When Is It Worth It to Buy Expensive Chocolate for a Recipe?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Dana Velden)

I’m of the mind that chocolate, like pizza, falls firmly into the category of things that are good, even when they’re not good. Face it — you’ve probably never bitten into a piece of chocolate and exclaimed, “I do not like this!”

Yet there admittedly is a difference between a fancy, decadent baking chocolate versus a generic, store-brand kind. “The differences are usually in cocoa content and then the amount of added sugar in the chocolate,” says Gesine Bullock-Prado, a pastry chef and founder of Sugar Glider Kitchen. “More expensive chocolate tends to contain far less sugar.”

So how do you know when to splurge? There are three specific times you should go with the more expensive stuff.

1. When chocolate is in a very short list of ingredients.

If you’re making your grandma’s chili recipe and you’re debating over a $3 box or $9 box of baking chocolate, you can safely save a few bucks. You won’t taste much of a difference if the chocolate is a smaller part of a bigger recipe.

But if you’re making a soufflé and the recipe calls for eight ounces of chocolate, you should consider forking out the cash for the more expensive stuff.

2. When the recipe specifically calls for the nice stuff.

“It’s worth paying attention to any instruction the [recipe] gives regarding the brands, because the recipe will differ if you use a type of chocolate that varies significantly from [the developer’s] choice,” says Bullock-Prado. “If the cheaper chocolate you choose has almost double the sugar than the chef’s chocolate, you’re asking for trouble.”

3. When you’re in the mood to treat yourself.

Sometimes you deserve a little treat. A silk shirt over a cotton T-shirt, a burger over a salad, nice baking chocolate over the cheaper stuff — you don’t need a reason other than the fact that you want it. Just be sure you like the way it tastes.

“The baking chocolate that you use should be something that you enjoy eating by itself, so take the time to taste a ton of chocolates,” notes Bullock-Prado. “Once you’ve tried everything from Callebaut to Ghirardelli to Valhrona to Guittard to Toll House, you may find that your favorite flavor profile isn’t actually the most expensive, which is a win-win.”

Do you have a go-to brand for baking chocolate? What is it?