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Test Kitchen tips: Natural versus Dutch-process cocoa powder

December 12, 2012|By Noelle Carter
  • Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)

Like chocolate, cocoa powder is made from cacao beans. After the beans are processed into a paste known as chocolate liqueur, some of the cocoa butter is removed and the remaining solids are pulverized into a powder.

Natural (or non-alkalized) cocoa powder is typically sold unsweetened, and although it may taste rather bitter and harsh on its own, its natural acidity works with baking soda to help leaven baked goods, giving a finished dish a balanced chocolate flavor.

Cocoa powder is often treated with an alkali to make what is known as Dutch-process or alkalized cocoa. The alkali helps neutralize the natural acidity of the powder, giving the cocoa a more mellow and smooth, less bitter flavor.

Because of this, Dutch-process cocoa is often preferred when "dusting" or garnishing a finished cake or desserts; in baking, it's used in recipes that call primarily for baking powder as a leavener. It can also have a richer, deeper color than natural cocoa.

When baking, keep in mind that natural and Dutch-process cocoa powders are not always interchangeable -- blindly substituting one for the other can upset the delicate chemical balance in a recipe, spoiling results and flavor (you don't want your chocolate cake to taste like it was made with soap). Sometimes one cocoa powder can be substituted for the other in recipes. According to "The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion":

If a recipe calls for natural cocoa and baking soda and you want to use Dutch-process cocoa, substitute an equal amount of Dutch-process cocoa but replace the soda with twice the amount of baking powder. If the recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa powder and baking powder, substitute the same amount of natural cocoa but replace the baking powder with half the amount of baking soda.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at


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Devil's food doughnuts

Total time: About 1 hour

Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 dozen doughnuts

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

3 tablespoons butter

3 cups (12.75 ounces) flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup strong coffee, cooled

Canola oil for frying

1. In a glass bowl or measuring cup, combine the bittersweet chocolate and butter. Microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until the chocolate and butter have melted and are combined. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the sour cream, vanilla and melted chocolate.

4. Gently beat half of the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, into the egg mixture, then beat in the coffee. Continue to beat in the rest of the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of the ingredients are combined and a sticky dough is formed.

5. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a round just over one-half inch in thickness. Using a doughnut cutter, or 2 biscuit cutters (a larger one measuring 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter, and a smaller one measuring about 1 inch in diameter), cut the dough into doughnuts, spacing the doughnuts as close as possible. Collect the scraps and roll out to form another batch of doughnuts (note that this batch may be a little tougher than the first as the dough has been worked).

6. Fill a deep fryer with oil, or fill a large pot to a depth of at least 3 inches, and heat to a temperature of 350 degrees.

7. Gently place the doughnuts in the fryer, being careful not to crowd. Fry the doughnuts on each side until puffed and golden, about 4 minutes, flipping every 30 seconds or so.

8. Drain the doughnuts on a rack and cool slightly, then frost and decorate as desired.

Each doughnut: 300 calories; 4 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 21 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 55 mg. cholesterol; 8 grams sugar; 168 mg. sodium.

Chocolate glaze

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: Makes about 2 1/2 cups glaze, enough to frost a batch of doughnuts

1 pound bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (chips or finely diced)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup water

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons corn syrup

Pinch salt

1. Place the chocolate in a large bowl.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cream, water, vanilla, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a good simmer over high heat. Remove from heat.

3. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and gently stir to combine, melting the chocolate and forming a glaze.

4. The glaze will thicken as it cools. This makes 2 1/2 cups glaze, which will keep for up to 1 week, covered and refrigerated. Rewarm slightly to thin.

Each tablespoon: 81 calories; 1 gram protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 7 mg. cholesterol; 4 grams sugar; 5 mg. sodium.

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