Valrhona Dark Chocolate
Why I recommend Valrhona dark bittersweet chocolate for baking…
For starters, it’s French. Similar to champagne, French chocolate ranks at the top, in terms of taste and quality, among the culinary elite. I’ve also read that a lot of professional chefs say Valrhona is the best for baking.
The House of Valrhona has been making chocolate ever since 1922, so they’ve had almost a century to perfect the art of harvesting, roasting, and grinding cocoa beans. When you buy Valrhona, you know you are getting high quality chocolate: the fat content is 100% pure cocoa butter. The fat in lower-grade chocolates is usually a blend of cocoa butter with other ingredients, and this can diminish the pureness of the chocolate’s flavor and aroma.
Although Valrhona is expensive (about $19.00 per lb), I only need about 2-5 ounces per recipe, so the relative cost is manageable for the kind of small scale, domestic baking that I do. You can buy a 3.5 oz bar for $2.99 at Trader Joe’s ($18.73 per lb). Or, if you need thicker blocks of chocolate (for shaving), you can find blocks at Whole Foods for $19.99 per lb (eg, a 3 oz block costs $3.80). A little bit goes a long way.
I tend to gravitate toward Valrhona’s dark chocolate varieties. Dark chocolate generally consists of 62%-70% cocoa and contains little or no milk. I tend to stay away from extra-bittersweet chocolate (which is usually 85% cocoa), due to the extremely bitter taste. Milk chocolate (which is usually ~ 50% cocoa) is mainly used for baking cookies.
While I do prefer Valrhona for baking, when it comes to eating chocolate, there are so many good chocolatiers from around the Bay Area, not to mention all over the globe, that it would be difficult for me to recommend a favorite. Chocolate makers are adding really creative ingredients to their products these days (eg, fleur de sel, cardamom, chipotle, etc.)
I think most people would agree that chocolate, in whatever shape or form, makes the world a better place to be…