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All About Chocolate

by Paula Deen Test Kitchen

Whatever the type of chocolate – semisweet, bittersweet, unsweetened, or milk – it all comes from the cacao bean. Cacao pods are fermented, the shells removed, and the beans are roasted and ground into a fine mass (paste) that can be separated into two components: cocoa solids (commonly called cocoa powder) and cocoa butter.  Each chocolate maker, called a chocolatier, combines these in different proportions but generally blends cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar with other ingredients – emulsifiers, flavors, and milk solids if making milk chocolate – and forms his mixture into blocks and bars of chocolate.

To make unsweetened chocolate, the ground chocolate mass is not separated; it is melted into chocolate liquor, then cooled and molded into blocks of unsweetened chocolate.  Most often used for baking, it adds rich chocolate flavor without loading the brownies, cookies, cakes, or breads with additional fat. Brownies, such as Crème de Menthe Brownies, and cakes, such as Boston Fudge Cake with Fudge Sauce, are good examples.

The cacao content marked on the package will indicate how sweet the other varieties of chocolate will taste. For example, “60% Cacao” on a bittersweet chocolate label tells that the chocolate consists of 60% cocoa butter and chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate mass), and the remaining 40% is made up of sugar and those optional ingredients.

Bars labeled with a higher percentage of cacao will taste more intensely chocolate and less sweet. Bittersweet chocolate can contain from 35 to 99 percent cacao (cocoa butter and chocolate liquor); semisweet chocolate varies from 35 to 45 percent cacao.  The two chocolates can be used interchangeably if the cacao percentages are comparable; those found in the baking section of grocery stores have similar profiles. Bittersweet chocolate chips typically contain more cacao than semisweet chocolate chips and therefore will taste a little more intensely chocolate. Old-Fashioned Fudge Pie and Peanut Butter Cups in the Basket call for semisweet chocolate, but you could safely substitute bittersweet.

Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor and the rest is milk solids, milk fat, sugar, and other ingredients. The chocolate will be lighter in color and chocolate flavor, making it perfect for blending with other flavors like you find in Chocolaty-Peanut Butter Encrusted Rum Cake and Sweet Dreams Chocolate Fudge Candy.

White chocolate has no cocoa solids, but it contains 20 percent cocoa butter along with milk solids, milk fat, and other ingredients determined by the manufacturer. Its creamy texture and mild vanilla flavor is dreamy in Malted Marshmallow White Chocolate Royale and White Chocolate Cherry Chunkies.

The quality of the chocolate does not relate to the percentage of cacao, but rather it is dependent on the origin of the chocolate.  Behind good quality, out-of-hand eating chocolate bars, there is a huge investment of time, money, and effort to find the beans and produce the chocolate. To distinguish quality, smell it.  If it is of poor quality, you will immediately smell sugar and artificial vanilla or metallic nuances. Tasting it will confirm what you smell.  If the chocolate is of high quality, the smell and taste will be more complex; nothing like sugar or vanilla will scream at your senses. The nuances of taste and smell will be complex and of the land—earthy, fruity, flowery, exactly the same as wine. 

Chocolate liquor and cocoa powder give chocolate its taste, but the cocoa butter is responsible for texture.  It is a naturally occurring vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature but melts when it comes in contact with your body temperature.  Chocolatiers who make premium quality eating chocolate pride themselves on how their chocolate melts in your mouth; the chocolate is crafted for you to savor as it melts smoothly and slowly.

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Reader Comments:


Paula, Can you keep the chocolate and send us your handsome sons?

Mary Campbell of Summersville WV on February 08, 2010 05:58 PM

Hello Paula,

I like your lesson on how chocolate is made.  I read between the lines, and that is how my husband was made into a man too. smile The next time you are in the “Ham Town” look me up.  I am Councilwoman Denise N. Tynes.  Keep the good recipes coming.  Another Southern Lady, Denise

Denise N. Tynes of Smithfield, Virginia "Ham Capital" on February 08, 2010 06:05 PM

Paula, I love ya to death Honey ! But, although this was very informational, it was BORING ! I wouldn’t expect that from you. I love to cook, and one does need to know what they are dealing with. As a southern cook, I am much more interested in eating the chocolate, and using it in recipes, than knowing how it is made ! LOL I will look on your top ten recipes, and see if anything sounds romantical to eat for this Valentine’s Day coming up ! I was thinking about making some Rocky Road Fudge Bars ! They are Delish! It is on the order of a brownie, only to die for, and best eatin’ very cold ! Love your shows/books. I totally identify with you, except for the gettin’ rich and famous part ! I’m 42, and in the poor, startin’ over phase of my life! I am trying to figure out how to support me and my youngin’s. Your phrase,” Do what you Know” keeps going through my head ! Best wishes/and dishes to u and yours !

Marie Darrell of Mt. Sterling, KY on February 08, 2010 07:40 PM

I love chocolate so much, but am diabetic and have to limit my intake.  Can you come up with something very tasty for us diabetics out here?  Love ya to pieces!!!!

Charlotte Weaver of S. Central Oklahoma on February 08, 2010 07:58 PM

Love it because I Love me some Paula Dean!

Judy of Vale, NC on February 08, 2010 09:29 PM

all i can say is yummy. these are quick and easy ! love it…

Melissa Napier of Manchester KY on February 08, 2010 10:13 PM

I LOVE PAULA DEEN!!!!!!!!!!!

