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Baking with Dark(er) Chocolates

By Emily Phares Published

Darker chocolates in the 70- to 90-plus percentage range are delicious for snacking, but what happens when you bake with them?

High-cacao-percentage dark chocolate bars are becoming ever more sophisticated. This category is also getting a notable boost from trendy high-fat, low-sugar diets, such as Keto—the higher a chocolate bar’s cacao percentage, the less sugar (and more chocolate flavor) it contains. We were curious to see how these higher-cacao bars compare to one another, so we selected eleven 70-, eleven 80-, and five 90-percent cacao or higher nationally available bars and sampled them plain.

The textures of the bars were crucial. Chocolates that were conched (heated and constantly stirred) during processing were smooth, which we liked; one brand that wasn’t conched was coarse and gritty. Bars containing extra cocoa butter were also smoother than those without. 

We were also impressed by flavor complexity and noted some trends. A series of factors, including bean origin and fermentation, drying, roasting, and storing procedures all contribute flavor nuances. In the bars we sampled, we detected notes of coconut, coffee, pumpkin spice, and raspberry. Our favorites in each category were the smooth, rich, and fruity Chocolove Organic Dark 73% Chocolate Bar; the silky and coconutty Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Bar; and the supersmooth and fruity Alter Eco 90% Deepest Dark Super Blackout Organic Chocolate Bar.

Tasters liked the desserts made with the 60-, 73-, and 90-percent chocolates, but only the brownies made with 60-percent chocolate had that shiny, crackly top, which can be attributed to that chocolate’s higher sugar content.

To see if we could use these darker chocolates in recipes that call for 60-percent-cacao bittersweet chocolate, we made brownies and pots de crème and compared the results to the same recipes made with our winning 60-percent-cacao chocolate from Ghirardelli. Tasters liked the desserts made with the 60-, 73-, and 90-percent chocolates, but only the brownies made with 60-percent chocolate had that shiny, crackly top that can be attributed to that chocolate’s higher sugar content. The 85-percent-cacao bar’s brownies and pots de crème were unacceptably drier and thicker, respectively. 

Curious to know why, we calculated the amount of cocoa solids (the stuff from the cacao bean minus the cocoa butter) in each bar from information taken from their nutrition labels and were surprised to learn that the 85-percent bar had the most despite the 90-percent-cacao bar having a higher cacao percentage. The 90-percent-cacao bar contains more cocoa butter and, therefore, less cocoa solids than the 85-percent bar, so its desserts weren’t as dry and thick. According to our science research editor, adding more cocoa solids to a recipe is “like adding cornstarch: it binds up some of the water that would otherwise loosen the texture.” Our takeaway? If you want to make desserts with a higher cacao bar, we had great results with our 73-percent and 90-percent winners.

Taste Test (Very) Dark Chocolate Bars

We found a 90-percent bar with flavor that's more “beautiful” than bitter.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.