Melted chocolate in a baking bowl

Expert Advice

Alice has been affiliated with SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker since the beginning.  We'e benefited from her guidance on chocolate and cooking.

Alice Medrich

Author, pastry chef and teacher, Alice Medrich is one of the country's foremost experts on chocolate and chocolate desserts. She is the only three-time Cookbook of the Year Award winner, and her former shop, Cocolat, was hailed by Gourmet Magazine as being "to chocolate what Tiffany's is to diamonds." Medrich continues to influence chefs, chocolate makers and home cooks through her writing and teaching.

Recent Books

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from A Life in Chocolate (Artisan 2003)

Chocolate Holidays (Artisan 2005)

Pure Dessert: True Flavors, Inspiring Ingredients, and Simple Recipes (Artisan 2007)

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies (Artisan 2010)

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2010)

Video Tutorials


Demystifying Cocoa Powder

SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Chunk Recipes

Chocolate Individual Souffles

Questions & Tips

What is meant by chocolate liquor content and how does it differ from cacao content?

Chocolate liquor (called cocoa mass in Europe) is ground cocoa beans, which themselves consist of almost equal amounts of cocoa butter and dry cocoa solids (there is no alcohol in chocolate liquor).

A little extra cocoa butter is added in the production of most chocolate and some companies may add a little extra cocoa powder. Cacao content, expressed as a percentage, indicates the total ingredients in the chocolate that are derived from the cocoa bean, including chocolate liquor and any added cocoa butter or dry cocoa solids. Therefore, cacao content may be a few percentage points, or as much as 8%, higher than the % of chocolate liquor.

What's the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate?

Officially there is no difference. The FDA defines both semisweet and bittersweet chocolate as having a minimum 35% chocolate liquor content.

In reality, and regardless of the official bittersweet/semisweet standard, chocolate makers have been increasing the cacao percentage in dark chocolate over several decades in response to growing demand for chocolate with more chocolate flavor and less sweetness. By the time SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker was founded in 1997, the actual cacao content of most domestic semisweet and bittersweet chocolate was between 50% and 60%, although none revealed cacao percentage on the label.

SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker was the first American company to produce chocolate for home cooks with 70% cacao—and the first to put cacao percentage on all labels. Today many semisweet and bittersweet chocolates in the baking aisle are labeled with cacao percentages (from about 53% to well over 70%). Bittersweet and semisweet chocolates today are more diverse than ever and home cooks have lots of choices. Semisweet chocolates today are more diverse than ever and home cooks have lots of choices.

Many of my favorite recipes and cooking magazines call for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and either do not specify a cacao percentage or indicate the percentage is not to exceed 60%.

Many recipes for chocolate desserts and cakes were developed and tested with chocolate that contains 60% or less cacao.

After years of experimentation and side-by-side tests, I find that SCHARFFEN BERGER 62% Semisweet Chocolate is perfect in those recipes: just use 10% less chocolate than the recipe calls for. For example, if the recipe calls for 10 ounces of unspecified bittersweet chocolate, use only 9 ounces of SCHARFFEN BERGER 62% Semisweet Chocolate. Even with 10% less chocolate, your results will be very flavorful.

Can I use SCHARFFEN BERGER 70% Bittersweet Chocolate in any recipe that calls for bittersweet chocolate?

For best results I recommend using SCHARFFEN BERGER 70% Bittersweet Chocolate only in recipes that specifically call for bittersweet chocolate with 70% (or close to 70%) cacao (click here) [link] or for tips on substituting SCHARFFEN BERGER 70% Bittersweet Chocolate successfully in other recipes.

How does cacao percentage affect recipes?

Semisweet and bittersweet chocolates are composed almost entirely of cacao (dry cocoa solids plus cocoa butter) and sugar.

As cacao percentage increases, the amount of dry cocoa and cocoa butter is increased and the amount of sugar decreased. Using chocolate with 70% cacao (for example) in a recipe instead of 55% or 60% cacao, has the same effect as adding extra cocoa to your batter and subtracting sugar. You can imagine the outcome. Extra cocoa can make cakes dry, mousses cakey and grainy rather than creamy, and ganaches curdle. Meanwhile sugar normally keeps baked goods moist and ganaches soft as well as sweet, so subtracting sugar intensifies the drying effects of the extra cocoa.

I've heard that two chocolates with the same cacao percentage may be quite different from one another? Is this true?

Of course, each chocolate manufacturer uses different beans and different manufacturing techniques to create their signature chocolate flavor.

