by Ian Landau on Friday December 19, 2014

When it comes to baking chocolate, how do you know which one to choose? Things have come a long way since old-time supermarket brands like Baker’s were pretty much the only option. Today the baking aisle is stocked with chocolates that have cocoa contents of 70 percent or more.  

The right type to use in cooking depends on the recipe. “Unless a recipe specifies high-percentage chocolate,” says Alice Medrich, author of “Seriously Bitter Sweet” (Artisan, 2013), “stick with chocolate in the 54 to 60 percent cocoa range. Otherwise you’ll have to adjust other ingredients.” That means you can go with cheaper brands.

Here’s what else you need to know about baking chocolate to make delicious holiday treats:


What it is: Also known as bitter chocolate, it doesn’t have sugar, flavorings, or added fat. It’s composed only of chocolate liquor—the ground-up nibs or the roasted and hulled cocoa beans— a paste that is solidified into bars.

Best for: Any recipe where you want a strong chocolate flavor, especially brownies and fudge. It also makes tasty hot chocolate.

Bittersweet and semisweet

What they are: Technically, they’re the same. And if they have similar percentages of chocolate, they can be used interchangeably in recipes. Both types are made with sugar and at least 35 percent chocolate liquor.

Best for: Brownies, cakes, and other baked goodies. They’re also good melted into dips, sauces, cake glazes, and hot chocolate.

Cocoa powder

What it is: Unsweetened chocolate liquor that is processed to remove most of the fat, then ground into cocoa powder. You can buy natural or Dutch-process, which has been treated with alkali to make it darker and less acidic.

Best for: Brownies, genoise, and chocolate sauce. Natural or Dutch-process cocoa can be used interchangeably as long as the recipe doesn’t call for baking powder or baking soda. Baked goods that call for baking soda require natural cocoa or the batter might not rise.


What it is: Milk chocolate is made with at least 10 percent chocolate liquor plus at least 12 percent milk solids (including milk, cream, and condensed milk) with added sugar, cocoa butter, and butterfat. Look for 32 to 45 percent cocoa for a more chocolaty flavor.

Best for: Snacking.

70 percent plus cocoa

What it is: High-percentage chocolates have less sugar and more chocolate liquor—at least 70 percent—which makes the flavor more intense. But higher-percentage chocolate can soak up liquid in a batter, resulting in drier brownies and cakes, grainy mousses, and curdled ganaches.

Best for: Snacking and in recipes calling for higher-percentage chocolate.


What it is: It has none of the cocoa solids that make up the dark stuff, only the fat. By definition, it’s at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, and no more than 55 percent sugar. Vanilla and other ingredients are added. But check the ingredients to be sure you’re getting real white chocolate; don’t buy anything that has fats other than cocoa butter, such as palm oil, says Maricel Presilla, a chef and the author of “The New Taste of Chocolate."

Best for: Fruity desserts. Think cranberry and white chocolate chip cookies. Pastry chef Anna Markow of Amali in New York City says the subtle, sweet flavor balances the acidity in fruit.


What they are: The chocolate in most chips is made with less cocoa butter than bar chocolate, so they hold their shape when they get hot rather than melting.

Best for: Toll House cookies. But chips can also be added to cake or muffin batter and scone dough.

Cocoa nibs

What they are: The crunchy pieces are hulled, roasted, and crushed cocoa beans. When ground, the nibs turn into the liquor and butter used to make all forms of chocolate.

Best for: Seasoning and baking. They add a sharp chocolaty taste and crunchy texture to baked goodies. They’re also a great ice cream topper.

Smart swaps when you don't have the right chocolate

In a pinch, different types of chocolate can be substituted for one another in recipes, although you might not get exactly the same results. Here are some simple swaps from

If you don't have  ...   Swap in ...
1 ounce of semisweet chocolate 1/2 ounce of unsweetened chocolate plus 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 ounce of milk chocolate 1 ounce of semisweet plus 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate 3 tablespoons of unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process) plus 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or vegetable
3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate (reduce fat in recipe by 1 tablespoon)

3 tablespoons of Dutch-processed cocoa powder 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate plus ⅛ teaspoon of baking soda (reduce fat inrecipe by 1 tablespoon)
Melting and storage tips


Safer melting
Chocolate burns easily, so use a double boiler or improvise by placing a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be careful that water doesn’t bubble up into the chocolate during melting. Even a tiny splash can make it gritty and grainy. Break bars into smaller pieces for quick and even melting, and stir until shiny and smooth. The quick and easy way to go: Zap it in the microwave.

Store it right
Keep chocolate in a cool, dry spot; heat and moisture can cause discoloration or affect baking results. You can also store doublewrapped chocolate in the fridge or freezer. Dark chocolate can last for years; milk chocolate and white chocolate should be used within a year because of their milk content. All chocolate can pick up odors, so don’t keep it near anything stinky.

More holiday gift ideas and tips

Visit our Holiday Gift Ideas page throughout the season to find the best deals, time-saving advice, and much more.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 issue of ShopSmart magazine.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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