Should You Use Semisweet or Bittersweet Chocolate When Making Chocolate Chip Cookies?
Whether you prefer them soft-and-chewy, flat-and-crisp, or any which way so long as they can be dunked into a glass of cold milk, the chocolate chip cookie is a favorite of adults and kids alike. While there is plenty of debate around using chopped chocolate versus the more convenient and traditional chocolate chip, we've decided to go all-in on decoding the latter and explore the best type of chocolate chips to use when making chocolate chip cookies. Semisweet is the most commonly used, but is bittersweet a better option?
For help in achieving chocolate chip-cookie nirvana, we turned to someone who has plenty of knowledge to share on all things related to the cacao bean: Julia Choi-Rodriguez. As co-founder and CEO of Vesta Chocolate, a "bean-to-bonbon" craft chocolate factory and café in Montclair, New Jersey, that she runs with her co-founder (and spouse) Roger Rodriguez, Choi-Rodriguez understands the importance of choosing your chips wisely. Here are three things to consider before you buy chocolate chips to bake your next batch of chocolate chip cookies.
All forms of chocolate begin with the large pods that grow on the cacao tree. After being harvested and processed, the cacao beans are ground into a paste and then blended with varying amounts of cacao butter, sugar, and sometimes milk and oil. If you've ever seen a bar of chocolate or a bag of chips that displays a percentage, that number represents the amount of pure cacao bean that it contains. "As a general rule of thumb, the higher the number, the more bitter it is," Choi-Rodriguez advises. "For instance, 78 percent means there is 78 percent pure cacao paste and the rest of the 22 percent is made up of sugar and cacao butter."
When it comes to chocolate chips especially, it's more common to see designations such as semisweet and bittersweet instead of the exact percentages. Semi-sweet chocolate, which is what the majority of recipes will call for, hovers around 50 to 60 percent cacao, meaning that while it is more complex than milk chocolate, it still errs on the sweeter side. Semisweet chocolate chips are a crowd-pleaser, especially if you are trying to cater to younger palates. However, if you want to make your cookies "pop" with a more sophisticated flavor, then you should opt for bittersweet chocolate which is around the 70 percent range (and happens to be Choi-Rodriguez's personal preference).
Balance Is Best
For Choi-Rodriguez, baking with chocolate chips comes down to the balance between bitter and sweet. "At home, I like to use anything that's at least 66 percent and higher. Since the dough itself is sweet, darker chocolate balances it out beautifully," she says. Still, she warns not to go to extremes. "That doesn't mean you should use very dark chocolate such as 90 percent or 100 percent because, by comparison, the chocolate will taste a lot more bitter."
It Pays to Be Picky
Mass-produced chocolate tend to use less cacao and more sugar because it is cheaper and easier to produce. While this makes it more affordable for the consumer, Choi-Rodriguez thinks it also makes it much sweeter and harder to enjoy the complexity that comes from using a chocolate chip with a decent amount of cacao in the formula. Choi-Rodriguez adds, "What you don't want to do is to use chocolate chips that are too sweet—anything below 50 percent—which includes a lot of mass-produced chocolate because then the cookie just becomes sweet without that gloriously deep chocolate flavor."