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Baking with Chocolate and Cocoa

Created February 1, 2017
Holiday Cookies and Chocolate? A dream come true! Make your holiday cookies taste even delicious by mastering the art of baking with chocolate.

Have you noticed? Whenever you set out a platter of holiday cookies, the chocolate ones seem to disappear first. Not too surprising—chocolate’s amazing flavor is hard to resist.  So learn more about choosing chocolate, using chocolate, and decorating with chocolate to make your treats Santa’s favorites!

Choosing the Right Chocolate

To put it simply: The darker the chocolate, the richer and more bitter its flavor will be. The lighter the chocolate, the creamier and sweeter its flavor will be. Here’s the skinny:

Unsweetened Chocolate: Definitely not meant for snacking, this sugarless chocolate tastes bitter. But that’s just fine, because it’s usually used in recipes with extra sugar. Don’t substitute it for other types of chocolate. Instead, love the rich flavor it brings to holiday faves such as Fiesta Fudge Cookies.

Dark Bittersweet Chocolate: This chocolate is richer and bitterer than semi-sweet, but the two usually can be used interchangeably. Play up bittersweet chocolate’s dark side this holiday season by serving these beautiful French Macaroons with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate: This dark chocolate contains a little more sugar and cocoa fat than bittersweet chocolate. Still, the two can usually be swapped for one another.  Either way, we’re guessing your holiday guests will love Cherry-Topped Chocolate Tassies.

Milk Chocolate: This sweet chocolate choice includes milk powder, along with a lot more sugar and cocoa fat than its dark-chocolate cousins. Milk chocolate can be swapped for dark chocolate, but only as a stir-in (think chocolate-chip cookies). Tempt Santa this year with Milk Chocolate-Malt Brownies.

White Chocolate: This “chocolate” isn’t chocolate at all—because it contains cocoa fat, but no actual cocoa. Not that it isn’t delicious. White chocolate’s rich, dairy taste makes a great stir in for cookies and bars. Include decadent Cashew-White Chocolate Drops in your prettiest holiday-cookie platters.

Cocoa Know-How

Simply put: Dutch processed cocoa and unsweetened baking cocoa can be used interchangeably unless the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda. In that case, use as directed. And by the way, hot cocoa mix is a totally different product. Don't use it for baking.

  • Dutch-processed cocoa is a milder, reddish-brown cocoa usually paired with baking powder in cookie recipes. Enjoy the subtle flavor it brings to Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti.
  • Unsweetened cocoa is a bitter cocoa often used in cookie recipes that call for baking soda. Delight your guests with the intense chocolate taste unsweetened cocoa brings to Double-Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Taste Tip: Boost cocoa flavor by dissolving it in liquid. In cookies, this might mean adding cocoa to the creamed butter-and-egg mixture. For bars and brownies, dissolve the cocoa in 2 tablespoons of hot water or coffee.

Savvy Swap. Unsweetened cocoa can be substituted for unsweetened chocolate. The formula? 3 T cocoa + 1 T unsalted butter = 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate.)

How to Melt Chocolate

No matter how frenzied you get this baking season, take care when melting chocolate—it burns easily. Give chocolate the TLC it deserves by melting it gently in one of these three ways. 

  • Use a Microwave Oven: Place the chocolate in an uncovered microwavable dish. Microwave at Medium power (50%). Stir once every minute just until the chocolate melts. Keep stirring until the chocolate is completely smooth.
  • Use Direct Heat: Melt chocolate in a small saucepan over extremely low heat, stirring often until it is almost melted. Remove from heat and continue stirring the chocolate until it is completely smooth.
  • Use Indirect Heat: Melt chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently until it is almost melted. Remove from heat and keep stirring until it is completely smooth. Do not let water or steam touch the chocolate because it will seize—which means it gets grainy and unworkable.
  • Chop or break the chocolate into uniform pieces to help it melt evenly.
  • When using melted chocolate for decorating, add 1 teaspoon of shortening per every 2 ounces of chocolate. This quick step will help the melted chocolate firm up once dipped or drizzled.
  • Test your chocolate-melting skills with Chocolate-Mint Layered Cookie Slices. Their green stripes make them especially festive!

Dipping and Drizzling Melted Chocolate

Want to make an ordinary cookie look extra-special? Dip the edge of it in melted chocolate, or drizzle melted chocolate over the top. Here’s how.

Dipping Cookies in Chocolate
  • Remove any excess crumbs before you dip your cookies into melted chocolate. Let any excess chocolate fall back into the bowl.
  • Transfer the dipped cookie to waxed paper to dry.
  • If your melted chocolate starts to cool and harden, microwave it for 30-60 seconds to rewarm. Stir until smooth. If using a double boiler, place the pan or bowl back over the simmering water to rewarm.
Give this simple technique a try by making Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread Cookies. (They'll look like they came from a bakery!) 

Drizzling Chocolate

  • Place melted chocolate in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Snip a small hole in the corner of bag in order to drizzle.
  • Use quick, controlled motions to prevent the drizzled chocolate from pooling on cookie.
  • If you prefer, use a fork or small whisk to drizzle chocolate randomly over your baked cookies. Use quick, controlled motions to prevent chocolate from pooling.
Try this versatile decorating idea on gift-worthy White Chocolate Chunk-Cranberry Cookies.