As a busy mom, you know that simply finding the time to bake meals from scratch is a challenge, so it's especially maddening to realize you've run out of a crucial recipe ingredient. However, substituting for an ingredient such as baking chocolate is not a problem. You probably have everything you need already in your pantry, so you won't have to organize the kids for a trip to the market.
Natural chocolate breaks down into two main ingredients: its natural fats, called cocoa butter; and the cocoa solids, the portion with all the flavor. Good-quality unsweetened baking chocolate doesn't include anything else, and it typically contains about 55 percent cocoa solids. Bittersweet or semi-sweet baking chocolate has some sugar added, and low-cost brands might substitute cheaper fats for some of the cocoa butter. Unsweetened chocolate is easiest to substitute.
Cocoa is simply unsweetened chocolate with the cocoa butter removed, so it's the usual substitution for baking chocolate. All you have to do is add enough fat to replace the missing fat. Every 1 ounce square of chocolate contains roughly 3 tablespoons of cocoa and 1 tablespoon of cocoa butter. Only pastry chefs keep cocoa butter lying around, but you can use butter, shortening or coconut oil instead. For example, if your devil's food cake recipe calls for four squares of chocolate, substitute the chocolate with 12 tablespoons of cocoa and 4 tablespoons of butter.
Your choice of fat has an effect on the flavor of your baked goods. Butter gives a rich, pleasant flavor, similar to the flavor of cocoa butter. Butter is only 85 to 90 percent fat, and the remainder is liquid. If you're making a large batch of your recipe, you may need to use a little more butter and cut back on your liquids. Coconut oil is solid like butter and adds a faint coconut flavor that you may want in some recipes, but not in others. Shortening has a neutral flavor that won't affect your baking, but most brands are at least partially hydrogenated. Many moms avoid serving hydrogenated fats to their families.
Bittersweet and Semisweet
If your recipe calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or if you're experimenting with upscale artisanal high-cocoa chocolate, you have a few other adjustments to make. Bittersweet and semisweet chocolates are often 30 to 50 percent sugar by weight, according to food science writer Harold McGee, so you'll need to add an extra tablespoon or two of sugar to most recipes. Using a high-end chocolate instead of baking chocolate can improve some recipes substantially, but isn't really noticeable in some others. In her 2003 cookbook "Bittersweet," noted pastry chef Alice Medrich offers detailed advice on adapting your own recipes for different kinds of chocolate.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- What's Cooking America: Chocolate Substitution Chart - How To Substitute Chocolate
- Joy of Baking: Unsweetened Chocolate
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.