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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Black Cocoa

flickr user StevenW. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Ever looked closely at an Oreo, the world’s best selling cookie?  I admit that I usually devour them too rapidly to permit full examination of the iconic treat, but if you carefully inspect an Oreo you will notice something interesting. Though the confection is described on the package as a “chocolate sandwich cookie” an Oreo is not chocolate colored.  It is, in fact, black.

That’s because while Oreos are indeed made with real cocoa, it has been so alkalized that it is no longer brown.  To appreciate this, you have to know about a process called “Dutching.”

It all started with Coenraad Johannes van Houten, who worked in his father’s chocolate business in Amsterdam in the early part of the 19th century.  He perfected an inexpensive method for extracting cocoa butter from the cocoa liquor which is produced from the nibs of cocoa beans.  The solids left behind are then ground into cocoa powder. 

In addition he treated the resulting cocoa powder with a solution which alkalized it, changing its pH and making it less acidic. This process, given the nationality of its inventor, was dubbed “Dutch processing” or “dutching.”

In addition to making cocoa less acidic, dutching gives cocoa a more mellow flavor and, more obviously, a darker color.  Compared to dutched cocoa, natural cocoa is reddish brown.  Dutched cocoa, on the other hand, is dark brown.  Black cocoa because it’s ultra or super alkalized goes beyond brown all the way to black.  Some say it gives cocoa a more earthy taste, which is not surprising because it looks a little bit like dirt.

Addictive though they are, Oreos are not the primary reason to use black cocoa.  Even a tablespoon or two added to a recipe calling for natural cocoa can add impact to all kinds of baked goods.  So with black cocoa there’s no reason for a baker to be afraid of the dark.


Black Velvet Cake

This behemoth of a cake, a distant cousin of Red Velvet Cake, is adapted from a recipe on the Sugar Geek Show blog. 

2-¾ cup flour
1-½ sticks butter
2-¼ cups sugar
1 cup black cocoa
? cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup strong hot coffee
1 cup warm buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.  Whisk together melted chocolate, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, and oil, then add buttermilk, whisking until combined.  Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time.  At low speed add one-third of dry ingredients and one-third of chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated.  Repeat two more times.  Divide batter between two greased 9-inch pans and bake until tester comes out just barely clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

16 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks butter
pinch of salt
7 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat together cream cheese and butter until combined.  Add salt and half of powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  Add vanilla and remaining powdered sugar, beating until frosting is fluffy. 

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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