Does bar chocolate have an advantage over cocoa powder in cake?

That’s a very good question, reader Erika. To tell the truth I can’t think of many, other than that it allows the baker to hijack some exotic cacao flavors that are normally reserved for professional bakers or candy makers. Your typical supermarket might stock two or three types of unsweetened cocoa powder. Here in the States it’s usually Hershey and Droste, possibly Valrhona or Scharffen Berger if the store has an upscale clientele. These of course represent only the tiniest fraction of the powders that are available in the wider cocoa universe. Most of these never see the light of day in the retail world, and are only sold in large quantities to commercial bakers and confectioners. Baking with bar chocolate — expensive as it can be — equals the playing field a bit — at least for the true chocolate epicure.

So there’s that. But otherwise bar chocolate doesn’t offer any specific functional benefits that I can think of. Chocolate is made up of — mainly — three things: cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. Milk solids are generally in the mix in some proportion and most chocolate makers include a flavoring or two like vanilla. Cocoa solids (albeit of middling quality) are available everywhere, as is sugar, milk (solids and liquid) and vanilla. Cocoa butter is harder to find, though it’s ultimately nothing more than a flavorless fat. Granted it’s a fat that’s a firmer at room temperature than say butter, but firmness isn’t necessarily an advantage in a cake.

So no, Erika, other than adding more exotic chocolate flavors to a cake I’m hard pressed to think of a particular benefit of bar chocolate. My wife and daughters like to lick the leftovers off the spoons, spatulas and bowls of course when I’m done mixing. They’d definitely call that a benefit if you asked them. Thanks for the question!

16 thoughts on “Does bar chocolate have an advantage over cocoa powder in cake?”

    1. Hey Shilpa!

      I assume those are made of pressed cocoa powder. I’ve often wondered about them…why people buy them instead of just plain ol’ cocoa powder? Is it not the same thing? I should probably look into that a little more closely!


      – Joe

      1. 100% cacao (or cocoa) isn’t the same as cocoa powder – cocoa powder is 100% cocoa, of course, but a bar will have a certain amount of cocoa butter, as you mentioned earlier. I’m assuming that these bars are cocoa mass, or cocoa liquor (same thing to different people).

        Most cocoa powders in the supermarket would probably have something like … 10-15% cocoa butter, if you buy more specialty types you will start to go higher, perhaps 20-30%. I believe Callebaut standard cocoa powder is about 22% cocoa butter (not that I personally use that one, but it just happens to be a number I know :))


      2. The 100% cocoa bars/blocks I’ve bought do contain cocoa butter as well as solids, it’s just that there is no sugar added. So you can use in place of high cocoa percentage bars and then add a bit more sugar, or – best of all – use in savoury cooking (e.g. grate into meat sauces to enrich and thicken) without worrying about adding sweetness where you don’t want it.

  1. Is there a useful conversion formula if you just want to skip the fuss and use cocoa powder instead of chocolate for baking? (or the other way ’round?)

    1. Hi James!

      Unfortunately there isn’t an easy conversion since chocolates are so different. A dark chocolate can be as low as 35% chocolate solids or as high as 90%. But let’s take one that’s labeled 60%, a nice mid-range dark, the remaining 40% of the volume will be divided between cocoa butter and sugar. I’d guess in many cases about 25% cocoa butter and 15% sugar, but as I said it varies quite a bit. Still this will give you a rough guide for swapping out some handier (and less expensive) ingredients. Butter is a fine replacement for cocoa butter in baking.


      – Joe

      1. Given the lack of standard ratios in chocolate bars, I don’t imagine the recipes that specify them are critically dependent on the exact ratio for structure. For instance, I’ve taken to preferring gluten free flour for brownies which is a bigger variation than a few grams of fat or sugar for those. So, for the most part, I suspect winging it with the 60/25/15 ratio is close enough. Good to keep handy for when I’m too lazy to follow the letter of some recipes.

  2. Your information just blew my mind. I always thought that you can’t make a good chocolate cake without some fancy schmancy bar chocolate from some of the exotic parts of the world. And i have a 2 pound cocoa powder just sitting around. Thanks Joe!

  3. Hey Joe, could you make a demo about caramelized white chocolate? I tried making one in a low oven (250) for 1 1/2 hour and it seems to not caramelizing and after i turned the oven up to 325 then it starts caramelizing. The recipe i read states that it needs to be in a low oven. Why is that?

    1. Hey Nate!

      That’s a good idea, I may do some sort of recipes with white chocolate mousse in it. Hm…

      But the reason you keep the oven low for a white chocolate mousse is because the smoke point of cocoa butter is extremely low: about 280F. So that’s the main reason. How did yours turn out in the end?

      Thanks for a great suggestion!

      – Joe

      1. It caramelized but not as dark as i wanted to. Is the baking pan a factor? I did mine in a big dish pyrex casserole pan cause my baking trays are too small for 2 pounds of white chocolate and i don’t feel doing them in batches. Maybe i should though do it in batches next time. Thanks Joe!

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