To understand where cocoa powder comes from, let’s briefly examine the manufacturing of chocolate. I won’t get into too much detail here, because my classmate Monoara and I plan to describe manufacturing information in a separate, detailed post.
Raw cocoa nibs are ground into chocolate liquor. During the grinding process, the cell walls of the nibs are broken and the frictional heat liquefies the cocoa fat, which makes up 52 percent of the chocolate liquor.
Cocoa butter is extracted from chocolate liquor by way of hydraulic pressing. It is filtered into channels around pots that hold the chocolate liquor.
Cocoa powder is the substance left when chocolate liquor is pressed and most of its cocoa butter is removed. The resulting cocoa cake (from zero to 24 percent fat content) is ground into a fine powder. The concentrated, unsweetened cocoa left behind has a distinctive chocolate taste, but since it retains only 10 to 22 percent of its cocoa butter, it usually lacks some of the full, rounded flavour of good-quality chocolate. Don’t confuse cocoa with instant hot chocolate mix, which is a mixture of milk powder, sugar, cocoa and flavourings.
There are two popular and quite different styles of cocoa powder:
Natural/American/breakfast non-alkalized cocoa, such as Hershey’s.
In natural cocoa, the chocolate’s natural acid is left untreated, giving the finished product a robust, slightly sharp taste. This cocoa is often made by way of the Broma process, invented by Ghirardelli in the 1800’s. It employs heat to allow cocoa butter to drip away from cocoa solids (the residue that becomes cocoa powder). More cocoa butter (fat) is extracted by using the Broma process than using a hydraulic press, and less fat remaining in the cocoa (powder) makes it easier to dissolve the cocoa into liquids. Broma process cocoa also has a more intense flavor than Dutch process cocoa, as no alkalis are added to the cocoa. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broma_process
In Dutch process or “Dutched” cocoa, the acid is neutralized with an alkali, giving the cocoa power a milder taste but a darker, noticeably reddish colour. This is often the chef or discerning home baker’s cocoa of choice. I personally find its flavour superior to regular, natural cocoa.
You can also buy black cocoa, which is heavily-dutched cocoa powder. Oreo cookies are a great example of black cocoa. Because of its strong flavor, it is normally used in conjunction with other cocoa powsers, more as a colour booster. Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder is heavily Dutched, and is close to black cocoa powder. King Arthur sells true black cocoa. Neither of these brands is for sale in Canada that I know of, but you can buy them online or at many U.S. grocery stores, if you happen to be passing through.
Because natural cocoa powder hasn’t had its acidity tempered, it is generally paired with baking soda (alkali) in recipes. Dutch-process cocoa is frequently used in recipes with baking powder, as it doesn’t react to baking soda the same way as natural cocoa.
You can swap either type of cocoa powder in recipes calling for small amounts, especially in sauces or ice creams. However, in general, if a batter-based recipe calls for natural cocoa powder, only use natural, or your results might not be what you expect. The main difference will be a darker colour and more complex flavor versus a lighter colou and flavour. It may not actually ruin your recipe, but just be aware of the differences.
If you’re interested in purchasing higher-end and/or organic cocoa powders, then here are some great on-line sources. I especially love the aroma and flavour of Valrhona.
http://www.amazon.com/Callebaut-Baking-Cocoa-Powder-2-2lb/dp/B000CD9P88 (this one is only moderately alkalized)
http://www.chocosphere.com/Html/Products/valrhona-chef.html (Valrhona, Callebaut and other high-end brands of cocoa powder and chocolate in general)
If you’re watching your fat intake, then cocoa powder is a great alternative to other types of chocolate. Hershey’s even offers it in a completely fat-free form. While 0% cocoa isn’t ideal for all types of baking, it makes a decent cup of hot cocoa or brownies. Dutched cocoa in particular is great for drinks because it dissolves so easily.
Cocoa powder is also a key ingredient in most brownie recipes.
As previously promised, here are some cocoa recipes that I hope will inspire you. Happy eating and drinking!
Hot cocoa with marshmallows: try adding some cayenne pepper or rum!
Best cocoa brownies: use the best cocoa you can afford as it is the star ingredient!
Suggested wine pairing: Ruby port or Banyuls, a sweet Southern French dessert wine
Marcel Desaulniers’ chocolate truffles (one of my favourite chocolate chefs in the world – I have all of his books and watched his show, Death by Chocolate
Suggested wine pairing: Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon