Tag Archive for: tips for better baking

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: Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda (#40)

Tips for Better Baking: Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Knowing your ingredients is key to becoming a better baker. In this edition of Tips for Better Baking, let’s go over the difference between baking powder and baking soda.

Both baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents that cause baked goods to rise. While similar in purpose, they are very different in composition.

According to The Pastry Chef’s Companion:

Baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate) is an alkali leavener used for making baked goods. When it is combined with an acid and moisture, it produces carbon dioxide, which causes batters to rise. Without an acid ingredient to neutralize the alkalinity of the baking soda, baked goods will have a metallic, soapy taste.

Baking powder is a leavening agent used for baked goods that consists of baking soda, cream of tartar or other acid, and a moisture absorber such as cornstarch. Double-action baking powder releases once when dissolved and again when exposed to heat.

Tip for Better Baking: Baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable  Since baking powder already has an acid in it, it is typically used in recipes with non-acid ingredients such as Dutch process cocoa powder or cream. Baking soda is used when an acid such as lemon juice, buttermilk, or natural cocoa powder is present in the recipe. 

You may notice some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda. This is the case when extra rise is needed or when you want to keep a bit of tangy, acid flavor.

Tips for Better Baking: Keep an Ice Bath Nearby when Making Caramel (#39)

Tips for Better Baking: When making caramel, always have an ice bath nearby.

The biggest challenge when making caramel is knowing the fine line between the desired deep amber color and a bitter burnt mess. When I teach my caramel classes, I always tell students this trick:

Tip for Better Baking: When making caramel, keep an ice bath nearby. If your caramel is about to burn, simply dip the bottom of your pan into the ice bath to quickly stop the cooking. 

To make an ice bath, find a bowl or container that’s bigger than your caramel making pot and fill it up half way with ice and water. If the caramel looks like it’s about to burn, take the pot off the heat and dip the bottom into the ice bath to quickly cool it down.

Once you get experienced with making caramel, this step isn’t always necessary. You start to learn the personality of caramel and are able to judge when it’s at the desired deep amber color. However, an ice bath provides a nice safety blanket to use when you aren’t yet comfortable with the caramel making process.

Here’s another tip for making caramel sauce: Tips for Better Baking #30

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.