Guest Author - Deborah Markus
Whenever I went grocery shopping, I'd see the package of Droste Dutch-processed cocoa on the shelf next to the brand I always got. I'd also see that it was about three times as expensive as my ordinary cocoa.
I wondered occasionally what the difference was between Dutch-processed and conventional cocoa, but I figured vaguely that Dutch-processed was just the "good" kind of cocoa. With chocolate, you often get what you pay for, but I didn't feel like spending the money to see how different one kind of cocoa could be from another when I was perfectly happy with my brand.
Then one winter I decided to try a new brownie recipe, a lovely one that instructed the baker to sandwich soft chocolate-peppermint candies between layers of brownie batter. This recipe called for Dutch-processed cocoa, and I decided to splurge.
I was delighted with the results. True, the peppermints were magical; but there was also a subtlety of chocolate flavor that made me think that some of the charm came from the cocoa.
As long as I had it on hand, I tried the Dutch-processed cocoa in other recipes. I liked what I got. My cakes and brownies seemed smoother, sleeker, darker. I decided to look into the difference between conventional cocoa and Dutch-processed.
Neither of these cocoas, of course, has anything to do with the sweetened instant powder to which you can simply add water or milk and have a cup of sweet hot chocolate. That's cocoa mix, not cocoa; and while it can be delightful, it should never be used for baking.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is also known as natural cocoa. This is the commonest, and usually the least expensive, type of cocoa. It has a stronger flavor, and is generally lighter brown in color, than Dutch-processed.
Dutch-processed is cocoa that has been treated with alkaline salts to remove the chocolate's natural acidity. This is called the Dutch process in honor of its Dutch inventor, Coenraad Van Houten, which seems somewhat unfair to him. He did all the work, and didn't even get to have the process named after him.
At any rate, Van Houten's treatment changes the color of the cocoa powder to a darker, richer reddish-brown and tones down the flavor.
When I started doing research on the two kinds of cocoa, many sites and food writers warned me in dire tones that they were very different and shouldn't be used interchangeably. If I used Dutch-processed where plain unsweetened cocoa was called for, I should leave out any baking soda the recipe might mention. Conversely, if I substituted conventional cocoa where Dutch was insisted upon, I should add a pinch of soda.
But I've made cakes and brownies from both and never bothered to make any ingredient adjustments; and though the taste of the Dutch-processed goods are mellower, I've seen and tasted no other difference.
There is one difference that can neither be seen nor tasted, but that should be noted by those interested in cocoa's health benefits. The Dutch process destroys chocolate's naturally occurring antioxidants. So if you're making a cup of cocoa, you might be better off using conventional cocoa. (You also might want to use water instead of milk, since milk proteins bind with antioxidants.)
If, however, you're baking a batch of brownies, as I was when I discovered Dutch-processed cocoa, your first concern probably isn't the pure health benefits of what you're about to consume. So go ahead and use "the good cocoa," as I always thought of Dutch-processed before I really knew anything about it, for baked goods.