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When to Use Bittersweet, Semi-Sweet, and Other Baking Chocolates

White chocolate mousse; chocolate chip cookies; a chocolate tart
Ghirardelli/Hershey’s

Baking with chocolate produces some of the most delicious treats imaginable, but it’s important to know when to use the different types. If you’re unsure which type of chocolate to use, this simple comparison will help you out.

From the dark, rich taste of bittersweet, to the not-quite-chocolate flavor of white, each type of baking chocolate has its own particular niche. If you’re unsure which type you need, you’ll find the most common uses of each below. And while we won’t be covering 100% unsweetened chocolate in this article, stay tuned!

So, before you get started on that holiday baking, make sure you have the right chocolate for the job!

Bittersweet Chocolate

A chocolate tart with shaved chocolate on top; a stack of fudge
Ghirardelli

Bittersweet chocolate is typically the darkest as it has the highest cacao percentage (usually between 60-70%). It has a rich, intense flavor that isn’t particularly sweet.

For many people, the difference between bitter- and semi-sweet chocolate isn’t that noticeable, especially when chocolate is a secondary flavor, such as in chocolate chip cookies. Where you will notice a difference is in a recipe that highlights rich, deep chocolate, like a cake, tart, or ganache.

Bittersweet chocolate usually comes in a bar, rather than chips or chunks. Ghirardelli’s Premium is on the lower percentage end, but don’t let that fool you—it offers plenty of rich, dark chocolate flavor.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate

A close-up of a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips; a stack of chocolate chip cookies
Nestle Toll House

By far, the most versatile type of baking chocolate is semi-sweet. It lives up to its name, with a flavor that’s “sort of” sweet. It has lower cacao content (usually between 50-60%) and higher sugar content than bittersweet. However, it’s still less sweet and milky than milk chocolate.

Due to its moderate flavor and sweetness, semi-sweet chocolate can be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for chocolate pieces or melted chocolate. It’s the most popular choice for chocolate chip cookies, but it’s also great for frostings, brownies, and cakes.

The iconic brand of semi-sweet is, of course, Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips. Get them for all your baking needs, and you’ll rarely go wrong.

Milk Chocolate

A plate of chocolate chip cookies; a white bowl of milk chocolate chips
Hershey’s

You’re probably used to eating milk chocolate in candy, but it can also be used for baking in some circumstances. Milk chocolate is a little trickier to handle, as it has a higher proportion of milk solids and added sugar, which can mess with the melting process and flavor.

It’s also a little too sugary to use as the primary ingredient in things like brownies, chocolate cake, or tarts. Instead, use it in smaller amounts as a creamy, sweet “accent” flavor. For example, try making chocolate chip cookies with half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate chips. Or, carefully melt some milk chocolate to dip some cookies or truffles in, or to drizzle on top of a tart.

If you’re going to use milk chocolate, you might as well use the name in the game; Hershey’s Baking Chips make it possible to get all the creamy goodness of your favorite candy bar in your baking recipes.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Baking Chips, Three-Pack

Add the flavor of the iconic candy bar to your baking.

White Chocolate

A cheesecake with raspberries on top; two glasses of white chocolate mousse
Ghirardelli

Technically, white chocolate isn’t even chocolate. It doesn’t contain any cocoa solids, which are what define the chemistry of “chocolate.” However, it does have cocoa products in it, including a combination of sugar, cocoa butter, milk products, and other ingredients.

Because of this, it has a very different taste than other types of chocolate, and it tends to behave differently when melted, as well. Still, white chocolate works in many baking recipes, you just have to know what flavor you’ll be getting. Its sweet, but vanilla taste pairs beautifully with many fruits and nuts.

Throw some chunks into your cookies or melt some to blend into a sweet frosting. You can also use it in treats that typically call for dark chocolate, like candy or ganache, as long as you find a recipe designed specifically for white chocolate. Otherwise, the difference in ingredients and melting behavior can leave you with a gooey mess instead of a glossy glaze.

If you’re ready to experiment, grab a bag of Ghirardelli Classic White Chocolate Baking Chips. They’ll provide just the right amount of sweetness in any recipe that needs it.

Ghirardelli Classic White Premium Baking Chips

Okay, so it's not really chocolate, but we love it anyway.


The holiday season is prime baking time, and now that you know which type of chocolate to use in all of your treats, it’s time to get busy!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »

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