In high school biology class, I chose Bill to be my lab partner for the year.
Bill was tall, blond and athletic -- all invaluable qualities in a lab partner. More important, he could dissect a frog without turning green. I held my nose, wrote up our reports, and prayed for the school year to end quickly.
We continued our collaboration in junior year chemistry class. I wasn't terribly interested in chemistry, so I documented our experiments while Bill measured and mixed, and washed the test tubes. I should have known then that precision in the kitchen would never be my forte.
I didn't grow up to be a chemist, or a baker, or a good dish washer -- but I did become a chocolate lover who keeps chocolate bars, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder in the pantry.
Cocoa powder is made by putting chocolate liquor through a press to remove at least three-fourths of the cocoa butter. The remaining solids are processed into a powder, essentially an unsweetened, concentrated form of cocoa bean. From there, the powder can be left natural, or treated ("Dutch processed") with an alkaline solution to neutralize the acids, resulting in a deeper color, with a more balanced and less bitter taste.
Whether Dutch processed or not, cocoa powder offers more intense chocolate flavor at less "cost"; per 100 grams, it's lower than dark chocolate in calories (452 in cocoa powder, 544 in dark chocolate), carbohydrates (35.0 to 52.5), and fat (25.6 to 35.2). And, some day, cocoa powder may even be good for your heart.
When baking, be sure to use the type of cocoa powder specified in the recipe. In general, Dutch processed cocoa reacts with baking powder, and natural cocoa with baking soda. (If I'd paid more attention in chemistry class, I would understand why this is so.) Don't be deterred by having the wrong type on hand, though; to substitute, here's the formula:
- For 3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa, use 3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda.
- For 3 tablespoons natural cocoa, use 3 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa plus 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or vinegar.
The experts at Cooks Illustrated suggest "blooming" cocoa powder, by dissolving it in hot water or coffee to deepen the flavor. They tested various brands of cocoa powder, and voted Drostë the best supermarket brand, whether you're making biscotti, cookies, brownies, meringues, a chocolate-y cake, or vegan cupcakes.
By the way, I lost track of my lab partner after graduation. I hope he's a chef; he had great knife skills in biology class.
Inspired by several recipes, including one from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, this sorbet doesn't require any baking at all! Makes 3 cups.
1 -1/4 cups sugar
2-1/4 cups water
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
2 tsp minced orange zest
Combine the water and sugar in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat to dissolve the sugar.
Add the cocoa powder and stir until it is dissolved and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until it is completely melted.
Strain the mixture into a bowl, and stir in the salt and orange zest. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Chill for several hours or overnight, then process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
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