Brownies are a classic chocolate dessert -- easy to make and easy to love. They are, essentially, a chocolate bar cookie. There's no standard recipe for this baking basic -- rather, there are hundreds of variations. Different forms of the main ingredient, chocolate, can be used, depending on your preference. One tip, though: Save your fanciest chocolates for nibbling. Most of the subtleties of a gourmet chocolate will be lost once melted and baked into brownie form.
Semisweet chocolate is the classic chocolate chip chocolate -- in fact, you can use melted chocolate chips or chunks for your brownies if you like. Semisweet chocolate contains about 40 to 60 percent cocoa solids, which gives it good flavor balanced with a pleasant sweetness.
Bittersweet chocolate is darker than semisweet, with more cocoa solids -- about 60 to 85 percent. The higher the percentage, the stronger the chocolate flavor, as well as the bitterness. Bittersweet chocolate can provide a more intense brownie experience than semisweet. It's perfect for those who like their brownies dense and without add-ins.
Some brownie recipes call for unsweetened baking chocolate and compensate for the lack of sweetness by upping the sugar content of the recipe. Baking chocolate cannot be eaten straight from the bar. It is, essentially, 100 percent cocoa solids.
Brownies can also be quite successfully made with cocoa powder rather than solid chocolate in the recipe. Cocoa powder is easier to handle than baking chocolate, as the latter must usually be carefully melted, usually in a double boiler, before being added to a brownie batter. Either Dutch-process cocoa or natural cocoa powder may be used to make brownies; Dutch-process cocoa will provide a richer flavor and darker color to the finished product.