When we say cocoa powder you immediately think of brownies–and we can’t blame you. They are such an easy and delicious treat you can throw together really fast and enjoy fresh from the oven. And though we have tested different cocoa powders with brownies in the past, we felt like it was time for another brownie bake off. You know how much we love a good taste test, and we have so many new faces around here. Welcome to the test kitchen!
So for this little experiment we decided to use this recipe for brownies from scratch, and try a different cocoa powder in each batch. And because we just barely did the cocoa powder showdown with the cakes, we thought we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But, as often happens, the brownies still had some surprises.
Because this recipe doesn’t call for any leaveners (baking powder or baking soda) we knew that the acidity of the cocoa powder wouldn’t really impact the way the brownies would bake up in the oven. We were prepared for the biggest differences to be in color, texture, and taste. But there were a few things we noticed that we didn’t really expect. And when we invited the staff and a few customers to try the brownies, we had some fun and interesting results.
Contestants in the Brownie Bake-Off
These are the cocoa powders we had in our lineup:
To keep the test as consistent as possible, we decided to bake these brownies in the same size pans for exactly 40 minutes (to 210 degrees). Research told us this would give us the best middle-ground between fudgy and cakey. So at exactly 40 minutes we pulled all of the pans out of the oven and tested the internal temperature. Then we allowed all of the brownies to cool overnight before cutting into them and removing them from the pan. We love cutting into warm brownies, fresh from the oven. But for this experiment we needed the brownies to set so that we might be able to tell the more nuanced differences in texture and crumb. Ready for the results?
Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
The first thing we noticed about the Hershey’s brownies in this brownie bake off was the texture of the top layer. This batch of brownies had a wrinkly texture and actually had a glossy, wafter-thin skin on top similar to the results you get from a typical box of brownies. This batch was also the lightest in color and easy to pick out from the rest. When we tested the temperature with the thermometer there was no batter left behind. And when we were finally able to cut into the brownies, the crumb on this batch had an arier texture inside.
Ambrosia Amber Cocoa Powder
This cocoa powder is also a natural cocoa powder but has a higher fat content than Hershey’s Natural. With the cake testing, the Ambrosia was one of our favorites and we were excited to see how it would taste in brownies. It did not disappoint! Straight out of the oven, this batch of brownies didn’t look at all like the Hershey’s batch. It was a similar color, but the finish was smoother and didn’t have a shiny skin on top. And when we tested the internal temperature, the stick came away a little smudged and we worried the brownies would be underdone. But after sitting overnight, they were perfectly solid, though the crumb was definitely thicker and fudgier.
Callebaut Extra Brute Cocoa Powder
The rich, dark color and aroma of the Extra Brute cocoa powder are hard to beat. And we knew from a previous brownie bake off, these brownies would set up beautifully. This batch had a similar texture and finish to the Ambrosia brownies but with a bit darker coloring. Straight out of the oven, the toothpick came away with some smudges. But after baking in the residual heat from the pan and resting overnight, they were completely baked. And when we cut into the brownies we could see the Extra Brute had a similar crumb to the ambrosia, dense and less airy.
Guittard Dark/Black Cocoa Powder
These were the darkest brownies with a lower fat content in the cocoa powder, so after the 40 minutes of baking, these brownies were actually the highest temperature. And it was hard to see because the color was so black, but the crumb was a little more airy. This is probably because of the lower fat content in the cocoa powder, which is the same as the fat content in the Hershey’s cocoa powder. We all agreed the black color made the brownies look like they were a little overdone. And these brownies had a flavor that wasn’t much like chocolate or even dark chocolate, which some people really liked.
Taste Test Results
We can’t say we were shocked by the winners of this taste-off. The first-place favorite was the Callebaut Extra Brute. It seems to be the perfect blend of that mellow flavor and rich dark color that so many people love. It was funny, the people who claimed they didn’t really like chocolate seemed to favor this batch of brownies the very most. And a lot of people said they had to try it again, just to be sure.
The runner-up was, of course, Hershey’s Natural. So many people love the classic taste of Hershey’s natural cocoa powder. It is nostalgic and familiar, and one of the reasons why this cocoa powder will remain a staple ingredient in many pantries from generation to generation. There is just something about the sweetness and tang associated with this cocoa powder that hits just right.
Third place winner was the Ambrosia batch. These were sweet and fudgy. They had a perfect blend of natural chocolate flavor with the decadence of a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel. People would often go back and forth between the Ambrosia and the Hershey’s trying to figure out which one they liked the best of the two, and it was always a tough call.
The fourth and final place was the Guittard Dark Chocolate ranking as the least favorite for most people. It already started with a bit of a disadvantage because the color is so dark it looked like the brownies were overbaked. And so many people probably assumed it would taste like dark chocolate when it really doesn’t. The black cocoa powder has a flavor all its own and doesn’t taste like a typical brownie. There were a few people who really liked the flavor of the black brownies, but the overwhelming majority liked the other flavors better.
Now that you have seen the results of this brownie bake off are you ready to read up on cocoa powder? Check out this article all about Choosing the Best Cocoa Powder. This will break down the basics of acidity, fat content, and flavor so you can shop our assortment of cocoa powders with confidence.