I definitely understand why people buy the cheapest, or maybe even more frequently, the second cheapest chocolate at the grocery store for baking. The price difference between that and the really good stuff can seem astronomical. A bag of Toll House chocolate chips comes in at around $3.00/lb (which, if you think about it, is kind of mind bogglingly inexpensive), whereas an equivalent of a more premium variety can easily be ten times that much.
Additionally, there are great many expensive food items where the price tag does not necessarily equate to an equal increase in quality. Take for instance the price difference between premium grocery store or farmers market eggs with the budget eggs available in most stores. The price difference per dozen can sometimes be more than 400% despite the fact that all eggs taste the same.
This sort of disconnect between price and quality can, understandably, dissuade many frugal shoppers from even trying higher end products. Especially when they’re already familiar with and enjoy a more value-focused brand. But folks, let me assure you that chocolate is not one of these products. When it comes to arguably humanity’s favorite sweet treat, you really do get what you pay for.
Pain au Chocolate made with Valrhona Caraibe 66%
Ever wonder why the chocolate chip cookies or chocolate croissants, or chocolate cake from your favorite bakery tastes so much better than the ones you make at home? It’s not (just) because they have a better recipe or better technique. It’s because of the chocolate. Quality bakeries are willing to shell out the extra cash for high end chocolate because they know the superior quality will keep people coming back again and again.
Homemade Mallomar made with Valrhona
Luckily for us, we have access to the same chocolate they buy. Unluckily for us, it is basically never just sitting on a store shelf to be scooped up and purchased at a moment’s notice. That's why I buy online, and I buy in bulk. That way, I’ll pretty much always have some on hand should the need arise. Because this type of chocolate is most often bought by restaurants or bakeries, often times the only way to purchase it is in large bulk bags of around 5 pounds. These bags can be a bit gut wrenching to buy because they often come in at over $100 (sometimes well over). But honestly, that much chocolate will last you a long long time. I go through about one of those bags a year, and I use a fair amount of chocolate. That means on average I pay more for Netflix (significantly more now actually) every month than I do for having world class chocolate in my pantry whenever I need it.
However, there are a handful of websites that will re-package these bulk bags into smaller quantities so you don’t have to shell out so much at once if you don’t want to. My go-to placate buy this type of chocolate is Caputo’s Market (they have an incredible selection and give lots of detailed info on each type), but a simple Google search will yield others like worldwidechocolate.com.
So what do we look for in a high end chocolate? My advice is to first look for the right brands.
Common restaurant brands include Callebaut (which we carry at The Chopping Block) and Cacao Barry (these are both owned by the same company, but the chocolate technically is still different between them), but the real gold standard among most pastry chefs and bakers is Valrhona.
Valrhona makes a wide variety of different chocolates for baking from blends to single origin offerings in a vast array of different cacao percentages to satisfy most any palate. But there are lots of others. Amano, for instance is considered one of the best chocolate makers on the planet, and Caputo’s carries their chocolate in bulk (amazing). Honestly, anything from the Caputo’s craft chocolate selection is worth a try. Once you have found a good brand simply peruse their selection for one that sounds like it suits your taste. Most websites provide very helpful tasting notes giving you a sense of what the chocolate is like before you buy.
Another nice thing about this type of chocolate is that, since it's largely targeted at professionals, it usually comes in small oblong disks of tempered chocolate called feves. These are a convenient size for measuring and melting, but it's the fact that they are tempered that is really nice. This means that even if you melt a bunch down, and don’t use it all (heaven forbid), you can just pour the remainder out into a pan lined with plastic wrap, let it set, and save it for another day.
Blocks of leftover tempered chocolate I saved after use
This does mean you need to be able to temper chocolate which can be intimidating, especially with expensive product. However if you’re starting with tempered chocolate in the first place, you’ll find that this is actually quite straightforward.
I hope this post has inspired you to treat yourself to some really nice chocolate (you deserve it!). And if it's really whetted your appetite for working with the stuff, be sure to check out our upcoming Chocolate Lover’s Paradise class on Friday, February 10 at 11am.