Shopping for Chocolate

As the top-selling dessert flavor, chocolate is on every pastry chef's shopping list.

But chocolate purchasing has taken a sophisticated and complex turn with the influx of more producers, upgraded product lines and premium brands.

Labels listing cacao content and the origin of the beans are further complicating the process. However, the basics are the same: operators can buy chocolate in many forms; powdered cocoa, pistoles (buttons), chips, chunks, pellets, bars and blocks. Each is categorized by its percentage of chocolate liquor (ground nibs or heart of the cacao bean).

Unsweetened chocolate is 99% chocolate liquor. This variety has no sugar added, making it very dark and bitter. It is used only in baking and cooking.

Milk chocolate replaces some of the chocolate liquor with milk or milk solids; it contains about 20% cocoa solids. Its sweeter flavor and smooth texture make it a favorite of the candy industry.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter mixed with sugar, milk solids and vanilla. It contains no chocolate liquor.

Bittersweet is unsweetened chocolate with sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla added; it is 35% to over 70% chocolate liquor.

Semisweet chocolate is similar in its content of sugar, chocolate liquor and cocoa solids to bittersweet; it can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Cocoa is pulverized from cocoa solids that have had the cocoa butter removed.

Sweet or dark chocolate contains between 15 and 35 percent chocolate liquor; it's lighter in flavor than bittersweet and semisweet but has a similar dark color.

is bittersweet, milk or white chocolate that has a higher percentage of cocoa butter. It's used in doughs and batters to add moisture and creaminess and has excellent coating qualities for candies and cake icings.

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