Homemade Valentine’s Day treats get a boost of flavor from cocoa powder, either natural or Dutch-process. But what’s the difference?
Americans love chocolate, but we don’t generally know much about it, including how to handle it in the kitchen. Cocoa powder, for example, gets a bad rap for being an inferior product to, say, baker’s chocolate. On the contrary, cocoa powder is the pure essence of chocolate, without any added fat or sugar to detract from its inherent goodness. In fact, if we were forced to choose, we’d rather have high-quality cocoa powder in the test kitchen pantry than chocolate itself.
If you’re a Good Eats fan or a frequent user of our recipes, you may have noticed the delineation “natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)” on a few of our chocolate applications. Why? Well, the answer is both simple and complicated. Essentially, not all cocoa powders are created equal.
In 1828, a Dutch chocolatier named Casparus van Houten, Sr. patented a screw press capable of squeezing chocolate liquor — not a type of alcohol, but rather cacao nibs crushed to a paste — so that the fat or cocoa butter could be separated from the cocoa solids or “cake.”
Finely crushing the densely packed cake gave birth to natural cocoa powder, which is easily recognized by its brick-red color and bitter flavor.
His son, Coenraad Johnannes van Houten is sometimes credited with the invention. Either way, the younger van Houten continued tinkering and found that by treating the cocoa with an alkaline solution, the flavor of the powder mellowed, and the color darkened quite a bit. To this day, this type of cocoa powder is referred to as Dutch-process or “Dutched” cocoa.
Since they don’t taste or look anything alike, the well-stocked pantry should be home to both natural and Dutch-process powders. They are not always interchangeable, especially in baked goods where the difference in acidity can really throw things off.
So, where exactly does cocoa powder come from? It’s actually a natural extension of the chocolate-making process:
Now that you’ve been acquainted with the magic of cocoa powder, let’s try some decadent applications:
Chocolate Syrup: Reloaded
Black cardamom and Dutch-process cocoa powder add depth of flavor to this rich, homemade chocolate syrup.
Cocoa Brownies: Reloaded
Natural cocoa powder takes center stage in these fudgy brownies. A short rest in the middle of the bake results in a gooey center and flaky crust.
Hot Cocoa: Reloaded
Toasted milk powder introduces notes of caramel, toffee, and malt to this Dutch-process cocoa powder-based homemade hot chocolate mix.
Cocoa Whipped Cream
Our homemade hot cocoa mix shows its versatility as a chocolate flavor agent in this light whipped cream frosting.
Midnight Mug Cake For 2
Made with both Dutch-process cocoa powder and chocolate chips, this double-chocolate mug cake comes together in just 15 minutes for the perfect Valentine’s Day or date-night dessert.