A friend once told me a lovely story about her partner, who was aghast to find her eating a piece of ‘cooking’ chocolate.
“You can’t do that,” he said, horrified. “My mum always said that if you ate cooking chocolate you’d get a tummy ache.”
I always wondered what other stories his wise mother had told him – and which ones he still believed. I remember sneaking pieces of cooking chocolate when I was a kid and always being disappointed by the results – it was greasy, tasteless, and never the treat I hoped for.
Cooking with chocolate is a bit like cooking with wine; my basic rule of thumb is that you should only use something you’d enjoy eating or drinking by itself. That said, I think there’s no shame in having Vahlrona tastes on a Whittaker’s budget (though this belief is not shared by my ex-pastry chef friend who says only the best will do).
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Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana Chocolate, $5.30 for 250g
This may seem a completely contradictory addition to this column, but it would be disingenuous of me not to include it because it’s the chocolate I cook with most often.
I could easily fill a whole column with reasons why I love its rich, fruity flavour, satisfying ‘snap’ when it breaks and glossy shine. These things also mean it’s often eaten by the other members of my household before I get a chance to cook with it.
One more reason to choose ‘proper’ chocolate to cook with: if you run out of time to whip up a show-stopping sweet treat, people will generally be thrilled when you plonk a bar of this one on the table instead.
Healtheries 99% Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Baking Bits, $6.99 for 200g
If I’m ever making chocolate chip cookies, I’m much more likely to chop up a block of actual chocolate than use ‘chips’, which are often disappointing. These little beauties might just convince me otherwise.
While they’re only 53 per cent cocoa solids, they pack a good, chocolatey punch. Sugar-avoiders and keto dieters will be happy that these contain naturally-occurring sugars rather than maltitol or artificial sweeteners.
If you live with people who might like to eat these straight from the packet, I’d point them to the small print that advises that ‘excess consumption may have a laxative effect’.
Donovan’s Premium White Chocolate Drops, $4.30 for 200g
White chocolate is a devil to work with. It’ll seize and turn grainy at the mere suggestion of moisture and go from creamy to over-caramelised (a fancy way of saying ‘burnt’) in seconds if you risk melting it over direct heat.
Using ‘drops’ like these Waikato-made ones can make the melting process a heck of a lot easier. I used these drops to make some white chocolate meringue buttercream for my daughter’s recent birthday cake and they worked like a dream.
They’ve got all the distinctive caramel sweetness of white chocolate, with no greasy mouthfeel.
Trade Aid Organic Fair Trade Cocoa Powder, $6.99 for 200g
Here’s a way to get your chocolate fix and some warm fuzzies too – this cocoa powder is grown by certified organic small-scale farmers in Peru and the Dominican Republic who are paid fairly for their work.
Handy tip: this cocoa is Dutch-processed, which means the naturally acidic cocoa beans are washed in an alkalised solution before grinding. As a result, the cocoa dissolves more easily in liquids (like milk or water, for hot chocolate) and doesn’t react with other acids, like baking soda. If a recipe tells you not to use Dutch-processed cocoa in a recipe, this is likely the reason.
Pam’s Organic Raw Cacao Powder, $5.99 for 250g
Confused about the difference between cacao and cocoa? It’s not just a spelling trick designed to trick sub-editors or a ‘wellness’ scam cooked up by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow: cacao and cocoa are different.
Well, sort of. Cocoa powder is milled from cacao beans that have been roasted at high temperatures, whereas cacao is made from beans that are milled and processed at low temperatures.
This means cacao powder is considered to be ‘raw’ and contain more nutrients than cocoa. It’s a personal choice whether that matters to you (it doesn’t bother me). However, if you’re interested in flavour, this excellent cacao powder is deep, rich and plummy.