For yummiest results, match chocolate type to recipes.
And knowing about the various types and how they work in recipes can mean the difference between a decadent flourless chocolate cake and a wedge of sawdust. Most cookbook recipes were developed with old-time supermarket brands like Baker's in mind.
But now the baking aisle is stocked with chocolates that have cocoa contents of 70 percent or more. (Regular baking chocolate is about 60 percent cocoa butter and solids.)
"Unless a recipe specifies high-percentage chocolate,'' says Alice Medrich, author of "Seriously Bitter Sweet'' (Artisan, 2013), "stick with chocolate in the 54 to 60 percent cocoa range, otherwise you'll have to adjust other ingredients.'' That means you can go with cheaper brands.
Here's ShopSmart's advice on how to make delicious chocolaty treats:
Unsweetened (aka baking). Also known as bitter chocolate, it doesn't have sugar, flavorings or added fat. It's composed only of chocolate liquor -- the ground-up nibs or the roasted and hulled cocoa beans, a paste that's solidified into bars. Best for: Any recipe where you want a strong chocolate flavor, especially brownies and fudge. It also makes tasty hot chocolate.
Bittersweet and semisweet. Technically, they're the same. And if they have similar percentages of chocolate, they can be used interchangeably in recipes. Both types are made with sugar and at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. Best for: Brownies, cakes and other baked goodies. They're also good melted into dips, sauces, cake glazes and hot chocolate.
Cocoa powder. Unsweetened chocolate liquor that is processed to remove most of the fat, then ground into cocoa powder. You can buy natural or Dutch-process, which has been treated with alkali to make it darker and less acidic. Best for: Brownies, genoise and chocolate sauce. Natural or Dutch-process cocoa can be used interchangeably as long as the recipe doesn't call for baking powder or baking soda. Baked goods that call for baking soda require natural cocoa or the batter might not rise.
Seventy percent-plus cocoa. High-percentage chocolates have less sugar and more chocolate liquor -- at least 70 percent -- which makes the flavor more intense. But ShopSmart warns that higher-percentage chocolate can soak up liquid in a batter, resulting in drier brownies and cakes, grainy mousses and curdled ganaches. Best for: Snacking and in recipes calling for higher-percentage chocolate.
Milk. Milk chocolate is made with at least 10 percent chocolate liquor plus at least 12 percent milk solids (including milk, cream and condensed milk) with added sugar, cocoa butter and butterfat. Look for 32 to 45 percent cocoa for a more chocolaty flavor. Best for: Snacking.
White. It has none of the cocoa solids that make up the dark stuff, only the fat. By definition, it's at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids and no more than 55 percent sugar. Vanilla and other ingredients are added. But check the ingredients to be sure you're getting real white chocolate; don't buy anything that has fats other than cocoa butter, such as palm oil, says Maricel Presilla, a chef and the author of "The New Taste of Chocolate'' (Ten Speed Press, 2009). Best for: Fruity desserts. Think cranberry and white chocolate chip cookies.
Cocoa nibs. The crunchy pieces are hulled, roasted and crushed cocoa beans. When ground, the nibs turn into the liquor and butter used to make all forms of chocolate. Best for: Seasoning and baking. They add a sharp chocolaty taste and crunchy texture to baked goodies.
Chips. The chocolate in most chips is made with less cocoa butter than bar chocolate, so they hold their shape when they get hot rather than melting. Best for: chocolate chip cookies. But chips can also be added to cake or muffin batter and scone dough.