February 12th, 2014
01:00 AM ET
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America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

All chocolate starts with the cacao bean. From there, different processing, flavorings, ingredients, and percentages of cocoa solids and cocoa butter can produce chocolate of all sorts. Here’s a sampler of 12.

Unsweetened Chocolate: "Baker’s Bar"
The aptly named James Baker started manufacturing unsweetened chocolate in Massachusetts in 1765; his Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate is still sold today. Hershey’s followed about a century later, and it’s our favorite for its “intense” chocolate flavor and “caramel” and “cinnamon” nuances. For every ounce of unsweetened chocolate called for in a recipe, you can substitute 1 1/2 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and subtract 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Milk Chocolate: "Dairy Queen"
Milk chocolate must contain at least 12 percent milk solids, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s usually sweeter than dark chocolate, too, although manufacturers today are making deeper, darker milk chocolates. Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate is our favorite brand. Store all chocolate in a cool, dry place to prevent “bloom,” a harmless but unsightly gray coating.

Dark Chocolate: "All Grown Up"
Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa percentage and less sugar than milk chocolate, thus deeper, more complex flavor. Labels may say either “bittersweet” or “semisweet,” but the FDA doesn’t distinguish between them, so look for the cocoa content: Dark chocolate must contain at least 35 percent. We like much more than that—60 percent—for baking. For fast melting, microwave chopped dark (or any) chocolate in 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals.

White Chocolate: "The Pretender"
Because it contains no cocoa, white chocolate is not actually chocolate. It’s made from cocoa butter (the fat from the bean), sugar, vanilla, and milk solids. Our favorite brand, Guittard Choc-au-Lait White Chips, replaces much of the cocoa butter with hydrogenated palm kernel oil (so the chips hold their shape better). We use white chocolate to add creaminess and structure in some surprising places, such as vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate Chips: "Cookie Classic"
In the 1930s, the innkeeper at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, chopped up a chocolate bar to mix into ordinary butter cookies and made cookie history. Some time later, she struck a deal with Nestlé. First, it printed her recipe on its bar chocolate package. Soon the company was manufacturing chips. These chips have less cocoa butter than bar chocolate, so they retain their shape in baked goods. For creamy recipes, like mousse, use bar chocolate, which melts without getting grainy.

Cacao Nibs: "In the Raw"
These cracked bits of roasted cacao beans—the raw material for bar chocolate and cocoa powder—are unsweetened, giving them a bitter but not unpleasant flavor; tasters found them “woodsy,” “leathery,” and “earthy.” Cacao nibs add intense flavor and crunch to granola and many baked goods, such as chocolate cookies or pavlovas. Find them in natural foods stores and in some supermarkets.

Gianduia (zhan-DOO-yah): "Italian Charmer"
You may know the flavor of gianduia from Nutella, a popular hazelnut and chocolate spread. Gianduia also comes in bars for baking and as candies called gianduiotti, which are popular in Torino, Italy—gianduia’s birthplace. Hazelnut paste gives this (milk or dark) chocolate its nutty flavor and soft, fudgy texture. Make your own chocolate-hazelnut spread to top toast, fill crêpes, or sandwich together cookies.

Couverture (koo-vehr-TYOOR): "Pro’s Choice"
Serious bakers use this chocolate for coating candy or making chocolate decorations. Extra cocoa butter (between 32 and 39 percent) helps it form a thin shell, and tempering (a process of melting and cooling chocolate) gives it good snap and high gloss. Couverture is usually sold by the pound in pellets, or “callets,” for even melting. You can buy it online and in some baking supply stores, but we usually leave couverture to pastry chefs and chocolatiers.

Chocolate Extract: "Flavor Booster"
Vanilla extract is a staple in every baker’s pantry, so why not chocolate extract? Like vanilla, chocolate extract uses alcohol to draw out the bean’s flavor. Chocolate extract gave our favorite brownie batter richer, more complex chocolate flavor. Try substituting chocolate extract for half of the vanilla in recipes for chocolate cake or brownies. It costs about as much as vanilla.

Mexican Chocolate: "True Grit"
Much Mexican chocolate is stone-ground in the traditional manner, which accounts for its gritty texture. (Other chocolate is conched, a process invented in the late 19th century to smooth and refine it.) Sweetened Mexican chocolate (which is often ground with cinnamon) tastes of molasses, dried fruit, and/or coffee, our tasters found. In the United States, look for Taza, Abuelita, or Ibarra brands.

