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Sep 18, 2012 08:50 PM

regular cocoa versus dutch for baking and frosting

i'm making a big birthday cake for my child's 4th and 20 of his closest friends. I'm a bit in over my head right now and regret so many decisions i made but it's too late to make changes.

i'm looking at a recipe for both cake and frosting that calls for dutch. i went to 4 stores and no one carries dutch cocoa. can i just use regular cocoa? will it make a huge difference?

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    1. Just use regular and relax - it'll be perfectly fine.

      1. You can use Hershey special dark cocoa if you find it. Its Dutch processed I believe.

        2 Replies
        1. re: nantastic

          can't find that either. i finally found Droste at a store.

          1. re: nantastic

            Hershey's regular is natural-process cocoa.
            Hershey's Special Dark is Dutch-processed (alkali-processed, meaning far less acidic). This affects your leavening, and whether or not your cake (or other baked item) will rise.

            Since baking recipes involving cocoa and baking soda or baking powder are tightly calibrated, it's really best not to substitute one for the other.

          2. You can sub regular for dutch, but not the other way around (depending of course on the presence of baking powder, or another acid, in your original recipe).

            18 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Nope not so. I have substituted successfully both ways.

                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                  This is a classic baking chemistry question as it relates to what leavening you can use: baking powder or baking soda. Even if leavening isn't an issue, the flavor of the two cocoas is quite different.

                  Dutch-process treats the cocoa to an alkali solution (a chemical base) so that type of cocoa is far less acidic than natural process cocoa. Because of that, Dutch-process cocoa won't activate baking soda, so baking powder must be used or you must add an acid to the recipe.
                  But this can get a bit tricky as the extra acid can throw off the liquid/dry balance in the recipe, and also affect the final flavor of the baked item (increased bitterness, especially).

                  Natural process cocoa has enough acid to activate baking soda, so that leavening agent is usually used.

                  Here's what esteemed Paris baker David Lebovitz says:
                  "Because natural cocoa powder hasn’t had its acidity tempered, it’s generally paired with baking soda (which is alkali) in recipes. Dutch-process cocoa is frequently used in recipes with baking powder, as it doesn’t react to baking soda like natural cocoa does."

                  Here is David Lebovitz's great webpage on cocoa:

                  Here are the substitutions and equivalences from Joy of
                  Substitution for 3 tablespoons (18 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa:
                  3 tablespoons (18 grams) natural cocoa powder plus pinch (1/8 teaspoon) baking soda

                  Substitution for 3 tablespoons (18 grams) natural cocoa:
                  3 tablespoons (18 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa plus 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar.

                  Flavor: (again quoting Lebovitz):
                  "Dutch-process cocoa will give a darker color and a more complex flavor whereas natural cocoa powder tends to be fruitier tasting and lighter in color."

                  My favorite by far is Valrhona. Have never smelled or tasted any cocoa that was better. Pricier but worth it for the extra flavor and aromatics.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Thanks for that information, but I stand by my statement. I've never had a problem with substituting one for the other. Give it a whirl.

                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                      I agree - I sub them freely without consequence.

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        It's generally agreed that you can sub natural cocoa for Dutch but not the other way around. And, only if it's a small quantity and baking powder/soda aren't involved.

                        But the flavor of the two cocoas is quite different. Natural is much better in brownies, frosting, chocolate cakes because it's more chocolate-y.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Actually, that's not the case - here's what ATK had to say on the issue (paraphrased):

                          "If tasters had described the Dutched samples as more mellow than the natural samples, all would be explained. But that wasn't the case. Tasters consistently perceived the Dutched cocoas as having a stronger chocolate flavor. How could neutralizing part of the cocoa flavor profile result in a more chocolatey taste? What flavor remained?

                          Like wine, chocolate has a complex flavor profile that consists of hundreds of elements. The most common notes are sour, bitter, astringent, fruity, figgy, raisiny, floral, nutty, smoky, and even "chocolatey," the essence of cacao beans. Dutching eliminates only the fundamentally acidic components--sour, bitter, astringent, fruity. The others remain. Tasters' comments on the natural cocoas reflected that supposition. Bitterness and sourness were common complaints, as was an unexpected fruitiness. Two tasters even picked up on astringency in a few samples. The Dutched cocoas, by contrast, seldom lost points for bitter, sour, fruity, or astringent notes.

