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Dec. 8, 2019

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Best baking chips beyond chocolate

Tasters rate caramel, butterscotch, mint, coffee and more

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Published: December 1, 2019, 6:00am

Chocolate chips are far and away the king of the hill when it comes to baking morsels. They are versatile, delicious and infinitely snackable straight from the bag. I always have a package (or three) of semisweet or bittersweet waiting in my pantry. The yin to their yang, white chocolate chips, are a staple as well. But what about when you want something different? Something more colorful? Something that will make your tasters stop midbite in (hopefully) appreciation of a unique flavor?

Enter what I’m calling the alternative baking chip flavors. We held an informal taste test to vet some of the options out there, especially now that holiday baking season is hard on our heels. Below find our thoughts and a few suggestions for using them — the ones we liked, anyway.

• Butterscotch

We tried two brands, Guittard and Nestle Toll House. Had we tasted them separately, it would be hard to recall any difference. While we liked them both, we gave a slight edge to Guittard, which had a less cloying sweetness and more butter in the butterscotch. One person said the Nestle chips tasted sort of fake, more on the spectrum of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.

I happen to love butterscotch chips in pancakes, with or without chocolate thrown into the mix. Butterscotch chips play a starring role in Seven-Layer Bars (also known as Hello Dolly Bars). Swap them in for chocolate chips in an oatmeal cookie. They’re also a natural pairing with apple.

• Mint

This was another Guittard-Nestle showdown, and again, both were acceptable with a slight preference for the Guittard. The Guittard chips reminded tasters of both mint ice cream and the buttermints you may have grown up scooping out of the bowl at your local Chinese restaurant. The Nestle mint chips, which come mixed in a bag with chocolate, were a little more astringent, with a flavor reminiscent of Andes mints.

Mint is, of course, a natural pairing with chocolate. We’d fold the green chips into any brownie of your choosing or a chewy chocolate cookie. Incorporate them into a ganache or chocolate frosting. Mint chips would also work in chocolate bark, whether it’s dark or white.

• Caramel

We could hardly stop eating the Hershey’s sea salt caramel chips, which boasted actual crunchy salt we could feel. The Ghirardelli caramel chips definitely had more buttery flavor (it reminded me of Werther’s Original), although we found the chalky texture somewhat off-putting.

Caramel chips would be a swell substitute for the butterscotch chips in the aforementioned seven-layer bars. Naturally, they would also be right at home in basically any kind of drop cookie or blondie. The Hershey’s chips would be particularly excellent in a chocolate chip cookie, and we’re very much into the idea of adding caramel chips to a peanut butter cookie.

• Coffee-ish

This was not the strongest group. Unfortunately, we cannot endorse the Nestle espresso chips, which tasted bitter and burned, like coffee left sitting in the carafe on the coffee maker too long. The Baileys Original Irish Cream chips (sold by Clabber Girl) were not great, albeit passable. The Baileys flavor was pretty much undetectable, and we’re skeptical it would be there at all once baked. Of the three, we liked the Rex Coffee espresso chips the best (another Clabber Girl product), though they, too, were weak on the coffee flavor. They were more like dark chocolate chips than anything else.

Coffee and chocolate are an ideal couple, so like the mint chips, we’d be tempted to use at least the Rex chips in brownies or ganache.

• Peanut butter

This was another disappointingly meh entry from Nestle, also mixed with chocolate chips. “I don’t know what’s going on there,” one tester said. “The chocolate doesn’t taste like chocolate, and the peanut butter is really weak,” added another. The Reese’s, however, more than made up for its lackluster competition. As you might expect, the chips taste just like the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Nothing wrong with that! We appreciated the hit of salt in these chips, too.

Peanut butter chips in banana muffins would channel a classic after-school snack. Consider them for ganache and frosting, as well.

• Cinnamon

Hershey’s for the win again. Their cinnamon chips were unabashedly cinnamony, almost bordering on Big Red gum or Red Hots candy, but we liked them nonetheless. Baking with them, especially in a buttery treat, would help counteract the boldness.

The first use we all thought of was scones. While we’re well aware that a great snickerdoodle needs no additions, if you want to chip up your batch these would be a prime candidate.

• Unicorn

Yes, we’ve saved the worst for last. In the words of one taster, these colorful chips from Nestle were “vile.” How could something that tastes like nothing also taste so bad? The fact that the Blue No. 1 Lake and Red No. 3 were listed before the vanilla extract in the ingredients list should have been a warning.

In our opinion, they’re purely decorative.

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