Natural Cocoa Powder: "Winter Warmer"
Cocoa powder, made from partially defatted, ground, and dried cocoa solids, is our go-to ingredient when we want chocolate flavor without added sugar or fat (or when we make hot chocolate). We like Hershey’s Natural Cocoa, because it’s “intense,” “complex,” “bright,” and affordable. For many recipes, like our Moist and Tender Devil's Food Cake, we “bloom” cocoa powder in hot water, which makes the chocolate taste fuller and richer.

Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder: "Dutch Treat"
Dutching, a process invented in the 19th century (by a Dutchman), neutralizes naturally acidic cocoa powder. Despite that, we’ve found that Dutch-processed cocoa is usually interchangeable with natural cocoa. The exception is when you want the reddish tinge that comes from the reaction of baking soda and natural cocoa powder—for instance, when baking devil’s food or red velvet cakes. We also like to use it in our recipe for Foolproof Chocolate Frosting.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
The Many Delicious Layers of Chocolate Eclair Cake
Rich Chocolate Tart Delivers Unadulterated Chocolate Flavor
Meet Your New Favorite Cookie: Chocolate Chewies

Gifts for the chocolate lover in your life
Eat This List: 5 meals for single people – Jean Grae
Aphrodisiac food and wine pairings
More about Valentine's Day

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    Reblogged this on Mr. Feliz's Blog (Teacher Arturo).

    February 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
  2. cali girl

    One side of where I live has a Guittard processing plant, in the other direction I have Ghirardelli. Life is SOOO GOOD

    February 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
  3. Humble Sage

    Most of the recommendations miss the best chocolate around–Trader Joe's Dark at 72% cocao.,and with Almonds, you had better hide it from yourself.

    February 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm |
    • Robert

      Lindt Excellence 90%, with occasional 99% for something punchier. The Trader Joe's stuff is good quality chocolate, but even 72% is too sweet for my taste.

      The good thing about 99% is that you need very little of it to be very satisfying.

      February 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm |
  4. chocolatier

    TCHO out of SF is my new favorite to use. Everything is carefully and ethically sourced and has amazing flavor tones. Definitely worth checking out, although it can be difficult to find outside of the internet, depending on where you are located.

    February 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm |
    • cali girl

      For my chocolate bake stuff, Kara's Cupcakes, with locations in SF and beyond. One in Napa is a frequent haunt of mine. All ingredients locally produced, real vanilla, milk, cream, and butter from local dairies. YUM

      February 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
  5. CLOWN

    Choco.... is a waste of time, it makes you fat.

    February 12, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
  6. frank thomas

    did you know that all Hershey chocolate products are now made in Monterey Mexico, yet try to find where they are actually made on any Hershey product,, are not food manufactuers required to print on the package where a product is made? a complete sell out for cheaper wages and Hershey Pennsylvania no longer produces chocolate, a loss of many productive jobs, all moved to Monterey Mexico

    February 12, 2014 at 12:47 pm |
  7. DCD Chocolatier

    As a Dove Chocolate Discoveries Independent Chocolatier, I'm happy to see that Dove made their list. We also offer Pure Dark chocolate-covered Cocoa Nibs, which overcomes the "bitterness" described in the article.

    February 12, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
    • rlj

      Dove dark is the best chocolate ever!!

      February 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
    • Paula New York

      True confession, I use Dove Dark Chocolate Bars to frost cakes and dip strawberries and I very reluctantly share; but when I do, I have a friend for life, soooo sexy!

      February 13, 2014 at 9:01 am |
  8. AngelaD

    Lindt 70% dark chocolate: One of the best!

    February 12, 2014 at 11:31 am |
  9. but...

    A popular misconception (no pun intended). It is often thought that an eejit must surely result from a match of two other eejits, but careful study (thanks to a government grant) has taught us that this is a nonreproductive match and a true eejit is not unlike a mule in that it cannot reproduce. To breed an eejit requires the genetic material from a complete ignoramus and a mindless dolt.

    February 12, 2014 at 10:45 am |
  10. JBHedgehog

    White chocolate's "hydrogenated palm kernel oil" definitely is NOT good for you.

    In fact the more processing of any ingredients the worse it is for you.

    No wonder I don't like white chocolate...yucky.

    February 12, 2014 at 9:54 am |
    • If

      if it is actually labeled "white chocolate" and it is an ingredient, it cannot contain vegetable fats. If it is "white bark" or something like that–then you are in trouble.

      February 12, 2014 at 9:56 am |
    • Solitairedog

      I believe they were suggesting using hydrogenated Palm oil INSTEAD of white choc. THAT is disgusting. In fact, I saw a lot of substitutes for chocolate mentioned in this article which gave me the impression that the writers do not really like chocolate.

