Everything You Need To Know About Baking with Cocoa Powder

This is pure chocolate.

IMAGE Simone_ph from Pixabay

Cocoa powder is just a chocolate bar in powdered form. It's an essential ingredient in all things chocolate-flavored because if you're not using the luscious, intense, and dark cacao bars for baking, you're most probably using this ground-up powder instead.

In fact, we think you should be baking with cocoa powder more often. There are several reasons why. Cocoa powder delivers a more intense chocolate flavor than those high-quality bars can! That's because cocoa powder is pure chocolate. There are no other ingredients added to this dried and ground-up version of the cacao beans than those high-quality bars! Think of cocoa powder as a more concentrated form of chocolate. In its powdered form, it's much easier to use, too. There's no danger of accidentally burning your chocolate as you melt it. 

Plus, cocoa powder is more readily available than the cacao bars. 

Are you convinced yet? If you have a packet or container of cocoa powder just sitting on your kitchen shelf, here's how to use it: 

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1 Know the kinds of cocoa powder. 

Did you know that there are at least two kinds of cocoa powders on the market? These are natural cocoa powder and Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa powder. You can tell with a glance which is which: natural cocoa powder is lighter in color while Dutch-processed cocoa is much darker.

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In fact, these two cocoa powders do not just look different, but these also need to be used differently in your recipes. That's why when using cocoa powder, you'll find a few ingredients, such as the leavening agents and even the liquids used, are different from those you use when using Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

Cocoa powder is made through the grinding of the cacao beans until the oils from the cacao beans are extracted, creating a paste. This paste is also how cacao bars are made. Cocoa powder, however, has the cacao butter extracted from this paste to create the dried powder which is the more shelf-stable chocolate of the two.

This is natural cocoa powder,and it's naturally acidic.   

The Dutch-processed cocoa powder goes through another step. An alkali solution is used to treat the cocoa powder to lower its acidity through a process called dutching.  

You may have come across recipes that call for black cocoa powder. This is basically a cocoa powder that has been Dutch-processed to a stronger degree, resulting in a much darker color and more intense chocolate flavor. Use this as you would any Dutch-processed cocoa powder.  

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2 Don't substitute one cocoa powder for the other.

Are you using natural cocoa powder but the recipe uses a Dutch-processed cocoa powder? Don't substitute it! The difference between the two cocoa powder is more than just its looks! These two kinds act differently in recipes. Natural cocoa powder is considered an acidic ingredient while the Dutch-processed cocoa powder is a neutral ingredient. Using the wrong kind can lead to your dessert failing.

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Since natural cocoa powder is an acidic ingredient, the leavening agent and even the liquid used is different from that of those used in recipes that use Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Here are the differences: 

Recipes that use natural cocoa powder commonly use baking soda so it has an acidic ingredient to react with once wet. Recipes, however, that use Dutch-processed cocoa powder  commonly use baking powder which already contains both an acid and an alkali ingredient that reacts to each other once wet. This is one of the many reasons why baking is a science! 

Mistake one for the other and you will have a chocolate dessert that doesn't rise right. 

The only exception to this baking rule is usually recipes that are not baked. This means chocolate frostings and chocolate desserts that do not need any leavening such as chocolate pudding and hot chocolate. Choose the cocoa powder you like the taste best. 

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Photo by Simone_ph from Pixabay

3 Always sift after measuring.  

Once you know what kind of cocoa powder you're using, measuring the cocoa powder is just like measuring flour. Scoop your cocoa powder into a measuring cup and level, or weight it. However, in both cases, you should always sift the cocoa powder before adding it to the batter. 

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That's because cocoa powder has a tendency to clump into little balls. Sifting breaks up these clumps, resulting in a much smoother batter.     

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4 When adding cocoa powder, substitute it with the flour. 

Are you making a chocolate dessert that wasn't meant to be chocolate in the first place? That's great! We love the fact that you're experimenting in the kitchen. However, if you're making a chocolate dessert using cocoa powder, you should know that you need to substitute the same amount of flour for the amount of cocoa powder you're using. If you're adding 1/4 cup cocoa powder to make your vanilla cake recipe chocolate, remove 1/4 cup flour to make up for it.  

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Cocoa powder is a starch and can make your dessert drier than normal. That's why many recipes that use cocoa powder have more butter or oil than normal to make up for this characteristic of cocoa powder. 

Baking is very much a science but with a little education, you are now prepared to bake anything using cocoa powder in almost any baking situation!  

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