How To Get the Most Flavor From Cocoa Powder

Your Favorite Bakery is Probably Doing This

The first bakery I worked at had a chocolate cake that was dark, moist, and intensely chocolate. When I began working there, I was shocked that the recipe didn’t use any melted chocolate. All of the chocolate flavor came from cocoa powder.

Before working there, I almost always used melted chocolate when I wanted fudgy brownies and rich chocolate cakes, but they didn’t always turn out how I wanted. I assumed that to get the deep chocolate flavor I was going for, the amount of cocoa powder needed would make baked goods dry and tough. It turns out I was missing this bakery’s secret technique: blooming the cocoa powder.

What It Means to Bloom Cocoa Powder

In this case blooming means whisking hot liquid into the cocoa powder before adding it to the recipe. Any clumps in the cocoa break apart, and the cocoa powder absorbs the liquid, resulting in a smooth paste that unsurprisingly smells like an irresistible cup of hot chocolate (but tastes very bitter). Before continuing with the recipe, the mixture should cool to prevent the other ingredients from cooking or melting.

What Is Cocoa Powder?

How Blooming Cocoa Works

Cocoa powder has the potential to add more chocolate flavor to a recipe than chocolate itself. Cocoa powder is finely ground cocoa solids, which is what remains after removing most of the cocoa butter from the roasted cocoa beans. Chocolate contains not just cocoa solids but also fat and sugar, which make the bar taste good but dilutes the flavor.

Blooming cocoa powder unlocks its potential. When you add a hot liquid to cocoa powder, the heat releases cocoa’s volatile flavor compounds, the substances that make up chocolate’s enticing aroma. Blooming cocoa powder doesn’t necessarily change its flavor but significantly intensifies it.

<p>The Spruce Eats/Julia Hartbeck</p>

The Spruce Eats/Julia Hartbeck

How to Incorporate This Technique into Recipes

If you’re looking to get the most flavor out of a chocolate recipe that doesn’t already call for blooming the cocoa powder, it’s easy to incorporate this technique.

  1. Heat the recipe’s liquid ingredient to near boiling.

  2. Mix it with cocoa powder in a separate bowl.

  3. Cover, and let the mixture cool before adding it to the other ingredients.

It works with more than just water: you can use almost any liquid ingredient. Other than water, the most common to use are hot coffee, milk, oil, or melted butter. I wouldn’t try it with buttermilk though, or it will curdle.

Note that blooming cocoa won’t work in recipes that don’t have enough liquid ingredients to saturate the cocoa powder (at least 1:1 by volume, but there is some leeway). I wouldn’t suggest modifying a recipe that calls for room temperature or cold butter by instead melting the butter, as you may significantly alter the texture of the baked good.