Buying Dark Chocolate for Baking

Deep Dark Cherry Chipotle Brownies by The Messy Baker

09 Feb Buying Dark Chocolate for Baking

How to buy dark chocolate by The Messy Baker®

I’m on CTV News at Noon today, making Deep Dark Cherry & Chipotle Brownies and hopefully not too big a mess. This recipe graces the cover of my book and is a hit with people who love a bit of heat with their chocolate. That said, it also raises a lot of reader questions about which chocolate to buy. To deliver a rich, deep flavour, the recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder. Because it’s a brownie and not a hand-dipped chocolate truffle, there is a bit of leeway in which chocolate you use. The short answer is, “The darker the better.” The long answer? Keep reading.

What to look for in good quality dark chocolate for baking

If you can find fair trade, organic, eco-friendly chocolate, that’s wonderful. However, not all supermarkets stock a wide variety and when the urge to bake brownies calls, you might not want to shop around. In a nutshell, look for:

  • a high percentage of cocoa solids: This is now often printed on packages. 70+ is good. If it’s in the 40s, it’s likely too sweet. Keep in mind, this is not an indication of the chocolate’s quality. However, it is an indication of sweetness. And dark chocolate shouldn’t be too sweet.
  • the fewer ingredients the better: You need cocoa (it might be called cocoa bean, cocoa mass or cocoa liquor) and sugar. Cocoa butter is okay. Vanilla is not essential, but I like mine with a bit of the “other baking bean.” Lecithin is fine too. It sounds like a chemical additive, but it’s a naturally occurring emulsifier, usually from soy or eggs.

What to avoid in good quality dark chocolate for baking

  • Compound chocolate:  This “fool proof” chocolate is designed to temper with ease for chocolate making. To ensure this, it’s stabilized with hydrogenated fats. It’s considered inferior in both taste and texture. Do not use this for your brownies. Or anything else.
  • Chocolate chips / morsels / chunks: Designed to keep their form when heated, these are prefect for folding into cookie, brownie or cake batter. They deliver a bite of pure chocolate, but in order to do so will not melt as smoothly. Why not? To ensure they keep their shape when baked, they’re made with less cocoa butter.
  • Any chocolate with:
    • sugar as the first ingredient
    • milk, milk solids (this is not dark chocolate)
    • vegetable oils (palm and soybean are common)
    • artificial flavours
    • unspecified “natural flavours.” “Vanilla” is fine. “Natural flavours”? Not so much.
    • Vanillin. Oh, you tricky marketers! While the names are similar, vanillin (rhymes with villain) is not vanilla. It’s an artificial flavour with a natural sounding name. (Where were the marketing gurus when lecithin got labelled?) Chocolate makers who respect the bean do not add this to their product.
    • Poly-anything. This indicates an unwanted emulsifier and is a red flag.

Where to buy good quality dark chocolate for baking

You can often get perfectly good chocolate for baking brownies, cakes, and even hand-dipped chocolate in a wide range of places. Just read the ingredient list.

  • Grocery Stores: You can buy good quality chocolate at the grocery store. The list of ingredients will guide you. (See above.) If necessary, look beyond the baking section and at the good quality chocolate “slabs”. I’ve made these brownies with broken up chunks of  President’s Choice Extra Dark Chocolate (72%).
  • Online: Yes, you can buy top quality chocolate without leaving the house. Vanilla Foods Company offers top quality products and is a good place to start if you’re housebound or overwhelmed. Here’s a link to their chocolate page. All these brands are good.
  • Health Food Stores: You can usually find good quality chocolate here that is fair-trade, organic and eco-friendly. It might be in packages or in their bulk section.
  • The Bulk Barn: Check the bins and shelves carefully. While they do sell the lesser quality compound chocolate, they also sell the good stuff. Just read the labels and ingredient lists. You could find a delicious bargain.

And that’s how you find the dark chocolate for baking the best, fudgiest brownies.

My un-disclosure: I have named some companies and provided links here to help you. I have not in any way received compensation for these links or to mention these brands. I’m not affiliated with any of the brands or companies listed.

