Dutch-process and other cocoa

BURNING QUESTIONS

March 07, 2007|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

I've been searching for Dutch-process cocoa. In the supermarkets, I just see Nestle and Hershey's cocoa, neither of which says "Dutch" or "processed with alkali."

Chocolate liquor has two principal components - cocoa solids and cocoa butter - and in 1828, a Dutchman named Coenraad Van Houten invented a method for separating the two. The newly independent cocoa solids also could be pulverized to make a fine powder with lots of chocolate flavor but little fat: cocoa powder.

Van Houten also invented a process by which cocoa powder, which is naturally quite acidic, was treated with an alkaline to neutralize the flavor and deepen the color. This method is known as the Dutch process.

Before I started researching this column, I was under the impression that Dutch-process cocoa was a) more richly flavored than "natural" cocoa and b) more easily soluble in water. I know now that I was mistaken, and I credit these sources for opening my eyes: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich and two Web sites: baking911.com and joyofbaking.com.

So what is Dutched cocoa good for? Most cake and some cookie recipes rely on baking powder and baking soda to make them rise. In such cases, the pH (acidity level) of the batter really matters. Baking soda happens to be alkaline and that's why most recipes calling for it also call for natural cocoa - the alkaline in the former neutralizes the acid in the latter.

Recipes using the neutral-pH baking powder, though, usually call for Dutched cocoa. This is why cookbooks always advise you not to substitute one type of cocoa for the other.

As our questioner noted, both Hershey's and Nestle are natural cocoas, although Hershey's also makes a "Special Dark" cocoa that has been Dutched. Droste is probably the most widely available brand of Dutch-process cocoa.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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