Cooking Chocolate Face-Off

Posted by in Chocolate Reviews on May 30 2011 | Leave A Comment

Some months ago, as I was wondering the aisles of my local Foodland, I found Nestlé Plaistowe 70% cooking chocolate. I was curious, but decided to come back to it some other time.

Then, more recently, I found alongside it, Lindt Dessert 70% specialty cooking chocolate. Now I was intrigued, for two reasons, one slightly more off-beat than the other.

For years, the kind of chocolate I ate was pretty much limited to Cadbury Dairy Milk, and there’s only so much of that I could take anyhow. When I was a kid and teenager, Mum had this strange stuff now and again called “cooking chocolate”. And later after I was married, my wife would sometimes be making chocolatey things and it would appear in the fridge as well.

This cooking chocolate always seemed to have the magical properties that anybody who broke lumps off and walked away munching on it would get their fingers smacked; that by the cooking this chocolate somehow became “better”. And of course when I found it, the amount of it would somehow shrink.

It was not until much later that I looked at labels to find that most common supermarket cooking chocolates are 40% cocoa solids at most, and packed with vegetable fats and other things that, these days, I regard as unacceptable.

The second reason for being intrigued was that I still don’t understand the idea of most home-grade cooking chocolate being low grade junk. OK, its often a bit less milky, but a 40% cocoa chocolate padded with palm oil and god-knows-what puts me in the mind of what cooks are told about wine: If It’s Not Good Enough To Drink You Should Not Cook With It. So how come it’s OK to cook with crappy “cooking chocolate”?

Professional cooks have couverture chocolates available – high quality, and packaged to allow easy use in cooking, usually without the need to smash a block to pieces; its home cooks who suffer the low grade muck.

So having found two readily available cooking chocolates, both 70% cocoa, both aimed at the home cook, it seemed time to put them to the test. And the only sensible test I can think of is to use that approach about wine: don’t cook with them. Eat them, and see what they are like.

So without further ado:

Nestlé Plaistowe 70%

The label proudly proclaims “Intense and Indulgent Real Chocolate for Cooking”. A check on the back of the pack shows typical ingredients for a 70% cocoa: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, flavour. But there are also two that are a little unusual: milk solids and butter oil. I’ve eaten plenty of eating chocolates like this, so its no big deal. I’m guessing butter oil will make it slightly softer. Milk solids is a bit odd.

The label isn’t exaggerating – this is a very pleasant, rich, powerful 70% chocolate which you could happily cook with or just eat as it is. It’s not excessively sweet, there is a very tiny hint of a cocoa powderiness, but you really have to search to find it.

I wondered if perhaps the Plaistowe name had some kind of long and colourful tradition, in the manner of Cadbury Bourneville. As far as my research shows the name is just the creation of the marketing department.

Lindt Dessert 70% Specialty Cooking Chocolate

The chap with the big hat and his whisk on the front of the pack certainly leaves no illusions about the intended purpose of this product. Again, it was time to check the ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, reduced fat cocoa powder, cocoa butter, lecithin, flavour. Seeing “reduced fat cocoa powder” is the unusual one here. I’d take a wild guess that many chocolates are fortified with cocoa powder and it can be wrapped up in the guise of “cocoa mass”. Actually saying so on a label is the odd part.

Again, this is a pleasant, rich, powerful 70% chocolate. Again, I’d quite happily cook with it. It’s also a pretty good eating chocolate, but by comparison with the Plaistowe, this has a slightly harsh note. I can’t really pick what or how – it just seems a little less refined – in the genteel rather than industrial sense of the word. If anything this is slightly more bitter.

Neither of these 200g blocks are especially cheap, coming in at about A$5 each – so the no-name brands are around only because they are very cheap. For cooking, either of these will do a reasonable job. Depending on what you make them into, you could choose either and be well served; if making something with minimal other ingredients go for the Nestlé Plaistowe.

