Skip to main content

Exploring Chocolate: Sweet and Savory Baking and Cooking

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Mmmm, chocolate!

Mmmm, chocolate!

I Have No Shame

I love chocolate. I am an unabashed chocoholic.

  • If given a choice between a savory, juicy Porterhouse steak or Lindt dark chocolate with a hint of chili pepper, I’d choose the Lindt.
  • If the choice were between a sweet, succulent lobster tail with drawn butter, or a Ghirardelli 70 percent cacao, there would be no need for a bib.
  • If I had to choose between George Clooney on a deserted island or a Fran‘s dark chocolate/sea salt caramel, well, I’m afraid I’d have to break someone’s heart.

Several months ago I wrote an article about chocolate ganache. Although ganache is made of two (and only two) ingredients, the process of creating it can be a bit intimidating—especially for inexperienced cooks.

You know, of course, that chocolate can be used in any number of amazing and easy desserts—cakes, pies, and cookies. I will share a few of my favorite recipes for those with you. But did you know that you can cook with chocolate, too?

What Is It About Chocolate?

I did a Google search for "chocolate" and got 66,700,000 hits. That's a lot of interest in a mere bean.

I'm joking, of course. Referring to chocolate as a mere bean is like calling Handel's Messiah a nice little song, or Monet's Water Lilies a pretty painting.

I have had a love affair with chocolate for as long as I can remember (although some days that's not saying much).

But even as a child I didn't care much for Hershey bars. My tastes leaned more toward the dark chocolate of Sno-Caps or nonpareil wafers.

What Makes Chocolate So "Dandy"?

  • 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine (caffeine): Excites the central nervous system in a way that mimics the “fight or flight” response (heart rate goes up and muscles contract).
  • Cannabinoids: Closely related to THC-9, the active ingredient in marijuana. Gives a relaxed, intoxicated feeling.
  • Phenylethylamine: Often called the "love drug," since it releases the same chemicals that are introduced into the human body when love comes to call. It acts on the dopamine receptors in the brain—pushing our happy button.

Baking With Chocolate

When you read through recipes for chocolate cakes, brownies, or cookies you might notice the inclusion of an unlikely ingredient—coffee. Believe it or not, a touch of coffee will not impart a mocha flavor to your baked goods. (You would need to add a lot of coffee for that to happen.)

So, why add coffee at all?

Experiencing chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. As wine grapes are influenced by soil and climate, chocolate also picks up nuanced flavors from variances in altitude, terrain, and weather. Good-quality chocolate contains hints of fruit and spice—coffee contains those same flavors. So the addition of a bit of coffee enhances and deepens the perceived chocolate experience.

When I want something a bit more indulgent than a chocolate bar to satisfy my craving, I often bake cookies. Chocolate chips are OK in a pinch, but I prefer something a bit more intense. Brownies are comforting (I prefer the fudgy kind). And then there are chocolate crackle cookies. Sinfully dark and dense, moist on the inside and covered in a crisp coating of powdered sugar.

Today I was wondering if there was some way to make them even more enchanting? What about turning a chocolate crackle cookie into a thumbprint cookie, and then filling the indentation with chocolate hazelnut spread?

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Delishably

Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners sugar for rolling cookies
  • About 1/2 cup chocolate/hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk, milk, and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, and salt and gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and chill for at least one hour or overnight.
  2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Form dough into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies). Roll in confectioners sugar to cover. Place cookies 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.
  3. Using the end of a wooden spoon handle, make a 1/2-inch indentation in the center of each ball. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool. Fill the indentations with about 1/2 tsp of chocolate/hazelnut spread.
Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies

Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies

Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies


  • 12 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (2 squares)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil—the ends of the foil should extend over two sides of the pan to use as "handles" to help remove the brownies from the pan once they are baked and cooled. Lightly butter the foil, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and sugar and then whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly blended. Stir in the vanilla and flour.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the edges are set. The center will still be soft. While the brownies are still not, sprinkle the salt on the top and press gently so that it adheres to the top of the brownies. Let cool to room temperature, remove from the pan, and cut into squares.

"When Harry Met Sally" Chocolate Cake

This recipe has many clever names—"Better Than Sex," and "Next Best Thing to Robert Redford" are two examples one can find on the internet.


