Sunday, June 19, 2011

How to shop for chocolate like a cheapskate

Dear Tricia, When making chocolate cakes, what do you think gives you the most chocolate taste: melted chocolate chips, baking chocolate or powdered cocoa?  You know, the most bang for your buck?

Awesome question, with kind of a definite answer, and kind of not.  Let me back up for a moment and explain the difference between the 3 chocolates in question.

Chocolate chips are almost always semi sweet or bitter sweet.  Sweet is the operative word here: it means that sugar has been added.  Any time sugar has been added to chocolate, there is less cacao (not to be confused with cocoa- sorry all you Dyslexics), and cacao is what gives you that chocolate-y taste.

Unsweetened baker's chocolate is 100% cacao.  (Side note, remember what we all did as kids?  You mom would be using it in a recipe and you would insist on trying it, even though she warned you that you wouldn't like it.  And you'd try it anyways and be so surprised that it was awful?  Ok, back to chocolate now.)  By itself, bakers chocolate it gross, but once you add it to a recipe with lovely fat and delicious sugar, it gives you great chocolate flavor.

Cocoa powder, simply put, is roasted cocoa beans that have 75%-90% of the cocoa butter removed (cocoa butter is what gives chocolate that melty, buttery feel in your mouth), and then pressed and ground into powder.  It also gives you great chocolate flavor.  Some, but not all cocoa powders are 100% cacao.

The first thing I have to address is that the recipe used is a huge variable here.  A recipe made with a lot of egg whites is going to give you a lighter tasting chocolate cake than one with butter and sugar and loads of cocoa powder.  Knowing that, lets talk bang for your buck.  I'm always up for a bargain.  (Picture me shopping at Fiesta yesterday for produce- 20 limes for a dollar?  Hell yes.)  To try and be as accurate as possible, I have taken prices of chocolate from my local Fiesta Super Mercado (in Dallas, home of our national champions, The Dallas Mavericks, thankyouverymuch) and averaged them out with prices from a supermarket outside of Chicago and prices on  I do not recommend purchasing your chocolate off, by the way.  Its kind of overpriced.  Stick to Fiesta.  Plus, all those limes....

On the back of any box of Hershey's cocoa powder, there is a conversion chart for using cocoa powder instead of bakers chocolate or semi sweet chocolate chips.  Since I'm only on my first cup of coffee, I'm going to use their chart as an example to tell you which gives you the best deal.

Let's pretend you're using a recipe that calls for 2 ounces of bakers chocolate.   If an 8 oz box of bakers chocolate costs $6.84, then each 1 oz square costs about 86 cents.  That means you're using about $1.72 worth of chocolate for your recipe. 

Your average 8 oz can of cocoa powder costs $3.59.  It takes 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to equal 1 ounces of bakers chocolate.  So for this recipe, if you substitute cocoa powder instead of baker's chocolate, you'll use 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder.  If there are about 45 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a can, that means each tablespoon costs about 8 cents.  So 6 tablespoons equals about 48 cents worth of cocoa powder.   (Are you listening, Mrs. Bilbrey?  I was paying attention in fifth grade math.)

Now let's talk chocolate chips.  Those guys, semi or bittersweet, have sugar in them- completely different than our sugar-free friends we just priced out.  If you use them in place of baker's chocolate, you want to make sure you take out about 3 tablespoons of sugar for every ounce you use.  Just a head's up.  But for consistency, let's price it too.  Chocolate chips weigh the same as baker's chocolate, they're just in little delicious kiss shapes.  The average price of a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips is $3.36.  That means every ounce is about 28 cents.  This means your recipe will use about 56 cents of chocolate. 

It looks like cocoa powder is going to win here, but if you want to get really technical, chocolate chips and cocoa powder are actually going to come in pretty damn close because when you use the chocolate chips you have to take out some of the sugar.  Less sugar means less money, and every bit counts.  If you take the sugar variable out of the equation, cocoa powder is going to be your cheapest bet.
And here's a helpful hint- anytime you use chocolate in a recipe,  add a little bit of fresh-brewed coffee. It brings out the chocolate flavor and you'll never taste the coffee.  What else have we learned here?  That I has friends all over the country who can give her a heads up on regional chocolate prices, I totally love a bargain, and I'm a secret math genius.  I also clip coupons.  You heard it here first. 

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