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Tips for Better Baking: Natural vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder (#41)

Tips for Better Baking: Natural vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder comes in two main varieties, natural and Dutch process, and they are not always interchangeable. Acid is an important part of the reactions in baking and the two types of cocoa powder vary greatly in their acidity.

Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are roasted and then ground into a fine powder after most of the fat is removed. Natural cocoa powder is acidic and often paired with baking soda (an alkali) in recipes to balance the flavor and create carbon dioxide bubbles that help baked goods rise in the oven.

Dutch process cocoa powder is made in a similar process except using cocoa beans that have been washed in a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity. Dutch process cocoa powder is darker in color, less acidic and has a more mellow, smoother flavor than natural cocoa powder. Since Dutch process cocoa powder is not acidic, it will not react with baking soda to create lift and rise in baked goods. It also will not balance the pH of the baking soda and can result in a bitter flavor.

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Tips for Better Baking: Always Sift Cocoa Powder (#38)

Tips for Better Baking: always sift cocoa powder before using it in a recipe.

Cocoa powder is notoriously clumpy. If you add it straight to a recipe, it can be nearly impossible to break up the clumps and you’ll end up with dry spots in your finished product. In order to avoid this frustration, I always sift cocoa powder (at least once, sometimes twice!) before using it in a recipe. I find it’s easiest to sift onto a piece of parchment paper but into a bowl works well too.

Tip for Better Baking: Always sift cocoa powder. Measure the required amount, pass it through a fine mesh strainer onto a sheet of parchment, and then use it in the recipe as called for. 

If you have an old-fashioned flour sifter you can use that but I prefer to use a fine mesh strainer.