                          More intriguing was a phenomenon called flavor masking. The removal of a cocoa's harshest notes lets us better appreciate the remaining flavors--the flavors that recede into the background when forced to compete with acidic notes

                          The only case remaining for choosing natural cocoa concerned leavening. Getting a baked good to rise properly depends on a delicate balance of acids and bases. Conventional wisdom thus dictates that Dutched cocoa and natural cocoa cannot be used interchangeably. Many cookbooks include cautionary notes about the dangers of substitution. With these caveats in mind, we chose two recipes (for devil's food cake and hot pudding cake) that call for a particular type of cocoa--one Dutched, one natural. We noticed no difference in leavening among the four samples in either of these applications. And, across the board, the two Dutched cocoas beat out the two natural cocoas in terms of both flavor and texture."

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            i actually skipped making chocolate cake and made yellow cake however, i did use the dutched cocoa for the frosting. the recipe I got from a Martha Stewart cookbook called for dutch cocoa, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. i've made it before with regular hershey's cocoa and it was good. i finally found dutch cocoa and it really made a difference. i have to say the flavor was deeper and more complex.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              Good research, biondanomina. But other sources, baking experts, disagree with ATK.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Good point Maria Lorraine. That's why I do my own testing. In this case I came to the same solution as ATK, which actually surprises me, but that's how it rolls. And Trolley, I agree. I prefer the taste of dutch cocoa and use it whenever I can.

                                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  TrishUntrapped and Biondanomina,

                                  When you subbed one cocoa for the other, was it in a recipe that had baking powder or baking soda?

                                  And, did you sub natural for dutched, or dutched for natural?

                                  That'll give us more of an idea of whether or not subbing both ways can work.
                                  Also, whether or not it works in recipes with leavenings where chemistry/pH
                                  is really an issue. Thanks.

                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                  I realize that, but like Trish, my experience has taught me that I can sub them 1:1 with no adjustments.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    I defer to firsthand experience. And actually, Valrhona, my favorite, is dutched.

                        2. re: maria lorraine

                          That's good information. I want to add that it's okay for a batter to be slightly acidic so it's fine to use regular cocoa when the recipe calls for dutched cocoa. It isn't always okay to use dutched cocoa when it calls for regular because the baking soda needs an acid. I usually add some coffee/instant coffee/instant espresso to my chocolate products and that provides enough acidity for the baking soda.

                          I prefer regular cocoa, although the dutched adds a nice darkness to the product.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Baking soda needs the acid if its purpose is to produce carbon dioxide. But baking soda also affects browning (Mailard reactions). Those proceed more rapidly in alkaline conditions, slow in acid. So baking soda can be added solely to promote browning.

                            I have noticed this effect when making biscuits with buttermilk and baking powder (but no baking soda).

                            1. re: paulj

                              This thread had me curious about baking soda so I did a little research - apparently, baking soda decomposes (i.e. releases carbon dioxide) at baking temperatures without any help from acid (although acid can make this happen more rapidly/efficiently). This explains why the acidity from natural cocoa isn't necessarily required in recipes that call for baking soda, although the acidity can also counteract the alkaline flavor that the left-behind sodium carbonate contributes.


                              1. re: biondanonima

                                But your link says this decomposition occurs gradually about 70C. By then the egg proteins have denatured. I suspect that this thermal decomposition is too late and too slow to be significant.

                                The acid reactions are sufficiently different that I don't think it is right to say that the acids make this (decomposition) happen faster. Depending on the acid, the reaction can occur rapidly at room temperature.

                                But your mention of sodium carbonate does raise an issue that makers of baking powder must consider - the taste of any salts produced by the reaction of their acids and base. Looks as though buttermilk (lactic acid) with baking soda produces sodium lactate, with a 'mild saline taste'.

                              2. re: paulj

                                Yes, that's what Shirley Corriher says, too. I can't remember the proportions off hand but baking soda over a certain tsp (I think it's 1/4 per cup of flour but could be wrong) is used more for browning. There are other ways to get browning, too, and too much baking soda leaves an odd taste. I'd rather finish up a baked good in higher temps for browning, as long as you keep an eye on it and don't overbake.

                      2. future reference...if there's a Peet's Coffee near you, I like their Dutch Cocoa (bought initially because my kids love their hot cocoa & I love the container).


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ceekskat

                          well thank you ceekskat. i live right near a Peets. i haven't purchased the cocoa yet so what a great great tip. cheaper than the Droste but maybe not since you may get more than in the Droste.

                          1. re: ceekskat

                            I've been a fan of Peet's cocoa, which (was) as dark and rich as Valrhona but half the price, but the last tin I had was very different - much lighter in color and flavor, and very disappointing. I really hope it is a temporary situation and not that they changed their supplier to an inferior product.