Blooming cocoa powder means adding a hot liquid, like water, coffee, or melted fat, to cocoa powder in order to draw out its rich flavor. Doing this before adding the cocoa into the rest of a recipe can improve the end product—whether that be flourless chocolate cake or German chocolate cookies. Most bakers agree that this extra step is totally worth it, especially considering it doesn’t add much time to the overall process. Below, you’ll find a bit more on how cocoa powder is made, the science behind why blooming cocoa works, as well as a few recipes that benefit from this technique.
How Cocoa Powder is Made
Despite its colloquial name, the cocoa bean is actually a seed, and that seed is composed of three main parts: shell, kernel, and germ. When making cocoa powder, the beans are first fermented and then dried, roasted, and cracked in order to remove the shell. The remaining nibs are then ground into a pasted called chocolate liquor or cocoa mass. The oils in this paste, called cocoa butter, is pressed out, leaving behind cocoa solids. The solids are dried again and then ground into a powder. At this stage, cocoa powder has a light brown color and a bright, slightly acidic flavor. It’s often referred to as natural cocoa powder and is the most commonly sold in the US.
Dutch cocoa employs a slightly different process, first exposing the cocoa beans to an alkaline solution before grinding and making them into a powder. This results in a darker color and smoother taste, because the powder has a neutral pH of 7.
The two varieties of cocoa generally shouldn't be substituted for one another without making some adjustments to the recipe. Dutch cocoa is typically leavened with baking powder rather than alkaline leaveners like baking soda.
Why Blooming Cocoa Powder Works
As we learned above, removing the shell of the cocoa bean is one of the first steps in making cocoa powder. But between the shell and the bean is a thin membrane that can remain on the cocoa solids as they're processed. Blooming cocoa powder encourages this membrane to loosen from cocoa powder particles, thereby exposing the cocoa solids and increasing its overall flavor. What’s more, just as hot liquids extract the flavor from say, coffee or tea, so too does hot liquid with cocoa. There are many compounds in cocoa beans that provide their characteristic flavor and many of them are enhanced with heat. That said, there is a limit to how hot and how long cocoa powder should be bloomed because it also contains bitter compounds that will release if not bloomed correctly.
How to Bloom Cocoa Powder
To bloom cocoa powder, first portion out your cocoa powder into a heatproof bowl before adding your hot liquid of choice, which could be water, coffee, or fat (like butter or oil). Choose a liquid or fat that is already called for in your recipe. For example, the butter or oil called for in a homemade brownie recipe can first be heated and used to bloom the cocoa powder.
Stir the mixture of cocoa and liquid until the cocoa powder is fully dissolved and the texture is smooth. Then, set it aside to cool while you assemble the rest of your ingredients.
Cooling your bloomed cocoa powder is an important step because if you prematurely add a hot cocoa mixture into a recipe, you may incidentally precook the other ingredients.
Recipe Dos and Don'ts
Most recipes that call for a liquid or fat and cocoa powder can be adapted to bloom the cocoa powder—but not all. Some recipes don’t call for enough liquid to dissolve your cocoa powder. In this case, it’s better to skip this step and simply add your cocoa powder as directed.
If your recipe specifically calls for cold butter, don’t be tempted to melt your butter and bloom
your cocoa powder with it because this will most likely change the texture of your product. Lastly, you can bloom both Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder, so don’t worry about this difference negatively affecting your baked goods.