The Absolute Best Chocolate for Baking, According to the Professionals

Cue all of the chocolate cake. And brownies. And cookies.

March 22, 2019

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?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I found Organic Guittard Akoma Extra Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips at Sprouts. The chocolate is from West Africa and is 55% cacao. I loved these chips in my cookies. A little pricey but worth the money. Not as sweet, not as smokey, a totally different type of chocolate. Thanks for sharing in this great article. ”
— Lorraine F.

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.

What's your favorite chocolate for baking? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


judy February 15, 2023
For me for baking is ti still mostly German's baking chocolate, unsweetened. For cocoa, a black coca.
Barbara April 1, 2021
Nestle Toll House cookies are classic....unfortunately Nestle chips are not what they used to be...too waxy etc, TREADER JOE chocolate chips taste like the original Nestle chip...not too sweet melt beautifully...
Judith P. April 1, 2021
I've had good luck with Trader Joe's, as well, with chocolate chip cookies.
Paul July 23, 2020
I’d add to check sugar—-especially when buying chips: Make sure that chocolate or a variant is the first ingredient, not sugar. And don’t trust the same brand! In early Covid I was down to the last 20 variations of Nestle and Ghirardelli and it was amazing how many of the semi-sweet chips from both brands (but different percentage levels) had sugar, first while so few didn’t.
kerry B. March 16, 2020
Where can I buy good quality baking chocolate in Australia?
judy February 15, 2023
Check out Recipe Tin Eats! Nagi is a food blogger based out of Australia. She ha excellent advice about all kinds of ingredients. Her various chocolate recipes all discuss chocolate in various ways, from varieties, to places to purchase! She is amazing.. And don't forget to check out dozer!!!
Judith P. March 26, 2019
Up 'til now, I've bounced back and forth between Valrhona (mainly), Guittard, Lindt. In youth, when I wanted to feel fancy, I'd go all-out and purchase Scharffen Berger (until they were bought by Hershey). I'll go back and scrutinize my labels now. Veering off the baking topic, I do like to grate Taza over my weekend cappuccini (la di da--thank you, now-vestigial college level Italian studies).
Lorraine F. March 24, 2019
I love new chocolate finds. I found Organic Guittard Akoma Extra Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips at Sprouts. The chocolate is from West Africa and is 55% cacao. I loved these chips in my cookies. A little pricey but worth the money. Not as sweet, not as smokey, a totally different type of chocolate. Thanks for sharing in this great article.
jwagnon March 24, 2019
I know all of these products well having used and sold them since 1993. I know its opinion piece but Cacao Barry produces some incredible products. Also, note that Guittard is now producing almost their entire line now with sunflower lecithin vs. soy lecithin and all of their Etienne line is also Fair Trade.
Ella Q. March 24, 2019
Good to know! Thank you!
foofaraw March 23, 2019
My favorite baking chocolate is Moser Roth bar from Aldi. they have 85% bar that is 4.4 oz for $2. Bar is divided into 5 individually wrapped chocolate, making it easy to use as needed.
Ella Q. March 24, 2019
Will have to give it a try!
Allyson March 23, 2019
I disagree with your statement: The cacao percentages are always on the label; the lower the cacao content, the higher the dairy content.

Most dark chocolates have zero dairy content.

The cacao content refers to the combined total of chocolate liquor + cocoa butter. The percent alone can be misleading about its taste. For example, two 80% chocolates may have differing levels of chocolate liquor. Often 90% or higher chocolates have a high amount of cocoa butter added to make them palatable.
stefanie March 22, 2019
Yes to Guittard! I used to buy Nestle Tollhouse but once I was at the supermarket and Guittard was all they had left - I've never looked back! Totally worth the price for desserts where chocolate is the main star.
Ella Q. March 24, 2019
Agreed, so delicious.
Smaug March 22, 2019
I don't know if I'd class them as best for baking, but I love the Guittard dark chips; I've developed a seriously decadent habit of eating them out of a bowl while watching Star Trek reruns.
Ella Q. March 24, 2019
I regularly eat them at my desk as a snack! (Also excellent frozen...)
d W. March 25, 2019
We always have a jar of them in the kitchen for snacking and a number of bags of them for cooking and baking. If they can't be eaten 'raw' they shouldn't be used in cooking is a paraphrase of one of my aunties. She was always right.