      February 12, 2014 at 11:03 am |
    • bryanska

      ANY chocolate has immediately much more harmful effects than the effect from a few drops of that oil. Sugar and fat is linked to a hundred maladies. Stay away from chocolate altogether. You can get your beneficial compounds from many other things.

      I'm not saying this about you, but I don't understand when people complain about additives in their junk food.

      February 12, 2014 at 11:37 am |
      • Rik

        Fat is not good for you???? Are you kidding me? Fat is an essential component in our diet. This whole low fat no fat craze is the reason we have so many problems. It's the hydrogenated, processed vegetable fats that are bad. Dark Chocolate is full of antioxidants and healthy fat.

        February 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
    • Little Timmie

      Why not share the hedge?

      February 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
  11. clevercandi

    Chocolate...my favorite food group!

    February 12, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  12. arto7

    The white chocolate mentioned is worse than not chocolate, "... replaces much of the cocoa butter with hydrogenated palm kernel oil ..." Stay away from hydrogenated anything – except bombs and blimps and you should be cautious around those.

    February 12, 2014 at 9:19 am |
    • agreed.

      the stuff is abomination.

      February 12, 2014 at 9:48 am |
    • sarahschocolateproject

      I'm a global chocolate expert – having run chocolate R&D for 20+ years for the largest chocolate companies in the world.

      What you say isn't quite right. Any chocolate – semisweet, milk – and yes white – has a legal definition that it must adhere to to be called chocolate. White chocolate, since the early 2000's, has had a legal definition that specifically does not allow the use of vegetable fats. ANY materials that use veg fats – be it in a whte, dark, or milk type base – should they do so – can no longer be called chocolate of any kind, and are generally referred to in the industry as a "compound". There are many fine examples of white chocolates that do conform to the rules, and have wonderful flavor profiles. There are also many examples of compounds out there that use a variety of fats other than cocoa butter – including hydrogenated fats, as well as non-hydrogenated fats. But to be clear, legally speaking, white chocolate, as long as it conforms to the legislation, is absolutely chocolate.

      February 12, 2014 at 9:50 am |
      • actually

        yes, usually you find it labeled "white bark" or something similar. If it is "white chocolate" it is usually free of trans.

        February 12, 2014 at 9:55 am |
  13. die die

    my, but what a delicious thread.

    February 12, 2014 at 9:17 am |
  14. Nugget

    Diagnosis: obsessive compulsive disorder.
    Treatment: chocolate covered dust mites, 10g, 3X daily.

    February 12, 2014 at 8:51 am |
  15. Nugget

    trying to keep your little world sterile begets more allergy and debilitating autoimmune diseases. Those of us continuously exposing ourselves to the micro-flora of this "dirty" world will do just fine. Now please excuse me while I nom on some delicious chocolate covered dust mite!

    February 12, 2014 at 8:49 am |
  16. Marianne

    Fair Trade Cocoa

    Could you add to the story which company's are committed to fair trade cocoa – cocoa that does not engage child labour?

    February 12, 2014 at 8:42 am |
    • mike

      Are Oompa Loompas considered children?

      February 12, 2014 at 8:49 am |
      • Jim

        Hahahaha, good one!

        February 12, 2014 at 8:56 am |
      • joseem42


        February 12, 2014 at 9:03 am |
    • MuttMutt

      Child labor is not used for chocolate anymore as they found the little darlings ate too much.

      February 12, 2014 at 9:22 am |
  17. J. Beckstein

    Alkali is used to produce "Dutch Process" cocoa not to neutralize "naturally acidic cocoa powder" but to make the cocoa butter (fats) soluble is water (milk). Basically, you are making chocolate "soap," which doesn't sound tasty, but creates a powder that dissolves better in hot chocolate.

    February 12, 2014 at 7:39 am |
  18. cocoa fan

    I've read that dutch processing removes the beneficial antioxidants in cocoa.

    February 12, 2014 at 7:25 am |
  19. culiary teach

    I would not use Ghirardelli to coat a shoe and I am not alone. It is among the least favorite chocolates of confectioners due to its odd flavor overtones...it isn't even mentioned in the article, so why do they show multiple pictures of it above? "Couverture" is not just a brand–it is the word for any chocolate coating–for instance, if you make a truffle and want to dip the outside, the coating is "couverture" and any high quality chocolate could be tempered and mixed to be a good couverture–it doesn't have to be a special pre-blended brand, so why do they make it sound like the go-to for confectioners and "experts"?

