion that I gravitate to as much as my husband does.
Thanks for joining me to talk about chocolate this week! I would LOVE to see your chocolate baking escapades, so please share.