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A FRESH Point of View: All About Chocolate

As much as I love chocolate, I’ve come to realize not all chocolate is created equal. Some is better for baking, some is better for snacking, and some is so good that I prefer to hide it from the family, and save it all for myself!

In honor of American Chocolate Week – yes, it’s this week! – here is my cheat sheet to chocolate. Go out and bake, eat and be merry!

Unsweetened: Bitter and intensely flavored, because it doesn’t contain any sugar to cover up the bitter notes of the chocolate. It’s often used for baking because it provides a better “pure” chocolate flavor, and it is easier to adjust the sweetness to your preference. It usually does not substitute well for other types of chocolate in recipes, unless you’re an experienced baker who understands how to adjust sugar amounts. However, if you are out of unsweetened chocolate, you can fake it by using 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa plus one tablespoon of butter, for every ounce of unsweetened chocolate in the recipe.

Semisweet: Classically, semisweet is the chocolate of the chocolate chip cookie – a good, all-around chocolate for baking, for trail mix, or sneaking out of the bag when you’ve run out of all other sources of eating chocolate.

Bittersweet:  More intense and slightly less sweet than semi-sweet chocolate; I like to chop up bittersweet baking bars into chunks and use them in my chocolate chip cookies, for a slightly more sophisticated flavor. Scharffenberger makes a great one for baking, in our baking aisle.

Milk chocolate: This is the sweetest, lightest type of eating chocolate, and it’s most common in candy bars. The cacao content can be as low as 10 percent. However, milk chocolate chips have become widely available, and make an interesting change of pace in cookies, homemade candy and dessert bars. Because it contains milk solids, you need to be especially careful if melting this kind of chocolate; it can scorch even more easily than other kinds of chocolate.

Dark chocolate: The best gourmet “eating” chocolates tend to be dark and intensely chocolate; they range from barely sweet and almost bitter to very sweet and buttery. The cacao content may range from 40 percent to almost 90 percent; in general, the higher the cocoa, the darker, more intense and less sweet the chocolate. Eat your way through the many selections on our candy aisle, but make sure you try Dagoba organic chocolates and Vosges, two of my personal faves.

Carob: Not chocolate at all, but an acceptable substitute if you are allergic to chocolate (poor thing!) or you want to avoid the caffeine. (Carob, which is made from the dried pod of the carob tree, doesn’t have any.) We carry it in chips and powder; the chips make a perfectly fine “chocolate chip” cookie, while the carob powder can be substituted for cocoa in your favorite cake or brownie recipe. Carob does not have as strong a flavor as cocoa, so you may want to add an extra quarter-cup or so to your recipe.

Mexican chocolate:  Usually produced in heavy, crumbly disks, Mexican chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, lots of sugar, and often crushed almonds. It’s delicious as hot chocolate or can be used to make an exotic brownie. I like the Abuela and Ibarra brands.