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Hello fellow chocoholics! I have chocolate on the brain today because I’m going to make Hedgehog Cookies later, so I thought I’d talk about chocolate for baking. Having grown up in the States, I was reared on Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. Most Americans are familiar with the cookie and its time-honored recipe (since 1939). Some folks may use Hershey’s chocolate chips, or morsels, but I have always been a loyal Nestle’s fan. Until this year, semi-sweet chocolate chips have been nearly impossible to buy in supermarkets in England. I have always ordered them from Skyco in Surrey (or Mom sends them to me).

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For recipes that call for squares of chocolate, I have always used Baker’s, another American label. The brand is reliable and I’ve used many of the recipes printed on the back of the box too. While this brand is unavailable here (except through Skyco and other mail-order outlets), quality bittersweet chocolate bars are easy to find and many have more than Baker’s 54 per cent cacao.

Bittersweet chocolate, otherwise known as semisweet or dark chocolate, has recently found favor for its heart-health benefits because it is rich in flavonols. In addition to containing antioxidants, which allow your body’s cells to resist damage caused by free radicals, flavonols have other potential influence on vascular health. These include lowering cholesterol, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, and assisting blood platelets to clot.

What’s more, as you probably already know, bittersweet chocolate is good for your mental health too. Its smooth, intense flavor melting on your tongue is enough to perk you up on its own, but dark chocolate also causes the release of neurotransmitters, which speak directly to the brain. The confection helps to improve the flow of endorphins (known to improve mood, lessen pain and relieve stress) and serotonin (the brain’s feel-good chemical).

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Unsweetened chocolate is another story here. It’s nearly impossible to locate a bar of unsweetened chocolate here; I’ve read so many labels! However, Waitrose shops recently started stocking Willie’s Cacao, made by “The Chocolate Man”, Willie Harcourt-Cooze. These mini-barrels of solid artisan chocolate come in several varieties, such as Venezuelan Black (100% Rio Caribe Cacao) with its complex nut and coffee notes. All you have to do is chop or shave it and it’s ready to use. The flavor is superb.

I hope you can find good-quality chocolate where you are because tomorrow I’ll share two recipes that use semisweet or unsweetened chocolate: Brownie Thins (studded with pistachios) and Dunkable Brownies — irresistibly good brownie cookies.

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