Reader Jimma writes:
I’m from Michigan, live in Belgium, and hang out with Hungarians. I think I am destined to try making this cake.
That is, if I can find the chocolate. You might laugh, considering how famous Belgian chocolate is, but baking chocolate does not exist here — the closest thing I can find is some rather expensive unsweetened chocolate that, while technically the same thing as baking chocolate, costs quite a lot more than what I cooked with in the States. I’ve been told that I can substitute cocoa powder mixed with butter or some other fat, or use bittersweet chocolate and cut the added sugar in the recipe, but haven’t tried either so far.
Any interest in a future post delving into the differences between cocoa and chocolate and how to adjust your baking when interchanging them…? I realize the audience for such a post might be rather small, but you just might be canonized by the American expat baking community.
How can I refuse that sort of invitation? Canonization you say…my Catholic mom would love that.
Baker’s chocolate has always caused confusion here in the States. Most people interpret it as a category of chocolate: “chocolate for baking” in other words. In fact Baker’s chocolate is a brand name, brought to market by a fellow named Dr. James Baker in 1780. Originally, his chocolate was a simple cake of pressed cocoa solids, used to make chocolate for drinking. It wasn’t until later that it evolved into a baking ingredient.
What’s unique about Baker’s as a company (though they’re now owned by Kraft) is that even though they specialize in “bar”-style chocolates, they market those chocolates as ingredients, not as candies. That puts them in an unusual category, since most bar chocolate makers market their products as ready-to-eat sweets, also usable in baking. Think Hershey’s or Nestlé. Baker’s has never tried to enter the candy market to my knowledge, and that’s odd. But, when you’ve got a niche, you might as well own it.
All of which is to say that Baker’s chocolate performs much like other bar chocolates in recipes…and vice versa. A 100% cacao Ghiradelli bar will function similarly to a Baker’s unsweetened bar. A bittersweet Callebaut bar will behave roughly the same as a Baker’s bittersweet bar, and so on. Of course there is the matter of expense, which I can’t help you with, unfortunately.
Regarding the swapping of cocoa powder for bar chocolate, I don’t suggest it. Cocoa powder is not only stronger than bar-style chocolate, it has a different composition. Bar chocolates may be 100% chocolate liquor, but they’re not 100% chocolate solids, if you follow me. There’s still quite a bit of cocoa butter in the mix. Some unsweetened chocolate bars are over half cocoa butter. Cocoa powder is only about 20% cocoa butter.
Can you imitate bar chocolate by using cocoa powder plus butter? No. As I’ve written before, cocoa butter is a completely unique fat. It behaves like no other, as countless commercial bakers and candy makers have discovered to their dismay. Certainly you can give, say, a cake a strong chocolate flavor with cocoa powder. However if the recipe calls for a significant amount of bar chocolate, the structure almost certainly depends on the rigidity of cooled cocoa butter, and the mouthfeel on cocoa butter’s meltability. So I’m afraid that’s a no-go.
As for substituting bittersweet bar chocolate for unsweetened bar chocolate, that’s a possibility, though chocolate makers differ in the percentages of sugar, milk solids and extra cocoa butter they add to bittersweet bars. But let’s see, if I were to try to substitute 65% bittersweet bar chocolate for 10 grams of 100% unsweetened bar chocolate, I’d increase the amount of bittersweet chocolate to 15 grams, then cut the sugar in the recipe by maybe 5 grams. There’ll be more cocoa butter and milk solids in the finished batter than the recipe calls for, but what can you do? It’s a rough equivalent. You’ll have experiment.
I wish I had an easier answer for you, Jimma! Maybe mail-ordering a supply of inexpensive Baker’s is the best answer. Can I still have my sainthood?