Baking with Chocolate

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cakettes on a wire cooling rack, drenched in chocolate ganache
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cakettes

Chocolate is romantic, dramatic, purported to have healing properties, and is absolutely delicious. The wonderful flavor is representative of devotion and love. Chocolate can come in so many forms that even those who don’t consider themselves chocolate fanatics almost always find a chocolate treat to love. Below you will find a primer on all things chocolate, so you can learn all the tips and tricks for baking with chocolate. When I set out to write Zoë Bakes Cakes the very first cake I put in its pages was my Devil’s food recipe, which is deep, dark, and full of cocoa. You’ll find cakes, pies, tarts, and many other chocolate desserts in this post.

Baking with Chocolate

Chocolate is made from the cacao tree and comes in the form of cocoa powder, bar chocolate, and chocolate chips, chunks, or feves (discs).

Chocolate Zucchini Cake | Zoe Bakes by Zoë François
Best-Ever Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder is made from drying and grinding cocoa solids. I most often use Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which means it has been alkali-treated, making it less acidic and darker. Different brands may vary in color slightly, which can affect the look of your pastries. There is also natural cocoa, which is more acidic and can change the composition of your baking. Recipes that call for cocoa powder without specifying, usually mean the Dutch-processed variety.

Hot Chocolate Cake | ZoeBakes by Zoë François
Hot Chocolate Layer Cake

Solid Chocolate

Solid chocolate is made from fermented, dried and ground cocoa beans. The resulting paste is melted into cocoa liquor and then separated into cacao butter and cocoa solids. The cocoa butter gives chocolate its smooth texture, and is an ingredient you want to look for when choosing solid chocolate.

The percentage you see on packaging refers to the combined amount of cocoa butter and solids in the bar. For example, a bar that says 70% on the package is made from 70% cocoa butter and cocoa solids and 30% other ingredients, such as sugar and milk solids. 

I most often use bittersweet chocolate (70%), but you can also use semisweet (60%) in most cases. I usually advise bakers to avoid milk chocolate because it is too sweet and doesn’t behave the same as bittersweet and semisweet varieties.

A slice of chocolate cake with chocolate shavings on top
Chocolate Birthday Cake

Chocolate Chips, Chunks and Shavings

Chocolate chips are the classic little chocolate morsels that most of us think of in chocolate chip cookies. They are often sweeter and contain less cocoa than chocolate bars. You can, however, find them in different varieties and look for the same percentage as you do with bars.

Chocolate chunks and shavings can be made from a bar (you can also buy prepackaged chunks). To make chunks you can simply chop up a bar, and for shavings, you run a knife along the bar to create and collect the slivers.

Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake batter in mugs
Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake

FAQs About Baking with Chocolate

  • Most foolproof way to temper chocolate? I learned how to temper chocolate in culinary school and did some chocolate work when I was working in restaurants, but it isn’t something I do often and is a skill that requires practice to get in the swing of it. I did a video on the technique I know best. Here is a link to other methods that I haven’t tried, but sound interesting.
  • How to reuse and store leftover tempered chocolate? Store chocolate in a cool, dark place. Chocolate can always be melted and re-tempered, see above. 
  • What is your preferred chocolate brand for ganache? Tips to getting it right? I list my favorite chocolate brands below in this post. I have a whole section of my Cake Academy in Zoë Bakes Cakes about making and trouble shooting ganache. Use a good quality chocolate and heat the cream just to simmer, turn off the heat, add chopped chocolate, swirl the pan until the ganache is submerged, let it sit to melt for 3 minutes, then gently whisk smooth. 
  • How do you reuse the ganache after pouring it over cakes, so you don’t end up wasting it? Set the cake on a wire cooling rack, then place it over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour the ganache over the cake and the excess will fall onto the parchment. Once the cake has been removed, scrape the ganache off of the parchment. If it has set up, remelt until it will go through a sieve, which will catch any cake. Store the strained ganache in the refrigerator (5 days) or freezer (2 months) until you need it again.
A cross section of a chocolate peanut butter mini cake on a white plate with a gold fork
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cakettes

My Favorite Chocolate Products

Valrhona cocoa powder

Droste cocoa powder

Guittard cocoa powder

Valrhona bars

Callebaut bars

Scharffen Berger bars

Guittard bars

Trader Joe’s 72% Cacao dark chocolate bar

Valrhona feves – there are several flavors of these chocolate discs, including some with fruit like passion fruit and raspberry!

Favorite Chocolate Recipes

These chocolate chip cookies are the result of what I learned making countless batches for decades. I also explain what the ingredients do to a cookie and how baking can change them. You can tweak your cookies to be just how you like them using my cookie guide towards the bottom of the post.
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Fanny Lam's original recipe was pure and simple, which is a lovely thing in a day of over complicated recipes, but I decided to add a bit of coffee flavor to this Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, to recreate the flavor of my childhood memory.
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This chocolate microwave mug cake is one of those cakes you’ll rely on when you need to indulge at midnight. Just you, Donna Summer and a crazy-satisfying mug of chocolate cake. I added Caramel-Peanut ice cream to the top, because who eats chocolate cake at midnight without ice cream?
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This simple chocolate cake is elegant and warm and makes me want to eat all the cake. I topped it with Vietnamese coffee cream, which is just the right balance of sweet and bitter.
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This chocolate zucchini bundt cake recipe is from my book Zoë Bakes Cakes! It's moist and sweet, but not overly so, and intensely chocolate.
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This Guinness Chocolate Cake with White Knight Buttercream based on recipes from Zoë Bakes Cakes, was inspired by my trips to Ireland and features amazing Irish butter.
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This peanut butter pie recipe is oh-so delicious. With a graham cracker crust, a smooth peanut butter filling made with cream cheese, a layer of chocolate ganache, and a whipped cream and candied peanut topping, this dessert is deluxe and irresistible. Be sure to chill this pie for two hours or overnight before serving.
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This is like the most elegant brownie-cake you've ever had. That really doesn't do it justice, but you know that fudge texture of a perfectly baked brownie, where the top has a nice crust and the inside is smooth and rich? This is that, but even better and somehow lighter. I gilded the lily with candied hazelnuts.
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Would you ever guess just by looking at this chocolate pecan pie that it's dairy free? I swapped plant butter for regular dairy butter and it worked beautifully! No one I served this to guessed it was made without dairy butter!
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With hot chocolate as its inspiration, this hot chocolate cake has layers of Devil’s food, slathered with a deep, dark, luscious chocolate icing, that is like whipped ganache, but better, then I topped the whole thing in homemade marshmallows.
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These darling chocolate peanut butter mini cakes are inspired by many recipes from Zoë Bakes Cakes – just another way to use the recipes in creative ways.
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This chocolate cake is so delicious and despite my selfish desire to have the beet flavor shine through, it is so subtle, it just leaves a super-rich and moist cake that everyone, no matter their feelings about beets, will love. Plus, it is so gorgeous. Once you try it, you'll go in for seconds. 
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These chocolate macarons are both light, as a macaron should be and fudge-y, like a brownie. The chocolate macaron shells are made with cocoa powder and then they’re filled with a chocolate ganache, so they’re super deep chocolate fantastic flavor.
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