  • 1 box chocolate cake mix, any kind will do
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, (not evaporated milk)
  • 1 jar ice cream topping, (see note below)
  • 1 small container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped


  1. Prepare the cake mix according to package directions. Stir in the espresso powder. Bake in a 9x13-inch baking pan and let cool for about 10 minutes.
  2. Poke 12 evenly-spaced holes in the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon. Fill the holes with the condensed milk. This will take a few minutes. You will need to fill the holes one at a time, wait a moment while the milk soaks in, and then repeat the process until all of the milk is used.
  3. Next cover the top of the cake with the ice cream topping. Save about 1/4 cup of topping to drizzle on the finished masterpiece. Place the cake in the freezer for about 20 minutes. This will allow the ice cream topping to firm up a bit. Remove the cake from the freezer and cover it with the whipped topping. Drizzle with reserved ice cream topping and then sprinkle on chopped nuts.
  4. That's it—cover the cake and store it in the refrigerator.

In Heaven, chocolate has no calories, and is served as the main course.

— Anon.

Cooking With Chocolate

There are five distinct tastes that the human tongue recognizes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

The first four you are probably familiar with:

  • Sweet: A pleasurable sensation produced by sugars.
  • Sour: The detection of acidity—the most common foods that contain the sour taste are citrus fruits, some melons, and some unripened fruits.
  • Salty: Mostly from the presence of sodium.
  • Bitter: Usually deemed unpleasant or disagreeable. Black coffee and unsweetened chocolate fall into this category.

And then there is umami. Umami is a Japanese word for "pleasant savory taste," a meaty taste. There are several natural, non-meat foods that have an umami flavor—tomatoes, mushrooms, soy, potatoes, carrots, Parmesan cheese. And, unsweetened chocolate.

When you add one of these ingredients to your savory cooking, you deepen and enhance all of the other flavors. It's like adding an MSG kick in the pants to your cooking—without the side effects. Here are two suggestions for using chocolate in your savory dishes.

Beef Chili With Stout (and a Secret Ingredient)

Beef Chili With Stout (and a Secret Ingredient)

Beef Chili With Stout (and a Secret Ingredient)


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 pounds ground chuck
  • 7 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 12 ounces stout beer
  • 1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained


  1. Add the olive oil to a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until just fragrant.
  2. Stir in the beef, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until browned, about 6 minutes.
  3. Drain the beef mixture through a colander. Add it back to the Dutch oven and stir in the chili powder, cocoa powder, oregano, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir the tomato paste into the beef mixture; this will "toast" it and give the chili more flavor. Add the beer and stir up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, and then add the canned tomatoes, sugar, stock, and beans. Simmer on medium-low for 2 hours, stirring on occasion to keep the bottom from sticking.

And, then there is mole.

Notice How They Swoon at the Taste of the Mole Sauce

Keith Schroeder, former editor of Cooking Light magazine, and famous author presented this rich, savory dish in his new cookbook, Mad Delicious. Don't let the lengthy list of ingredients discourage you from making this meal for your family. It will be one of the best things you have ever cooked for your family, and they will recognize you as a rock star.

The Chocolate Family Tree

  • Cacao (Cocoa) Beans: This is where chocolate begins. Cacao beans are the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree which grows in a very limited climate zone—only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
  • Cacao Nibs: These are the "meat" of the beans. The beans are cleaned and then roasted in carefully controlled temperatures to bring out their full flavor and aroma. The outer shells are then removed and the nibs are ready for the next step.
  • Chocolate Liquor: This is what makes all real chocolate products. The nibs are ground by a process that creates enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter, thus creating the liquor.
  • Cocoa Butter: This is the vegetable fat that is extracted when the chocolate liquor is pressed under high pressure. This butter has a unique melting quality that gives chocolate its wonderful texture.
  • Cocoa Powder: There are two types of cocoa powder. American Process is what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the liquor. There are no additives or preservatives—it is 100 percent pure and has the lowest fat content of any chocolate product. Dutch Process cocoa is made from chocolate liquor that has been treated with an alkali agent. This makes a darker powder with a more intense cocoa flavor.
  • Bitter Chocolate: This is commonly called unsweetened, baking, or cooking chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor, cooled and molded.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate: A combination of chocolate liquor with added cocoa butter and sugar. Technically it must contain 35 percent chocolate liquor. Available in bars and chips.
  • Sweet (Dark) Chocolate: Combines the same ingredients as semi-sweet chocolate but in different proportions. It has a higher sugar content and at least 15 percent chocolate liquor.
  • Milk Chocolate: Again, like semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk or cream and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor.

© 2015 Linda Lum

Related Articles