The One Baking Ingredient I Always Splurge On
This ingredient is worth the few extra dollars, and you should always keep it on hand.
I always have a bag of chocolate chips in my pantry. Sometimes, two.
With a bag of chocolate chips, you’re a handful of ingredients away from chocolate chip cookies at any time of the day (or night) and any day of the week. The other cookie ingredients—sugar, flour, butter, salt—are always in my pantry, too.
You’re also one microwave melt away from turning those baked goods into presentation-worthy drizzled cookies for a pot luck or welcoming gift for your new neighbor.
Chocolate chip-zucchini bread for my friend who just brought her baby home from the hospital? Yes, that’s easy to make when I have chocolate chips on hand.
In short, there’s no reason not to keep a bag of chocolate chips in your pantry at all times. (I hear they also make a great late-night snack straight from the bag.)
But I don’t keep just any basic chocolate chip on hand.
All these cookie batches and blondies for co-worker birthdays I’ve made in my life mean I’ve tried my fair share of chocolate chips, from the bargain basement store brands to the fancy hard-to-pronounce ones, too.
Here’s what I’ve found: there is a difference. A big one.
Are Expensive Chocolate Chips Worth the Money?
Inexpensive chocolate chip brands are fine, but you trade off a few things in terms of flavor and texture when you opt for the $2 bag over the $5 bag.
First, most cheap chocolate chips use stabilizers to help the chips keep their shape, even when hot from the oven. These stabilizers aren’t necessarily bad, and they’re certainly not unsafe to eat. They’re just not essential, and they can make the chips a bit waxy or plasticky.
Most of the more expensive brands don’t use those stabilizers. (Guittard, a favorite of mine, uses sunflower lecithin, a type of stabilizer that’s often used to prevent foods from sticking.)
Also, I’ve found that more expensive brands, perhaps because of the cleaner ingredient list, have a nicer texture than the cheap options.
Their flavor is far superior, too. Most cheap chips are just sweet. Sugar dominates the palate. They have very little nuance.
More expensive options, on the other hand, are deeply flavorful with notes of cocoa, vanilla, and often spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The chocolate flavor, even those that call themselves semisweet, is intensely rich and dark. The complex flavor is especially prominent in the most basic preparations, like cookies and blondies.
The Best High-End Chocolate Chips to Buy
Guittard Semisweet Chocolate Chips are the holy grail for me. They’re not the most expensive chocolate chip brand on the market, but for the price (about five to six dollars per bag), they’re the best in terms of complexity, texture, and versatility.
These chips are a little low in cacao for my tastes—I like bittersweet chips, which start around 70 percent cacao—so I will frequently mix the brand’s semisweet with the Extra Dark, which has 63 percent cacao.
I’m also a big fan of chopping chocolate bars and sprinkling the shards into cookie batter (yes, along with traditional chips) for miniscule pockets of chocolate in every single bite. I have two Valrhona Chocolate Bars in my pantry right now just for this reason.
With bars, the darker the better for me, but anything around 60 percent dark chocolate is great for baking. The bars impart a rich cocoa bite to blunt the super sweet edge of the dough.
Bottom line: If you’re a baker with sights on impressing guests, splurge for the upscale chocolate for the most complex, rich flavors possible. The benefits go beyond flavor, however. The chips with a slightly higher price tag are incredibly smooth and intense. They also spare you the cheap plasticky bite and they will make your baked goods a stand-out treat among subpar pastries.