But also, manufacturers add different amounts of extra cocoa butter to their chocolate. Since extra cocoa butter is part of the cacao percentage, two 70% chocolates may differ in how much dry cocoa solids and how much cocoa butter they contain, and this affects the intensity of their flavors and sweetness, even though both have the same amount of sugar (30%). Differences in fat and dry cocoa may also cause some variation in the taste and texture of a dessert, but not as much variation as using chocolates with significantly different cacao content.

What is so special about SCHARFFEN BERGER Natural Cocoa Powder?

I tasted the very first samples of SCHARFFEN BERGER Natural Cocoa Powder almost 10 years ago and I thought (and still think!) that it redefined what cocoa powder could be.

The fact that it is a natural cocoa powder, rather than alkalized (or Dutch processed) is important to recognize. Natural cocoa powder is purer, which is increasingly important to people who want to eat fewer foods processed with chemicals. But purity alone does not guarantee superior flavor unless, as is the case with SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker, the highest quality cocoa beans are used to produce the cocoa. The result is beautiful chocolate aroma with a complex flavor that captures all of the red fruit and almond notes that characterize SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate. If you want to compare cocoas, first evaluate aroma: close your eyes (to avoid being influenced by color differences). Even before you taste, you'll be amazed by how much chocolate aroma there is in this cocoa, especially compared with any Dutch process cocoa.

If you want to taste the difference, do as I do: make 2 cups of hot cocoa with two different cocoas or bake two batches of brownies. As well as having more chocolate flavor, natural cocoa powder has more healthy antioxidants than alkalized cocoa. You will also find that you don't need to use as much sugar to sweeten SCHARFFEN BERGER Natural Cocoa Powder as compared with other unsweetened cocoa powders.

Is it true that good chocolate is best for eating but there is no point in paying for premium artisanal chocolate just for cooking or baking because no one will taste the difference?

I've heard this before but I don't agree. In cooking classes, I sometimes prepare two batches of brownies for tasting: one with SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate and one with an old-fashioned supermarket brand. The latter is served first and everyone is usually pretty happy. (Who doesn't love a brownie?). But when the brownies made with SCHARFFEN BERGER Cocoa are passed around there is usually a noticeable moment of silence, followed by comments like "oooh, now I get it" and other words that indicate that the bar has been raised several notches and brownies may never be the same again. Better chocolate does makes a difference, just like better coffee, better olive oil, better wine.

What kinds of recipe are best for using SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate?

All kinds of desserts are enhanced by SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate, but my strategy for celebrating the distinctive flavors of good chocolate is to select simple recipes without excessive amounts of sugar and fat or too many competing flavors.

Minimalist recipes really let the characteristics of the chocolate shine, and they are less work for the cook as well!

What is SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate and what should I do with it?

SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate is also known as unsweetened baking chocolate.

It is called 99% because it is 99% pure cacao with less than 1 percent vanilla and lecithin.

Use SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate in any recipe, from old-fashioned fudge or brownies to the newest recipes that call for unsweetened chocolate. But don't forget to think outside the unsweetened chocolate box. This is not the bitter unsweetened chocolate of our childhoods. This chocolate is NOT harsh or gritty. Hard core dark chocolate lovers will find SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate strong but also smooth, and delicious enough to nibble in small quantities. (If you like espresso, definitely try nibbling SCHARFFEN BERGER 99% Unsweetened Chocolate)

You may even use it for dipping, or chop it up and use it for chips or chunks in cakes and cookies. Also try enriching savory meat sauces with a tiny bit of 99% for richness and texture. See the savory section for more ideas on using chocolate in savory.

I am a big fan of SCHARFFEN BERGER 82% Extra Dark Chocolate. How can I use this chocolate in my recipes?

I don't recommend substituting SCHARFFEN BERGER 82% Extra Dark Chocolate for melted bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in most batters, unless it is specifically called for in the recipe, but I highly recommend using it for dipping or as chips or chunks.

Chop it coarsely or finely and use it in place of regular chocolate chips in cookies or cakes or brownies or even soufflés for a dramatic jolt of chocolate flavor.OR make an intensely bittersweet chocolate glaze, sauce (click here), or fondue. Click here for recipes created especially for SCHARFFEN BERGER 82% Extra Dark Chocolate.

I see that SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate has vanilla in it. How does this affect my recipes?

The vanilla in SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate is ground up pure Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans.

You can omit the vanilla in your recipes, or leave it in, as you like. My strategy when making brownies, for example, it to omit the vanilla called for in the recipes and just let the SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate take the stage.