There's a saying about Ovenly's Secretly Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies around Food52 headquarters: "Back off, those are mine."
The cookies—like every other thing that comes out of Ovenly's bakery—are beloved by Food52 staffers (and community members, alike!) for their flawless texture, just-right richness, and salty-sweet balance. And for their gooey, chocolatey perfection. Just like Ovenly's "supreme" double chocolate brownies. Or their Brooklyn blackout cake, a cocoa-based confection frosted with dark chocolate pudding that gets whipped into a buttercream.
So when our team decided to get to the bottom of which chocolate we should be using to bake, for our Absolute Best series, we knew to look no further than right across the East River, to Ovenly founders Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin.
ELLA QUITTNER: Your cookbook has a general rule of thumb for selecting chocolate, along the following lines: Buy the best chocolate you can afford with the fewest ingredients. Could you elaborate on this? What are the general label markers one should pay attention to?
AK & EP: First and foremost, we work with companies that have sustainability and social impact goals. So, look for products on the shelf marked "fair trade" or "direct trade" that have the fewest, natural ingredients. It's also important to find chocolate that fits your recipe needs.
The type of chocolate should pair with your treats (e.g., sweeter chocolate chip cookies pair nicely with darker, bittersweet chocolates, while a more savory chocolate-rye shortbread pairs nicely with milkier varieties). The cacao percentages are always on the label; the lower the cacao content, the higher the dairy content. Every chocolate varies in flavor by denomination as well. So, a chocolate with the same cacao content from Ghana will taste differently than one from Madagascar. Use your favorites!
EQ: If you had to pick, what’s your absolute favorite dark chocolate for baking? Imagine you could only use one for the rest of your life across all recipes that call for solid chocolate. Why is it the best for baking, in your opinion?
AK & EP: Opinion is all about subjective taste. We love the Guittard Extra Dark Chips (63% cacao content) for their versatility. They're great as is for cookies, melting into chocolate pudding cakes, or using in gooey brownies, but they also work well for dark chocolate ganache and sauces.
EQ: How about your absolute favorite milk chocolate for baking, if you had to choose just one?
AK & EP: Guittard wins the day again. We love the Soleil D’or (38% cacao content) for the same versatility reasons, but it is also delicious, rich, and velvety. If you want to try a fun and excellent atypical variety, try out Caramélia from Valrhona. It tastes like the best combination of caramel and chocolate all in one.
EQ: Do you have any favorite chocolate brands for baking that you swear by for someone looking to shell out the least, but get the best possible result?
AK & EP: When we can’t find our favorites, Ghirardelli is widely available. Plus, there's something nostalgic about their semi-sweet chips. In terms of labels, the best options are always the ones with the least amount of ingredients.
EQ: In your cookbook, you provide a super helpful primer on dark Dutch-process cocoa versus Dutch-process, versus American-process. What's your favorite cocoa powder to use in each category? (Which dark Dutch-process cocoa do you use in Ovenly's Brooklyn blackout cake? Has this ever changed?)
AK & EP: There's only one dark Dutch-process cocoa that we use in the Brooklyn blackout bake—it's Guittard’s Cocoa Noir. Valrhona Dutch-process cocoa—for brownies, cakes, cookies, etc.—is our go-to for baking. It has a deep, bittersweet flavor, without being overwhelming. We rarely use American-process cocoa (though it’s great in hot chocolate and red velvet cake), but be sure to note what your recipe calls for, as American-process and Dutch-process differ in acidity and affect rise.
EQ: Is there anything else we should know about baking with chocolate, or baking with cocoa powder?
AK & EP: If you're making a chocolate-based dough or batter, using only melted chocolate will result in a richer flavor, and using only cocoa will result in a more delicate one. The biggest thing readers should know is that they should have fun—try all sorts of chocolate; if the recipe calls for melted chocolate, try to mix it up with some cocoa; and test all the varieties (sampling is the best sport). Surprises often yield delicious results.