I’m just now coming down from my annual four-week holiday cookie baking bender, and I’ve had time to ponder some of the ways my baking was affected by various types and forms of chocolate. It’s a versatile ingredient to a point, but some chocolate shapes are better suited to certain things. Before you grab a bag of seemingly all-purpose morsels, take a moment to consider your project.
Chips, morsels, or chunks?
To make an irresistible chocolate chip-studded cookie or banana bread, you’ll look to that trusty bag of morsels in your cabinet. Whether it’s chips, morsels, or chunks, we’re talking about the stuff that comes in 12-ounce bags and, surprisingly, keeps its shape under higher temperatures. This variety of baking chocolate has a lower percentage of cocoa butter, so it’s more likely to hold its original shape, and keeps a thick consistency even when melted. Use these for drop cookies, muffins, breads, and other thick batters. They’ll keep their shape through baking and cooling, and won’t liquify or dissolve into the crumb of the batter. Steer clear of thin, or delicate, cake and cookie batters, as they won’t support much weight, and the chips will likely sink to the bottom and possibly burn.
Couverture is high-quality chocolate that’s often sold as thick slabs in Whole Foods, or in giant bags as disks, callets, or pastilles. Tempering chocolate, or a bar of snacking chocolate, has a higher percentage of cocoa butter than the baking chips above, and a silkier texture. The extra fat gives it a high shine, and lends itself well to candy making, tempering for chocolate bars, coating fruits, or making professional-looking chocolate decorations. You could use chopped couverture in cookies and cakes, but it is more likely to melt out. Instead of the noticeable texture of a chocolate morsel in a muffin, you could end up with a chocolatey “spot”—an area where the chocolate melted into the crumb of the cake as it baked, and never reconstituted. Cookies will have puddles of liquified chocolate, and it’ll be a little more difficult to scoop them off of the tray. Is this still delicious? You bet. However, the price point is much higher than a sack of Toll House, so save the good stuff for tempering or snacking on.
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Chocolate shavings are not usually something you purchase at the grocery store, but they are something you can make at home with a bar of chocolate. Use chocolate shavings as a decoration, add them to batters, or use them to make melting chocolate quicker in the microwave or on a double boiler. The increased surface area allows for quick, even heating, and acts as a safety net to prevent burning. Shavings are especially good for chocolate ganache, and to melt blocks of couverture for tempering. To make them, use a sharp knife to chop thin layers along the end of a bar of chocolate. Shavings are light, so you can add them to those thin batters and delicate cookies I told you to avoid when using chips and morsels. They won’t pack a huge textural punch, but you’ll get a subtle hint of chocolate, and a lovely aesthetic.
With barely any sugar involved, cocoa powder is probably not something you’d choose to snack on, but it does wonders when paired with other components. The potency of cocoa powder means you don’t need all that much. Its unadulterated bitter chocolate flavor makes it flexible enough for both sweet and savory dishes. If you want to flavor an entire cake, cookie batter, or sauce, mix a couple tablespoons of this powerful stuff into the other dry ingredients and behold the transformation of the final product. Use it in recipes where you want the chocolate flavor throughout, but don’t necessarily need the sugars and fats that accompany the other chocolates mentioned above. Since melted chocolate hardens when it cools, and this can change the consistency of batters; use cocoa powder in recipes where you want to keep the integrity of the recipe’s texture. Cocoa powder is very fine and plenty strong, so a small amount will add lots of flavor without interfering with consistency. Now, enough reading, go get your chocolate on.