You may have noticed some posts from our friends at the Strategist on Grub Street. They’ll be dropping in every now and again, sharing their expertise on the basics you don’t have time to research and the weird and wonderful things you don’t yet know you need.
I bake a fair amount, so I always have some cocoa powder on hand. To cover your bases, you generally need two kinds: a natural cocoa powder and a Dutch-processed one (which has been treated to be less acidic and has a milder flavor). I usually do Hershey’s for the natural (keep it simple), and Droste for the Dutched. For as long as I’ve been baking, I thought the two were all I needed — until I learned about black cocoa powder.
I first heard about it from my baking guru — my mom — who heard about it from her friend at work, who heard about it from the internet. My mom told me she and her friend had “gone in” on a pound of King Arthur black cocoa powder, and planned to divvy it up once it arrived. I was skeptical because usually I’m the one telling her about the next hot food trend. But a few weeks later, my mom called and told me she used the powder to make these bittersweet black cookies from the Faux Martha, which she called quite possibly “the best cookies she’s ever made.” Now, this, I took very seriously (she is my guru after all), so I bought a bag of King Arthur powder that same day.
Because I was so curious, I opened the bag right when it arrived. Instantly, I realized how special it was: The stuff practically smacks you in the nose with a pungent, earthy, intense chocolate smell. And it’s strikingly dark. Not pitch-black like charcoal, but a deep brownish-black, like wet soil. Baking with the black cocoa almost feels like alchemy. Once you mix your dry ingredients with your wet — POW — everything goes black. It’s inexplicably satisfying, like a visual ASMR or something. As for the taste, it’s slightly bitter. Not too bitter, just a tiny bit. It’s more savory than sweet, with a little smokiness (which a few people actually mistook for a “hint of bacon”). It’s like some sort of cocoa umami.
A few days after I got the black cocoa powder, I made the bittersweet chocolate cookies my mom did, and brought them to a friend’s house for the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones. I always bring some sort of cookie or brownie thing when I’m going to a potluck-type deal, and everything is generally well-received, but I swear, my friends went absolutely crazy for the cookies — so much so, that they demanded I bring them to each subsequent viewing party. And they weren’t the only fans. Every time I bring those cookies somewhere, people ask me to send them the recipe — and a link to buy the black cocoa powder. It’s expensive stuff, but it’s worth it. According to King Arthur’s website, you can sub it for Dutched cocoa to get a more intense flavor, or you can try “adding (not substituting) a tablespoon of black cocoa to a recipe using natural cocoa.” I’ve yet to use it in anything but the cookies, because, you know, give the people what they want. But I’m excited to try it out in other recipes — like this Vietnamese coffee cake, or these brownies — that I received via my mom’s work friend through a forwarded email.
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