Most cocoa powder can help make foods delicious and chocolatey, but not all cocoa powder is meant for every recipe.
When taking a jaunt down the baking aisle, you may notice two types of cocoa powder overwhelming the shelves: Natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder (a.k.a. regular unsweetened cocoa powder) and Dutch process (alkalized) cocoa powder. The differences are slight, but they matter in certain recipes.
The powders are interchangeable for some things: When the recipe does not call for a leavener like baking powder or baking soda, feel free to go wild with either one (things like hot chocolate, chocolate sauce and chocolate frosting will taste great no matter what).
But you’ve got to be more discerning with baked goods that do include a leavener in the recipe. Typically, natural cocoa powder, which tastes intensely bittersweet, is used in recipes like these (unless the recipe states otherwise). The acidic (non-alkaline) properties of natural cocoa powder will counterbalance the alkaline of the baking soda. Dutch-process cocoa, on the other hand, is treated with alkaline, which makes it taste less bitter and powerful. In this sense, its more palatable when used as a coating (see the Whiskey Truffle recipe way below).
The next time you’ve got the urge to bake up something chocolatey, you’ll know precisely which powder to grab. Check out these recipes below — three that use natural, three that use Dutch process — to ignite the chocolate idea factory.
We sell five types of Dutch-process cocoa, in our catalogue and on our Web site. All have been taste-tested by our “panel of experts,” and selected on the basis of both the flavor they carry, and the “look” they lend baked goods.
I’ll list those cocoas here (plus natural cocoa); keep the A-B-C designations in mind, as the baked goods in the experiments that follow will be labeled with letters, rather than the name of the cocoas.
A. Black Cocoa, a cocoa that’s been more heavily Dutched than usual, giving it very dark color and intense flavor;
B. Double-Dutch Cocoa Blend, a combination of Dutch-process cocoa and black cocoa;
C. Triple Cocoa Blend, a blend of Dutch-process cocoa, black cocoa, and natural cocoa;
D. Bensdorp Dutch-Process Cocoa, a high-fat Dutch-process cocoa;
E. Cocoa Rouge, a Dutch-process cocoa that lends baked goods appealing reddish color;
F. Natural cocoa (Ghirardelli natural cocoa is included here for purposes of comparison)
These cocoas look quite different, don’t they? But as you’ll soon see, the color of the raw cocoa doesn’t always translate to the color of the brownie. Or cake. Or hot fudge sauce.
First, let’s briefly explore the difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa.
Natural cocoa is solid unsweetened chocolate (baker’s chocolate) that’s had most of its fat removed before being ground into powder.
Dutch-process cocoa is natural cocoa that’s been treated with an alkalizing agent to lower its acidity, thus allowing more of its pure chocolate flavor to shine through.
The difference in acidity between natural and Dutch-process cocoas means that they can’t be seamlessly interchanged, one for the other, in every recipe. While natural cocoa will give your baked goods a different flavor and color than Dutch-process, the main difference is one of leavening.
If you’re preparing a recipe that uses baking soda as its leavener; and if there’s nothing else acidic* in the recipe, then natural cocoa is your cocoa of choice. Its acidity neutralizes baking soda’s potentially strong, “soapy” flavor; and because natural cocoa is acidic, and baking soda is a “base” (remember your chemistry?), when the two get together they produce a reaction: CO2 bubbles, which make your cake, brownies, cookies, or whatever you’re baking rise in the oven.
Alternatively, if the recipe you’re making includes baking powder (or baking powder and baking soda both, with baking powder predominating), choose either natural or Dutch-process cocoa. Since baking powder is already balanced (acid/base), the cocoa is there less for its part in the leavening process, more for its flavor.