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Which Cocoa Powder Would You Have Used?

I just made Barefoot Contessa's Beatty's Chocolate Cake using Bensdorp dutch process cocoa power and it was excellent. The recipe doesn't specify whether to use natural or dutch process cocoa powder and includes both baking soda and buttermilk, which are often used with natural cocoa powder. Could I have used natural cocoa powder or did I make the right call in going with the dutch processed? What would the difference have been if I used the natural cocoa instead?

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  1. You can probably use either with that because it uses both baking soda, buttermilk and baking powder. Dutch process cocoa is neutral so is often used when only baking powder is used. Baking soda is a base, natural cocoa is acidic (both slightly), as is buttermilk so they react to create rise. If a recipe only calls for baking soda w/out the buttermilk, then dutch process wouldn't work as well. But with a cup of buttermilk to 2 tsp baking soda, and then the baking powder, it won't matter in that recipe, as you found out.

    10 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      And how would the flavor differ if I used natural cocoa? Would it be more or less chocolatey? Or the same? I should say that this recipe is a real winner and people commented on how high the layers were, so I definitely achieved a good rise from the batter. If you like a classic chocolate layer cake, this is the recipe for you.

      1. re: Velda Mae

        From my experience, only. I find dutch processed to be less intense chocolate flavor but darker. The cake can be almost black with dutch processed cocoa (I'm assuming we're talking about the same recipe. I remember Ina's being the same as Hershey's black magic cake.).

        1. re: chowser

          You're right! It is the same recipe as Hershey's Black Magic cake and Hershey's is natural cocoa. The cake was extremely dark and very tasty. I can only imagine how much better it'll be when I try it again with natural cocoa.

          1. re: Velda Mae

            I've made both cakes with regular Hershey's cocoa and their "Special Dark" dutch processed. Both are tasty, and the leavening and texture are not affected regardless which you choose, but I personally prefer the flavor of the natural. The only reason that I can give for this is because it tastes more like a traditional chocolate cake should to me.

            1. re: jazzy77

              Is the Hershey's "Special Dark" cocoa the same as Dutch-processed? It is labeled "a blend of natural and Dutch-processed" so I'm not sure if it will work the same in recipes that specify Dutch-processed. Hershey's used to sell Dutch but now only have this. My email to Hershey's did not satisfactorily answer my question (they explained to me what Dutch-processed cocoa is. Thanks, I know). To me a "blend" is not the same as 100%.

              1. re: edwinasam

                Here is my long answer in two points, but hopefully it will help:

                1. From what I can infer from a moderate amount of research on dutching (mostly from CI) vs. whatever Hershey's has done to their Special Dark cocoa, the label may say a "blend" of natural vs. dutched, but I suspect that the "blend" is far more dutched cocoa than natural. This is because the color is just so dark, and the more that the cocoa is dutched, the darker it becomes. Coincedentally, the less flavorful as well. So, in order to give the product a kick in the chocolate taste department - and possibly to be able to tell consumers that it's healthier as well (natural cocoa has antioxidants and apparently dutched doesn't have any/as much - as stated on the side of the canister) - Hershey's created a "blend." So, from an actual product perspective, what is in the Special Dark canister could probably be considered closer to a 100% dutched product than natural, and I would treat it that way.

                2. However, I've been baking with Hershey's cocoas for years, including the natural, European-style dutched, and Special Dark - and have been able to swap out whatever is called for in the recipe with whatever I have on hand without a problem. I even looked at the recipe labels from each of the packages (I've kept some of the package labels over the years, coincidentally having one from the natural canister, one from an old ES dutched canister, and I have Special Dark in the cupboard) and Ina Garten's recipe for Beatty's chocolate cake - and each cake recipe has the same amounts of flour, sugar, baking powder, and soda, as well as liquids. The chemistry between these two sets of recipes is different due to Ina Garten's subbing of the coffee and buttermilk which results in a more acidic batter - and she doesn't specify a particular cocoa product to use.

                This is all to say that I haven't experienced a difference whether you use natural vs. dutched vs. Special Dark. I think that , more often, you might see a recipe that calls for natural cocoa (or "non-dutched") specifically, as there may be a need for the extra acid in the natural cocoa. The rest is all a matter of taste.

                1. re: jazzy77

                  Thanks for the very thorough answer. I'll give it a try.

                  1. re: edwinasam

                    Personally, I don't like the Hershey's dark chocolate blend at all. It makes for a dark product, almost oddly dark, and doesn't taste as chocolatey.

                    1. re: chowser

                      You're right, it won't be as flavorful because it's been super-dutched and I have honestly found that out too. IMHO it makes a beautiful cake (nice and dark), but when you taste a slice, it's not very chocolately. I've always paired it with a richer chocolate frosting, which makes a nice balance. But the cake itself isn't my idea of a comfort-foody chocolate cake. Also, you're right about the color - hot chocolate made with SD cocoa has an almost blue-ish black color. Very appropriate for Halloween.

                      Interestingly though, the cocoa used in Oreos is "dutched to death" - resulting in a beautifully dark, but so traditionally chocolatety tasting cookie.

                      It really makes me wonder if we eat with our eyes more than we think we do.

                      1. re: jazzy77

                        "It really makes me wonder if we eat with our eyes more than we think we do."

                        Definitely. You'd be surprised at the number of things that have added dye in it to make it look better. Because my daughter is allergic to red dye and people often buy baked goods from stores, she has to stay away from anything chocolate, either boxed or premade.