Chocolate Reformulation at Home

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?

13 thoughts on “Chocolate Reformulation at Home”

  1. Hey Joe,
    Thanks so much for the explanation of Baker’s chocolate. Living in Australia I have often read american recipes and thought what the hell does the author/chef/writer mean by that? I get it now. I do empathise with reader Jimma, though, really it is only in the past 15 years that you can readily buy real chocolate in Australia. By real chocolate I mean couveture, that is chocolate with a cocoa butter content of great than about 40%. Previously all we had was what you have called candy chocolate (Nestle, Cadbury) or what we call cooking chocolate (Plaistowe) both of which are neither really that suitable when you plan to spend the afternoon making your Aunt Helga’s prize winning Sachertorte. Now, however, our store shelves are full of Lindt and Callebaut (to name a few) all with their cocoa butter contents clearly marked at 40, 60, 70, 85% and more. Needless to say I am one happy bunny.

    I totally agree that you can’t substitute cocoa when a recipe suggests bar chocolate. However I do think we have become spoilt for choice and are tending to overlook the pleasures of cocoa in baking because of the excess of bar chocolate on our burgeoning grocery store shelves. How often have you looked at a recipe and thought: “Bah I’m not making that it only contains cocoa!!!!”. The truth is cocoa can make an exquisite confection: deep, dark, mysterious and bitter. I for one would never make brownies again without it. You just have to have the right recipe – and not substitute!!!!

    1. EXCELLENT comment, Bruce. I agree completely. Cocoa powder is luxurious stuff when handled well. We creatures of the early 21st Century are indeed spoiled rotten.

  2. Wow! Talk about instant satisfaction…. Thanks for the tips, even if there is no easy answer. As I mentioned, the cocoa powder + butter thing is a pretty common suggestion, but I was suspicious that cocoa butter and “real” butter are too different for that to work well (and the cocoa butter post you linked to confirms my suspicion).

    I can find 70-80% bittersweet chocolate at reasonable prices and without too much trouble (and fair trade to boot), so I’ll give your suggestion a try and go from there. I have promised my wife brownies, and she likes them super-chocolately and fudgy, so we should be able to get a pretty good read on the adjustments we need to make.

    I’m also considering going to our favorite artisanal chocolate shop to see if they can whip me up some unsweetened bars, but they usually charge about 40 euros/kilo so I doubt that’s going to happen. They’ll probably just tell me no anyway (there’s plenty to love about Belgium, but customer service is not one of those things).

    As for your pending canonization, you’re the only source that has given me advice on this particular topic that even looks sane on paper. You can count on me pointing other confused Americans in your direction, as well as the occasional European trying to make an American recipe.

    And Bruce, I read your comment with great interest. Are your cocoa brownies dense and fudgey, and if so, how do you get them that way? When I’ve tried brownies from cocoa they have turned out dry and cakey, and even moist and cakey brownies do not go over well in my house.

  3. hi joe,
    i too have 5 bars of lindt 99% cocoa bars sleeping in the pantry for some months now. Eagerly waiting for your posts on using them up.
    i thought of grating them for decorative purposes or make milk shakes with them. You will definitely floor me with some innovative ideas i swear…

  4. As you said,I think a lot of American’s assume from the product’s name that it is a chocolate for bakers, but that just because one of the company’s founders was a Dr. Baker. But maybe because folks thought have often thought that many 20th century American baking recipes do call for “baking,” chocolate, meaning unsweetened blocks. Also as you say, cocoa powder and butter won’t really sub well for unsweetened chocolate because the natural chocolate fat, cocoa butter has a different flavor, melting point, setting point, and texture when set than butter. So, you’re absolutely right, the best substitute is another 90 to 100 precent cacao chocolate, even if it doesn’t say “baking chocolate” on the label.

    1. That’s a very important point, Nancy. Recipes do call for “baking” chocolate quite a bit, which only serves to confuse matters even more. Very helpful — thank you!

  5. Hey Jimma,

    You want fudge? We got fudge. Take a look at these they are the best: moist, dense, chewy. I have even stooped to use cocoa which has not been dutched and still find myself in heaven.

    Hopefull St Joe (patron saint of lamination) wont mind a quick diversion away from his blog. We love you Joe!!!!

  6. There’s another aspect to this for those of us who watch our weight.

    I eat a rather eccentric breakfast which includes a square of dark chocolate. I’ve wanted for some time to make my own chocolate to come closer to “true chocolate”, presumably with more cocoa. I finally found some cocoa disks at Trader Joe’s, which did not appear to have anything else in them (like sugar, for instance).

    I then made my own rather primitive chocolate using sugar-free caramel as a sweetener and adding some almond extract. The result was unlovely, but tasty.

    It also turns out to be way more fattening than that sugar and fat plus cocoa powder commercial chocolate. Or so my scale (which I check each morning) tells me.

    Should that be?

    1. That is an unusual experiment to say the least! Though it’s not impossible to make bar-style chocolate at home, it isn’t easy. That’s an, er…interesting attempt! 😉

      Not knowing what the chocolate actually looked like, it’s hard to say whether the Trader Joe’s product was/is more caloric. If it came in the form of formed disks, then it must have had cocoa butter in it. Otherwise it would have been powder. Cocoa butter is a fat and fat has calories, obviously. Since even 100% cocao chocolates can be over half cocoa butter, it’s a least theoretically possible that it was high in calories. Hmm….

      1. I didn’t read up on making actual chocolate until AFTER I’d tried this. Luckily, because the right way is pretty intimidating. But in fact when I used my madeleine pan, I got some pretty shiny looking chocolate madeleines. And they tasted great.
        Never mind the pure sensual pleasure of stirring thick chocolate with almond extract.
        Unfortunately, there was that weight thing.

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