Jim of NJ on February 09, 2010 09:37 AM

Thank you for the chocolate lesson and your show, our whole family enjoys it. I have been using “black cocoa powder” in my recipes and LOVE the taste of it, it also seems to keep the brownies/cakes moist.  Could you give a incorporate it in some of your recipes-it does have a different richer taste.

Sonjia Grotewiel of New Bloomfield, MO on February 09, 2010 10:22 AM

Sounds good Paula,Will have to give them a try.

kathy carlson of Mill Creek, Wash on February 09, 2010 12:04 PM

I am a diabetic and have to limit my chocolate intake.  I satify my chocolate appetite by eating sugar-free chocolate pudding.  It can be found in your local grocery store. I love Paula and her boys too.  Hello to Bubba

Ethel Cook of Killeen, Texas on February 09, 2010 02:03 PM

Hi Paula

Any recipes from you are certainly the greatest!
Hope your Cruise was fantastic, wish I could have been there. Maybe next time!  Keep the chocolate ideas coming

vicki Lawrence of okeechobee,fl. on February 09, 2010 03:36 PM

My husband and I are also diabetic’s and we both love chocolate and get into trouble with them please help.

JANICE QUEEN of Georgia on February 09, 2010 04:56 PM

love all your recipes and especially the chocolate fudge recipe——my mother used to make it and I had lost it until I bought your Christmas Book   family loves it thank you for being you

carolyn wilhoit mirabella of follansbee west virginia on February 09, 2010 06:05 PM


kirten marzka of pennslyvania on February 10, 2010 11:14 AM

i love watching you cook, your show is one my husband will set and watch with me.hope to some day catch you on tour . love jan

jan howes of burton, mich on February 10, 2010 07:58 PM

Paula, thanks for a great read. You are simply amazing. I am going to try your strawberry cake and compare it to my husbands nana. Love all your cookbooks and magazines. Love LT

Lauren Turner of Columbus,Ga on February 11, 2010 02:29 PM

Hi Paula I just love your show. The recipes and most of all your bubbly personality . I pray every day that God will keep you safe and your family .Keep the recipes coming. But I ask that you throw in some more sugar free recipes too cause I am diabetic Ok Thank you God bless.

Bea Chiasson of Marrero La. on February 11, 2010 03:56 PM

hi paula i´m in the hospital and i saw ( sorry my english please)for first time your program |awesome¡ i dont see the tv never because i have an orfanage with 20 babys is exausting but beatifull, the last thursday (jueves) you show me meet with nuts, i see the fish, the jello but in the desert with chocolats with nut the nurse take mi for the laboratory, y i last the recipe, can you tell me where i can find this recipe, i want make for my kids. thank you and lord bless you. gina

gina morales of guadalajara jalisco mexico on February 11, 2010 06:20 PM

Paula thanks for the information your just the best, hope some day to meet you and your family, iam always to late to get good tickets for your shows.Happy Valentines day and God Bless!

Rosie Church of Southampton n j on February 11, 2010 09:08 PM

Paula i love everything about you, i have your cook books, watch all your shows, Would love to be in your kitchen with you cooking.
Adelle Scott
Rocky Mount Va.

Adelle Scott of Rocky Mount Virginia 24151 on February 12, 2010 06:23 AM


Your Chocolate Valentine’s Day recipes are absolutely awesome!  I make gift baskets and the orders I took this year had some added treats ... homemade goodies thanks to you and these easy and inexpensive to make recipes.

Love saving money and making goodies for my honey! Your the best; God Bless !!!

Jill M. Johnson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana on February 12, 2010 10:37 PM

looking for a receipe for a S’More pie. can you help?

margaret hanna of wilmington delaware on February 12, 2010 11:18 PM

Today, Feb 17, 2010, I watched but did not copy your simple, but not heavy recipe for Barbecued Ribs while recuperating from UTI. . . Cannot find it among your list of recipes.
Would appreciate if you could send to “”, or direct me to correct page.
Many thanks. . . .
Enjoy your show AND recipes. . .
GOOD downhome cooking. . . wink

Letti Hanlin of FL on February 17, 2010 07:38 PM

  you made a choclate dessert for valentine’s day three kinds of cholate in phyllo dough into purses ,I lost the receipe can it be sent thru an e-mail to me please, thank you a thacker

ann thacker of spotslyvania v.a. on February 18, 2010 04:23 PM

paula -
Is there ny recipes you could share with a diabetic and someone that has high cholesterol.I would really appreciate it
thank you .

wendy of south carolina on February 18, 2010 08:22 PM

Hey Margaret Hanna of Wilmington! I have used this recipe for a smores pie in the past and it was good! Super sweet, but aren’t smores supposed to be?
Have fun with it!

Libbie Summers on February 19, 2010 09:36 AM

Margaret Hanna of Wilmington, Sorry, I forgot the link! Here it is:

Libbie Summers on February 19, 2010 09:37 AM

Hi Paula, My mother use to make a scratch coconut cake. the icing was fluffy but she didn,t use the seven minute frosting . I can;t find an fluffy icing receipe

caeol king of tenn on April 16, 2010 09:21 AM

Your Chocolate/Velvetta Cheese Fudge has become a favorite of mine. I make it for Christmas to add to my goody bags that my husband and I give as gifts. I make the sweets and hubby makes a his “Oldav8r Salsa”. Everyone loves our goody bags and expects the home made items. Thanks for your recipes that I have added to my favorites.

Janice Walsh of Seabrook, S.C. on October 04, 2010 10:14 PM

Where can I find Chunk chocolate?

debi of orlando on December 02, 2010 10:21 AM

I love your site.
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