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Comments On This Post

  1. I remember thinking, when I was a child in the 70s, that ‘cooking’ chocolate was a completely different and disgusting product, on a par with the ‘choc drops’ we used to give to the dog (which I presume, in hindsight, didn’t have chocolate in them at all, because chocolate is supposed to be bad for dogs, isn’t it?). Bournville, on the other hand, was the height of sophistication. How the world has changed…

    • Ashleigh

      Up through into the ’70s Bourneville *was* the height of sophistication. (Well, up to a point… The book “Chocolate Wars” tells some interesting stories of what used to be in chocolate, and its not pretty. And it is an exaggeration – certainly up to the 1930′s or so, in England and The Colonies / The British Empire.)

  2. ChristopherD

    For the Lindt, I’m guessing the less genteel note was the cocoa powder. I’ve noticed in a few bars with cocoa powder on the label that there is less of a refined mouth feel or harsh taste. The added cocoa powder might work better for flavor in cooking though.

    As for the Hershy’s- again, maybe the milk solids would help with baking or other cooking. That is odd though. I say make a batch of chocolate chunk cookies from both and compare!

    By the way, I’ve been reading for about a year, and really like all the reviews.

  3. Nathalie

    Hi. What is the difference/ what are the qualities that make a chocolate fit to eat or designed to be cooked with?
    Nathalie

  4. Ashleigh

    As ChristopherD says (above), perhaps the cocoa powder changes its character when cooked…

    But my view is that a cooking and an eating chocolate should both be of high quality, and if you don’t like to eat it (before cooking) then don’t use it.

    If you look at where cooking chocolates are used, it ranges hugely – from just melting it to pour over something (in which case you really do want something good), to use in the old standby chocolate mousse (again, use quality), cakes/baking, and on and on an on. I really can’t think of a case where the cheap, low cocoa, “vegetable fat”-laden stuff can be magically transformed into “good”.

  5. David Sandilands

    Plaistowe was a West Australian confectionery and sandalwood oil company, originally situated in Havelock Street, West Perth, where the site is remembered as Plaistowe Mews. I think it closed down in the mid 1960s and may have been bought by Nestlé at the same time.

  6. caroline t

    what’s the difference between cooking dark chocolate and normal dark chocolate? Just had a block of Nestle Plaistowe 70% and I thought it was rather nice! Not bitter at all. I’m thinking I’ll have to try Lindt 70% now :) Your blog is great by the way, very informative!

    • Dom (Chocablog Staff)

      Cooking chocolate is usually just poor/average quality dark chocolate. In general, use the best quality normal dark chocolate you can afford for cooking. The better the quality of your ingredients, the better the final product will taste. :)

    • Ashleigh

      I agree with Dom. Any good dark chocolate of reasonable cocoa percentage can be used in cooking. (Me… I’d go 70% and above).

      The interesting thing for me, in this review, is that these are 70% chocolates aimed squarely at the home cook. Does this somehow make them different to an eating chocolate, or special? I think not. In fact, these are both quite acceptable eating chocolates, and both are well suited to cooking. I’d buy these any time in preference to the “home brand” or supermarket own-brand products that are frequently about 40% cocoa and full of all kinds of unmentionables.

      In the case of the slight harsh note on the Lindt, my guess is that if you used this in something with other ingredients (eg, a luscious chocolate cake which has added sugar), a mousse, etc etc, then the melting, combining, etc, with everything else will make that harshness disappear.

      The eating-as-it-comes-from-the-packet test is a pretty harsh test. But fair (as for wine, as I wrote), because if something is not good enough to eat from the pack, don’t cook with it.

      My GUESS is that both of these products are the result of the marketing depts saying “ooh look, a market [ie cooking] which is served by no-name rubbish… lets reformulate something half decent and drop it in there at a suitable price and add some competition.”

      As I mentioned, neither are cheap, and so for the companies making these products, they would be picking up sales they might otherwise completely miss, and making a decent margin on it while they do so. Quite clever, actually.

      If you price it in $ per kg, the price of comparable eating and these “cooking” chocolates is roughly comparable…. and possibly (just possibly) you might find the cooking chocolates a tiny bit cheaper.