Unsweetened or “bitter” chocolate is, as the name implies, very bitter, and is often up to 99% pure chocolate. It is also known as “plain” or “baking” chocolate.
It is pure chocolate liquor, or the meat of the cocoa bean with no sugar added. It has an intense chocolate flavour, partially because of the concentration of chocolate solids (42-50 percent). The rest of its flavour and fluidity comes from cocoa butter which, by U.S. standards, must make up at least 50-58 percent of the total.
Since unsweetened chocolate contains no sugar and has a much higher percentage of chocolate solids and fat (the cocoa butter) than most sweetened chocolate, you cannot simply eat it out of hand. It tastes too strong and bitter. You can’t just add sugar and substitute it for sweetened chocolate either; the final product may be too oily and taste too strong. It isn’t interchangeable with semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, although it is often used in conjunction with one or both. The general rule of thumb is:
Substitution for 1 ounce (30 grams) of unsweetened chocolate: 3 tablespoons (18 grams) of unsweetened natural cocoa powder (see explanation in cocoa powder portion of this blog) plus 1 tablespoon (17 grams) of unsalted butter or shortening.
Unsweetened chocolate is baking chocolate in its rawest and arguably purest form. The quality of this chocolate is determined by the cocoa beans used and the processing method (see Monoara’s blog entries on manufacturing).
Check out the following article and video from America’s Test Kitchen. The article contains a lot of information on the makeup of chocolate, and in the video, professional tasters plus a studio audience rate various commercial brands of unsweetened chocolate, with surprising results. America’s Test Kitchen (both the PBS show and the books) is geared towards home cooks rather than professional cooks or chefs. I have to say that I enjoy their recipes plus the fact that they take time to explain the science of cooking and baking. Interesting stuff.
And now, for the best part: here are some fantastic recipes you can make with unsweetened chocolate. Bon appetit!
Chocolate Espresso Torte
Suggested wine pairing: sherry, pinot noir or merlot
Suggested wine pairing: Moscato, cream sherry
Suggested wine pairing: Ruby port or merlot