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18 Comments
  • Jill Silverman Hough
    Posted at 13:16h, 09 February Reply

    Amen to all THAT! Do you have a brand of chocolate you prefer, Charmian?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:14h, 09 February Reply

      I’m open to any quality chocolate but since I use it mainly for baking (as opposed to chocolate making), I’m not a stickler. Personally, I use Cacao Barry a lot. I like Valrhona too. If you have a favourite feel free to share. I always learn something from the brilliant folk (like you) who take the time to comment!

      • Jill Silverman Hough
        Posted at 20:47h, 09 February Reply

        At one point I really liked Callebaut, but tasted it recently and wasn’t as wowed as I remember–could be a faulty memory, though, versus anything wrong with the chocolate!

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 22:18h, 09 February Reply

          Perhaps is a shifting palate, not faulty memory. I find the more I’m exposed to good chocolate, the more I taste the nuances. It’s a bit like wine or whisky that way. I now appreciate good chocolate a lot more, but I’m also more critical of mediocre offerings.

          Alternatively, they could have changed their recipe or are using beans of lesser quality.

          All I know is I can’t get ecstatic about M&Ms like I used to :(

          • Jill Silverman Hough
            Posted at 13:06h, 10 February

            I used to regularly teach classes about chocolate, which included tasting most of the best ones head-to-head–and yeah, talk about nuance! Some are so coffee-y and some are so fruity–I prefer the fruity ones. But of course, it all depends on what you’re going to do with it and if it’s worth the time and trouble to get something with all that nuance…as with wine and whiskey!

            For me, it ruined Hershey’s kisses–yech!

  • Lisabeth @ The Ultimate Chocolate Blog
    Posted at 15:16h, 09 February Reply

    Great article! I think the compound chocolate must throw most home bakers off often at Bulk Barn, so it’s good to point it out. Before buying large quantities of professional chocolate, I was always at the Bulk Barn too, and then when I moved out to the boonies, I discovered Vanilla Food Company online – I love how fast they deliver! I sometimes order from Golda’s Kitchen (www.goldaskitchen.com) online too when ordering cake decorating supplies, but prefer the selection of chocolate at Vanilla Food Company.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:17h, 09 February Reply

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Vanilla Food Company. I’m go glad you mentioned Golda’s Kitchen, too!

      Yes, the Bulk Barn is a dangerous mix of quality and “lesser” quality. I get some fabulous items there, but want to stick a warning sign over the compound chocolate. I don’t think they’d appreciate that.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment and share your experiences!

  • Marlene
    Posted at 19:49h, 09 February Reply

    What a great, informative post, Charmian! I’m bookmarking this one for the next time I have questions about chocolate.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 22:13h, 09 February Reply

      Glad you found the post useful. I get a lot of chocolate questions and am pleased to know this post is worthy of a bookmark.

  • Matea
    Posted at 10:07h, 18 February Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Charmain! I love chocolate and baking with it, but I’ve wondered what constitutes “quality” chocolate and this has demystified it for me :)

  • Charmian Christie
    Posted at 13:57h, 18 February Reply

    Ah, the vague “quality chocolate” recommendation. I was confused too and did a bit of digging for my own selfish purposes. Glad to help! Hope you make something fabulous!

  • Lazar89
    Posted at 09:24h, 09 December Reply

    Has anyone tried Santa Barbara Chocolate dark organic chocolate couvertures for baking?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:42h, 09 December Reply

      I have not. I don’t think they ship to Canada. I looked at their shipping policy. It said they might charge more for Alaska and Hawaii, but made no mention of international rates. That usually means they don’t ship across the border.

  • Lazar89
    Posted at 06:05h, 10 December Reply

    It is awesome for baking. They ship to Canada via FedEx. They say they can’t offer their flat rate of free shipping internationally due to the cost and possible VAT charges but they do have many international customers.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:49h, 12 December Reply

      Good to know. Thanks for this clarification. Happy baking!

    • Elena
      Posted at 16:05h, 30 March Reply

      I got this in london for a minimal fees.. FedEx

      • Charmian Christie
        Posted at 18:41h, 02 April Reply

        Thanks for this information. Hope you enjoy your chocolate!

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