Baking tips: Why you should use chocolate chips instead of bar chocolate for cakes and cookies
It’s not just their fudgier, richer taste – the morsels also give height to a cake, and hold their shape better to create a chunkier cookie.
It took two months for Claudia Martinez, executive pastry chef at Miller Union in Atlanta, to perfect her salted chocolate-chip cookie recipe. For the morsels, she ended up using a high-end chocolate — Lactee Barry Equilibre from French chocolate company Cacao Barry — and was happy with her results.
But when she tried some cookies that her regulars had made for her as gifts, she thought they tasted “way better” than her own.
They were baked with Toll House chocolate chips.
“As pastry chefs, we’re always trying to use the fanciest chocolates,” said Martinez, 29. “Sometimes, people just want that flavour they can recognise.” Including her. Toll House morsels were in her mother’s cookies and in treats made by her childhood babysitter long before she attended culinary school.
Nostalgia is only one reason to love chocolate chips. Aside from their obvious convenience — no messy chopping — they hold their shape better in the oven when stirred into doughs and batters, and deliver more flavour in baked goods than some expensive bar chocolates. And it’s all because they’re relatively low in cocoa butter and high in cacao solids.
Donald Wressell, an executive chef of Guittard Chocolate Co., said, “At face value, sure, the most expensive chocolate is the best,” but he emphasised that how you plan to use the chocolate should determine what you use. “What is the right chocolate for what you’re trying to do?”
COCOA BUTTER VERSUS CACAO SOLIDS
If it’s baking, the right choice is probably chocolate chips.
Chocolate varies widely, but most is a blend of sugar and cocoa mass, which is made up of ground cacao solids and cocoa butter, the fat from cacao beans. Fat carries flavour, so more cocoa butter means more of the cacao solids’ flavour coats your tongue when you’re eating chocolate on its own.
Cocoa butter also helps temper the bitterness inherent in chocolate and smooths both the texture and taste. So if you take a bite of a pricey bar and then try a chocolate chip, the bar probably will taste better.
But a higher proportion of cocoa butter also makes chocolate more fluid when it’s melted. That’s ideal for coating confections — think shiny, snappy shells enrobing truffles and caramel — but it isn’t necessary or even useful for baking, said Jacques Dahan, president of the chocolate company Michel Cluizel USA.
In fact, he said, “you want less cocoa butter for chocolate that you bake with”.
That’s in large part because cocoa butter is very expensive for chocolate manufacturers, and the extra cost, which is then passed onto consumers, isn’t worth it for many baked goods.
Cocoa butter adds fat, but you can’t really taste it once it’s baked with other ingredients. And most baked goods include added fat like dairy butter anyway, so the cocoa butter isn’t necessary.
THE CASE FOR USING CHOCOLATE CHIPS
Since chocolate chips have less cocoa butter, they have more cacao solids instead. Some chocolate chips, such as those from Michel Cluizel, Guittard and Valrhona, keep the amount of cocoa butter low for all the benefits of a baking chocolate, but are higher-end options with fewer, if any, additives.
In all baking morsels, the higher proportion of cacao solids yields a lot more flavour in baked goods because “solids are where the flavour’s at,” Wressell said. And you need stronger flavour when chocolate is blended with other ingredients, as it is in brownies.
In a flourless chocolate cake, melted chips shine through the creaminess of butter and the richness of eggs. They also help bind the ingredients in the absence of flour for a fudgy yet tender texture.
When chocolate chips are simply stirred whole into dough or batter, they showcase their most distinctive property: Their ability to hold their perky shape in a hot oven. Because chips have more cacao solids, and the solids themselves don’t melt, the chips stay intact enough to give structure and height to chunky cookies and banana bread, like throw cushions in a pillow fort.
Since Nestle began manufacturing the morsels in the 1940s — thanks to Ruth Wakefield’s invention of the chocolate chip cookie in the 1930s — many companies have inundated the US market with options, especially over the past few decades.
Among all the products, there is no one best chocolate chip, only your preferred choice for any given dessert. To find what you like, Wressell recommends not only tasting different chocolate chips, but also baking with them.
That’s what Jacqueline Eng, head baker and co-owner of Partybus Bakeshop in New York City, does. Because she thinks of herself as a bread baker first, she feels like she’s experimenting when she works with sweets.
“Approaching chocolate is intimidating because you can deep dive into sourcing beans from different countries,” she said. “Instead of being intimidated, I decided to just make what I thought tasted good, just by trial and error.”
After mixing different products into her cookies, Eng landed on using Callebaut 54% cacao callets. But, for a stretch of the pandemic, supply chain issues made it difficult for her to find them, so she substituted chocolate chips from the grocery store.
Even though she didn’t prefer them, she heard positive reviews from new customers and personally understood why. She said, “You can’t really hand me a cookie that I’m not going to like.”
RECIPE: FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
3/4 cup/168g unsalted butter, cut up, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup/173g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup/50g unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3/4 cup/150g sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whipped cream or ice cream, for serving (optional)
1. Heat oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit (180 deg Celsius). Generously butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan, or press a large sheet of foil into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch round cake pan, smoothing the sides, and generously butter the foil.
2. Bring a few inches of water in a large saucepan to a simmer over medium heat. Set a large heatproof bowl over the saucepan and add the chocolate. When the chips look soft and melty, stir gently until smooth. Turn off the heat, and add the butter to the bowl. Stir gently until melted and smooth. Add the cocoa powder and stir until smooth, then take the bowl off the saucepan.
3. Stir in the sugar until incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
4. Bake until crackly and dry on top, and a toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out with some crumbs attached.
5. Cool in the pan on a rack, then remove the sides of the springform pan or lift the cake out of the cake pan using the foil overhang. You can slice and serve warm or at room temperature. Or, to cut very neat slices, freeze the cooled cake until firm. Slice and warm up in the microwave or oven, if preferred. Serve the cake with whipped cream or ice cream, if you’d like. The cake can be wrapped and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
By Genevieve Ko © The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.