Questions for Lisa Yockelson: How Does Cocoa Percentage Affect Baking Results?

Lisa Yockelson, author of the rich chocolate encyclopedia ChocolateChocolate is our guest expert this week on all things baking and chocolate. Ever wondered if those cocoa percentages in baking chocolate make a difference? 50%, 65%, 70%, 83% - do they affect baking? Here's a question from a reader about cocoa percentages.

Q: Does cocoa content noticeably affect baking time and results? I know of recent cocoa percentage is a big selling point for higher end chocolates, but some readers might be interested in how it affects end results.

A: Percentage chocolates, namely those with the cacao content on the label, gives the baker not only a defined idea of the level of intensity, but a way to discern the sweetness/bittersweet factor.

No longer is "semisweet" chocolate categorically interchangeable with "bittersweet" chocolate, as chocolate with a high percentage of cacao destined for baking recipes frequently requires a little additional sugar and, occasionally, a bit more liquid, as the unbaked doughs and batters may be somewhat thicker and (obviously) less sweet; also note that some batters and doughs firm up very quickly after they are made, so you need to move them into the pans as quickly as possible.

Doughs and batters made with more than 4 ounces of melted high-percentage bittersweet chocolate should be watched during the final stages of baking to keep the sweet's moisture from dispelling.

The key to baking with the higher percentage chocolates begins first in tasting the chocolate to determine its all-around flavor quotient, then to work it into your existing recipes where it makes sense--as in a flourless (or almost-flourless) chocolate cake. Such a cake is a perfect vehicle for a expanding on the flavor nuances of a higher (but not too high!) percentage chocolate. I have had wonderful results with bittersweet chocolates near the 70% range for this type of cake, but a few lower percentages chocolates also can certainly be used if the chocolate flavor is well-developed and flavor-forward.

When flourless (and almost- flourless) chocolate cakes appear in CHOCOLATECHOCOLATE, I offer specific examples of chocolate available in the marketplace to use for cakes when the amount of bittersweet chocolate in the recipe is pivotal. I also love to hand-cut blocks of bittersweet chocolate to use in cookie doughs--a luscious way to begin the chocolate taste journey in your own kitchen.

Thank you Lisa!

-- To all Questions for Lisa Yockelson

(Image credits: ChocolateChocolate cover photo and author photo both by Ben Fink. Cover design by Vertigo Design, NYC.)