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Cocoa Conversations: How To Pick the Best Chocolate for Baking

Posted by Theo Chocolate on Feb 16th 2022

As much as we love eating a delicious dark chocolate bar, we also love to bake with it. There is nothing quite like biting into a gooey, scratch-made chocolate chunk cookie or smelling the cocoa-rich air when a pan of brownies is pulled out of the oven.

But before you can enjoy the fruits of your baking labors, you must find the perfect recipe and then scan the ingredient list. Often you will find that recipes call for either ‘semisweet’ or ‘bittersweet’ chocolate. You might be asking yourself what is the difference between semisweet and bittersweet chocolate? And why do some recipes call for one over the other?

In this guide, we will break down these baking chocolate terms and help you pick the best chocolate for your recipe.

What are baking bars and why use them?

Before we dive into baking bars, let’s first discuss the difference between ‘baking bars’ and ‘baking chocolate’.

Baking chocolate refers to pure, 100%, unsweetened chocolate. At the Theo Chocolate Factory, we call this cocoa liquor. Cocoa liquor is made during the chocolate-making process when roasted cocoa beans are ground so finely that it becomes solid cocoa mass. Bakers sometimes prefer to use unsweetened chocolate when making a recipe that includes a lot of added sugar or other sweeteners. 

Baking bars refer to chocolate with added ingredients like sugar and vanilla. In the baking aisle, you will typically see that these chocolate bars use words like ‘semisweet’ or ‘bittersweet’ on the label.

For a variety of reasons, baking bars are the best choice when it comes to picking chocolate for baking.

  • Baking bars vs. chocolate chips: Chips are often formulated with less cocoa butter and more lecithin, which helps them keep their shape when added to a baked good. While some like the uniformity of chips, we like pools of melty chocolate in our baked treats. This is why we prefer to chop up baking bars. Also, if you need to melt chocolate for dipping or confection-making, baking bars are the best choice. We add extra cocoa butter to our chocolate which helps create a smoother and quicker melt than chips.
  • Baking bars vs. chocolate wafers: Wafers are mostly used when melting chocolate for dipping or making ganache. Although wafers don’t often include soy-lecithin or other stabilizers, we still prefer baking bars when making baked goods. By chopping up the bars yourself, the baker gets to control how big or small the chocolate pieces are before folding them into the recipe.

A quick note about cocoa percentages:

The percentage of cocoa you see on a baking bar label is the measurement of the chocolate bar’s weight that comes from actual cocoa beans (including cocoa liquor and cocoa butter), also known as cocoa mass. So, the percentage is a simple calculation of the cocoa mass divided by the total weight of the bar. The balance of that percentage includes the other ingredients that make up the particular chocolate, such as sugar or milk powder.

Learn more about our cocoa percentages in our blog post.

Selecting the perfect chocolate for your baking

The beauty of making baked treats from scratch is your experimentation! By starting from scratch, you get complete control over what goes into the recipe. For example, you could substitute lemon zest for orange zest, or you can use various kinds of flour or sweeteners to create a treat that is perfectly suited to your palate or dietary needs. 

The same can be done with the chocolate you choose for baking. Just because a recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate doesn’t mean it will be ruined if you use a semisweet or vice versa.

Below, we have provided a guide that explains the difference between semisweet, bittersweet, and extra bittersweet chocolate, as well as some loose recommendations on which is best in classic baking recipes. 

Semisweet Chocolate

Semisweet chocolate usually has a cocoa percentage range of 40% to 60%.

Our Semisweet Baking Bar has a cocoa percentage of 55%. It is the sweetest of our baking bars and has the lightest color of all our dark chocolates. It features flavors of bold caramel nuttiness with supporting notes of prune, ripe banana, and cinnamon.

Semisweet chocolate is a great option if you prefer sweeter chocolate in your baked goods. It is also an excellent choice for people that typically choose milk chocolate. We recommend using it in chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate sauce, drinking chocolate, and chocolate cakes.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet chocolate usually has a cocoa percentage range of 60% to 70%.

Our Bittersweet Baking Bar has a cocoa percentage of 70%. This bar is the staple chocolate in our pantry. Because of its versatility, we always have multiple bars on hand. It is rich and features a robust cocoa flavor with notes of walnut, prune, and a hint of brown spice.

Bittersweet chocolate is a great option for most baked goods (one of our favorite recipes is our Chocolate Chunk Brownies). It has just the right balance of sweetness and a rich cocoa flavor, which is why this chocolate is the most popular among our culinary customers. Our Confection Kitchen team uses bittersweet chocolate to dip and enrobe many of our chocolate-covered treats.

Extra Bittersweet Chocolate

Extra bittersweet chocolate usually has a cocoa percentage above 70%.

Our Extra Bittersweet Baking Bar has a cocoa percentage of 85%. Our 85% dark chocolate was made with the cocoa connoisseur in mind. It features flavor notes of deep-roasted cocoa, subtle brown spice, and dried fruit. 

Extra bittersweet chocolate is a great option for recipes that want the chocolate to be the star flavor, like our Dark Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake. It is also a great option for bakers looking to decrease their sugar consumption. We suggest it when making dark chocolate ganache or adding to breakfast recipes and savory dishes.

What makes Theo Chocolate Baking Bars different from the rest?

Chocolate (and baked goods) just taste better when they’re made the right way: from scratch & with a positive impact. This is why we created our baking bar collection.

At Theo Chocolate, we care about the ingredients we use to make our made-from-scratch chocolate, which is why each of our baking bars are made with organic, fair trade ingredients.

We avoid soy or sunflower lecithin and instead choose cocoa butter to create a consistent, smooth texture. All ingredients are organic and kosher certified and always 100% soy-free.

Our organic and fair trade chocolate baking bars will instantly take any recipe to the next level. The best part? By incorporating our premium chocolate for baking into your favorite recipes, you’re embracing both quality and sustainability as well as flavor.