    February 12, 2014 at 6:54 am |
    • BS

      Nowhere in the description does it say that type of chocolate is a brand. In fact, it says that it is simply chocolate used to coat candy. That is the exact same thing you said. It goes on to say that chocolate sold for this purpose generally has a higher cocoa butter content, which is probably also true. And it does not say that you have to use this specific type of chocoloate for tempering.

      It seems like you are just looking to wow everyone with your awesome knowledge by putting someone else down.

      February 12, 2014 at 7:52 am |
      • culiary teach

        A little reading comprehension goes a long way.
        "Couverture (koo-vehr-TYOOR): 'Pro’s Choice'"
        "Serious bakers use this chocolate..."
        "Couverture is usually sold by the pound in pellets, or 'callets' for even melting..."
        "but we usually leave couverture to pastry chefs and chocolatiers."

        -Couverture is not for "pro's"–anyone's granny can do it and many do. This is an utterly snobbish take on a really simple process.
        -Although you CAN buy couverture pre-blended and in callets, it is utterly unnecessary. (See above comment.) and the use of chocolate in this form for other applications is not somehow dangerous for the lowly home cook or ill-advised. In some cases it can yield a superior result. They make it sound as if the home hobby cook should not dare to handle this precious commodity because it is only for the Expert. This is so far from the truth as to be laughable.

        I am not trying to "wow" anyone with my "awesome knowledge"–just try to point out where the above writer is being a wee bit silly and snobby.

        February 12, 2014 at 8:53 am |
        • Jim

          Can't stand the heat... get out of the kitchen!

          February 12, 2014 at 8:59 am |
        • BS

          Even if everything in your second comment is true, it does not negate the factual nature of what is in the article. And "pro's choice" is a nickname, just like every other type has a nickname. Not sure what the big deal is.

          February 12, 2014 at 9:55 am |
        • ribmeat

          The pastilles are indeed for pros, theyre expensive, nearly impossible to find in a store, and save time since you dont have to chop up a bar of chocolate.

          If you arent making money on your chocolate you probably shouldnt waste money on pastilles when a bar is cheaper.

          February 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
      • actually

        it does rather imply that it is a special type of chocolate that should only be used by those with Secret Knowledge. God forbid the average everyday enthusiast would dare even look at it. it is just a melting chocolate. I use couveture chocolate for a lot of things and I am definitely not a "pro."

        February 12, 2014 at 9:52 am |
    • agreed...

      Ghirardelli doesn't even melt well and it always tastes vaguely of mold when it has been mnelted. Kinda like bleu cheese got mixed in.

      And, yes, I don't know why they make couveture out to be something ever so complicated. It is a melting chocolate.

      February 12, 2014 at 9:45 am |
    • RC

      Geez-can't even spell "culinary" right.

      February 12, 2014 at 10:49 am |
  20. Katie

    People should also know that most chocolate comes from South America and it has been infested with the storage dust mite (as have many flours) and unless the mite is killed during specific processing (which most chocolate companies do not use) you can have allergic reactions similar to head colds and sinus infections if you have a dust allergy. If you eat enough chocolate, you can get really sick. As your allergist about this and he/she will tell you which companies produce safe chocolates (and flours) for you to eat.

    February 12, 2014 at 6:44 am |
    • PSA Patrol

      Well .... thanks for the head's-up, sunshine. I'll keep eating my musty, dusty, mite-infested, dark, delicious, pleasure-inducing chocolate and think of you (not) whilst recuperating (again, not) in the hospital.

      February 12, 2014 at 6:48 am |
    • Count Choclate

      Actually most of the raw cocoa beans from the world come from Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, and Indonesia. Also in the early processing of raw cocoa beans it goes through a sterilization process that kills all germs or mites, all chocolate companies have to do this as it is a FAD regulation. So Katie, stop spreading lies.

      February 12, 2014 at 7:08 am |
    • SixDegrees


      February 12, 2014 at 8:22 am |
    • eyeroll

      where do these eejits come from?

      February 12, 2014 at 8:57 am |
      • PSA Patrol

        There's a mommie eejit and a daddy eejit that love each other very much ....

        February 12, 2014 at 9:35 am |
        • but...

          A popular misconception (no pun intended). It is often thought that an eejit must surely result from a match of two other eejits, but careful study (thanks to a government grant) has taught us that this is a nonreproductive match and a true eejit is not unlike a mule in that it cannot reproduce. To breed an eejit requires the genetic material from a complete ignoramus and a mindless dolt.

          February 12, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • Nora

      Actually, the cacao or cocoa tree is native to Central and South America, highly appreciated by the mayans and aztecs and was later introduced to Europe by the spaniards and then to Africa and Indonesia where it began to be cultivated. For a great hot cocoa try the mexican brand "Abuelita".

      February 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
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