Baking Booster: Bittersweet Chocolate
So here we are, careening towards the holidays. Please stop the train, I need to get off.
Fortunately, there is something to look forward to in all this calendar-flipping madness. The good part is that the best of high baking season is coming up soon! Let's make it great this year, friends. Let's break out our best tried-and-true recipes and magazine clippings that we shoved away and haven't gotten to yet. Stock up on flours and sugars and pounds of butter. Finally buy a dang candy thermometer and get to some old-fashioned confectionery magic (you can do it!!). Wrestle the baking sheets out from under the everyday pots and pans and fire up the oven. And hey, even let your kids get into the fray! (I'm speaking for my Type A self here--it's not my favorite thing to bake with little ones underfoot and under armpit; there I said it.)
But here's a top tip that I think has changed my baking for the better: Reach for the bittersweet chocolate this year, even if your recipe calls for semi-sweet or milk. I'm talking at least 60 to 70% cacao, nice and dark. Because nothing balances out a sea of sweet quite like it. In the same way that a good hit of salt or acid (like lemon juice or buttermilk) makes sweet things all the more craveworthy, a slight bitter edge can also add the kind of balance that makes you unable to resist taking just one. More. Bite. Tastebud trickery! Plus, if you really love chocolate, bittersweet is just that much more chocolaty, because it's got more cacao power AND it has less fat and sugar, both of which can coat and confuse the tongue and keep you from getting the ultimate chocolate experience.
Now, with real bittersweet chocolate, you're going to find that things are a bit more spendy. That's because you're actually getting more chocolate in your chocolate! But to me, this is a situation where I'm willing to pay a little bit more for something that really makes a difference in a recipe, kind of like splurging on a good vanilla extract for recipes that are really vanilla-forward. And there's never been a better time to find really great chocolate. Here in San Francisco, you can't walk five feet without tripping over some amazing artisanal chocolate bar.
These are the kind of chocolates that will take even the most simple cookie to some heretofore mystical level. Speaking of which, here are some of my favorite recipes using bittersweet chocolate from the archives that can really help you get the most bang for your buck when you spring for the good stuff: