When it comes to delivering deep, dark chocolate flavor, plain old cocoa powder is hard to beat. Made of finely ground partially defatted cocoa solids, it comes in two styles: natural (simply labeled unsweetened cocoa powder) and Dutch-processed (or alkalized), which has been treated with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity. Both taste bitter out of the box, but natural cocoa, which is lighter in color, has a fruitier, more acidic chocolate flavor, while Dutched cocoa, is mellower, with an almost nutty flavor.
2-1/4 oz. = 3/4 cup
In recipes without a chemical leaven (baking soda or baking powder), you can substitute Dutch-processed cocoa powder for natural cocoa powder. But the two types of cocoa react differently with baking soda and baking powder, so if your recipe contains these ingredients, stick with the type of cocoa that's called for.
There are flavor variations among brands. You might find that you love the complex flavor of premium brands, such as Merckens and Valrhona, or you might prefer the familiar flavor of the supermarket brands like Hershey's and Nestlé.
It's a good rule of thumb to keep both natural and Dutch-process cocoa in the pantry; Scharffen Berger and Nestlé for natural cocoa, and Dröste for Dutch-process.
Use the type of cocoa your recipe requires. Natural cocoa is slightly acidic, so it’s usually paired with baking soda to neutralize the acidity and deepen the color. Dutch-process cocoa has been treated with an alkaline solution to darken its color and mellow its flavor. It’s neutral to slightly alkaline, so it’s typically paired with neutral baking powder. If your recipe doesn’t call for baking powder, baking soda, or acidic ingredients like sour cream or buttermilk, you can use either cocoa.
If your cocoa powder is lumpy, sift it through a sieve before using. This is usually necessary only with cocoa that has been stored for a few months; lumps in fresh cocoa will disappear with gentle whisking.
Whisk cocoa in with dry ingredients or with the smallest amount of liquid before adding it to wet ingredients; otherwise, it’s harder to break up any lumps.
Stored in a cool, dry cupboard, cocoa powder will last for up to a year and a half.