Although it’s not a common occurrence, it’s very distinctive: an instant puff of dark brown powder out of the mouth. It’s the cocoa cough.
You may have never even seen this happen, but you don’t live in my house. I have a thing for dark chocolate, as dark as it gets, and the chocolately bitterness of straight cocoa powder can be almost a craving for me. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t eat a spoonful right out of the canister. In fact, there is a handy spoon stored right in with the cocoa, and an eternal telltale ring of cocoa dust on the adjacent canister where I set the lid.
As they say, “monkey see, monkey do,” and Benson has picked up on my oober-dark chocolate habits. He has not yet, however, mastered the art of the cocoa chew like I have in my years of experience — hence his cocoa coughs. You can’t have a dry mouth when you take the spoonful, although you can carefully take a sip of a beverage to help moisten the bite; otherwise you just slowly chew and let your saliva do its work, letting your mouth be filled with bitter and intense chocolate.
What you can’t do in process is breathe through your mouth, because that will start the coughing, and then everything is a mess. Cocoa puffs everywhere, and not the cereal kind.
I got a bulk bag of cocoa powder the other day, and not only was Benson desperate to help me scoop it into containers, but he was also desperate to take bites of it during the process. You would think after the first bite went not-so-great, he would be reluctant to take the next, but no, he kept shoveling his little spoon right in there, taking several more bites before I had to physically remove him from the temptation.
Between his coughs and his transfer scoops gone awry, there was a fine film of cocoa powder on every surface in the vicinity, and it felt like as much went on the floor as went in my canister. Add to that his attempts to help clean up, and I began to thoroughly regret my decision to not wait to open the bag until naptime. At least the fiasco smelled delicious, not something we can always say on the farm.
Cocoa powder is created when cocoa butter is removed from cacao beans. Since it is almost entirely cocoa solids, it has an intensely chocolatey flavor, but none of the mouth feel or sweetness of chocolate bars. This powder is processed into two major types: more common “natural” cocoa retains the acidity of pure ground cocoa, and is more of a reddish-brown color; whereas “Dutch” cocoa (called that because a Dutch chemist developed the process) has been treated with an alkaline solution to make it have a chemically neutral pH, and is thereby darker in color and mellower in flavor.
Cacao powder is also in this family, and it’s not just a fancy-sounding name to try and sell the same product; it is made from whole (instead of de-cocoa-buttered) cocoa beans, and is processed at a temperature low enough to be considered still “raw.”
It does matter which type you use in baking, as the different acidity levels interact differently with the leaveners and other ingredients. Flavor, color, and texture will also be different, although of course they’re all chocolate so they’re all winners.
Benson agrees. He gets the cutest impish grin when you ask if he likes cocoa, followed by a resounding “yes!”... and probably some more spilled cocoa dust.
Charming Chocolate Truffles
What could be better than chocolate with added chocolatey-ness? Truffles sound and taste immensely fancy (although I’m going to be honest, mine didn’t look upscale), and are remarkably easy to make. The very basic recipe is a solid winner, although adding cinnamon and/or cayenne is also dynamite. Since this recipe doesn’t bake, you can use whichever type of cocoa powder you want.
Prep tips: it’s better to use bar chocolate instead of chocolate chips, as chips are designed not to melt well, but it’s worth a shot still if that’s what you have on hand.
• 12 ounces chopped chocolate, dark or milk
• ounces heavy cream
• 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, plus more for rolling
• optional: dashes of cinnamon and cayenne, coarse salt
Have chocolate in a heat safe bowl. Heat cream just to a simmer, then carefully pour over the chocolate. Let this sit for a minute or two, then whisk until smooth, adding in the cocoa powder. If you are looking for a kick, sprinkle in some cinnamon or cayenne to taste; otherwise, let it be. Chill this mixture until it’s firming up but not solid, an hour or two. Roll scoops of it into the size balls you want, then roll and coat in some cocoa powder with a good dash of coarse salt. Refrigerate until firm, and enjoy.
Amanda Miller lives with her husband, almost-two-years-old son, and whoever else God brings them through foster care on the family dairy farm in Hutchinson. She enjoys doing some catering, teaching cooking classes, and freelancing, but mostly chasing after her kid(s). Reach her at email@example.com.