My mom just came back from an almost month-long stay in Paris. She came back with presents for us all, most notably a thick slab of foie gras for my sister, and unsweetened cocoa powder for me. You can see the various brands in the photo. The other goodies you see are a bar of Valrhona dark chocolate with orange peel and a small bottle of dehydrated rose buds. I’m especially pleased with the Valrhona because a half kilo of the stuff here in Manila costs nearly P500!
Cocoa powder is light brown, naturally acidic, redolent with the fruitiness of cocoa beans, and bitter with a deep chocolate flavor. Once cocoa beans have been fermented and roasted, the nibs are ground to extract the cocoa butter, leaving behind a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. When this is dried and ground, it’s then called cocoa powder.
Most people think that the darker a cocoa powder is, the more chocolate flavor it has. On the contrary, darker cocoa powders are the result of a process called dutching, where cocoa powder is treated with an alkali. This reduces its natural acidity, which makes the cocoa more mellow and less bitter, as well as darker. The cocoa powder that’s used in Oreo cookies is the color of cocoa powder that’s been “dutched” to death.
Dutch-process cocoa powders and natural cocoa powders (like Hershey’s) are not better than one another, just different. Knowing which one to use for which recipe will give you better results. In recipes that call for baking soda, use natural cocoa powder; the acid in the cocoa mixing with the leavener will create the lift that your baked goods need. When your recipe calls for baking powder, use dutch-process cocoa powder. In recipes with no leavener required, you can use either type of cocoa powder. Just in case you were wondering, if there is too much alkali in a baked product (i.e. using dutch-process cocoa powder with baking soda, the batter will not rise properly and your baked product will have a soapy taste).
In my experience, the best brownies I’ve made use a little of both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. Cocoa powder is the next best thing to having a roasted chocolate pod, since it gives a hard chocolate hit. Sometimes when I want my brownies to be extra-dark (read: black) then I add a tablespoon or two of black cocoa.
And oh, you can also make a good cup of hot chocolate with cocoa powder. Add a tablespoon of cocoa powder into a cup with some hot milk. Stir until you have a thick paste and then add the rest of the hot milk in. Don’t get lazy and just dump the cocoa powder into the hot milk ”“ it will never dissolve. (Been there!) Add some sugar to taste and there you go.