If you have a favorite white cake or plain cookie recipe but want to add chocolate, cocoa powder is a solution. While adding a tablespoon for a slight chocolate flavor shouldn't require alterations to the rest of the recipe, creating a rich chocolate flavor requires more cocoa and adjustments to the amount of flour used. In baking, cocoa powder acts like flour, and adding too much without alterations can result in a very dry baked treat. Also, not all cocoa powders are the same; using certain kinds can have disastrous results.
Cocoa as Flour
When adding cocoa powder to a recipe, the general rule is to reduce the amount of flour by the amount of cocoa powder. For example, if your recipe calls for 3 cups of flour for a white cake, add 2 1/2 cups of flour and 1/2 cups cocoa powder for a chocolate cake. For an even richer chocolate cake, increase the substitution amount.
The Best Baking Cocoa
When baking, the most common variety of cocoa powder used is natural cocoa. This powder is acidic and works well to help set the proteins in baked good recipes. Dutch-process cocoa powder has a milder flavor, but because of the processing method, is alkaline in nature. The loss of acid content can affect the setting of your baked good recipe and leave you with a cake soup instead. Unless a baked recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa, it is best to stick with natural cocoa for baking. Another option is hot cocoa mix; it can create a delicious chocolate cake but you have to adjust for the added sugar; reduce the sugar in your recipe by a tablespoon or two to compensate.
Trial and Error
Adding cocoa powder to your recipe can be a little like an experiment in science class. How much cocoa to add depends on your taste preferences and the type of cocoa you are using. Begin with a recipe you are familiar with and start out slow. For example, if your recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, begin with a 1/2-cup substitution, or 1/2 cup of cocoa and 2 1/2 cups of flour. If this cake doesn’t have enough chocolate kick for your taste, next time try a 1-cup substitution. If using hot cocoa mix, omit 1 tablespoon of sugar in your batter to start. If the result is still too sweet, reduce the sugar by another tablespoon.
Preparing the Pan or Working Surface
Cocoa can replace flour in the pan preparation and work surface. When your cake recipe calls for a greased and floured pan, use cocoa powder in place of the flour. The cocoa powder helps prevent sticking just like the flour, but you won’t have a white flour ring around your finished cake. Use this substitution for rolled cookie dough, as well. Instead of rolling the dough on a floured surface, dust with cocoa powder, instead.
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