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Chat Leftovers: A cocoa conundrum

Your assignment is clear: At the farmers market this weekend, you've got to buy chard and eggplant. In this week's Food section we extol their virtues in two articles, and we give you recipes so you can judge for yourself. Now you have no excuse to slight these two foods that can be as delicious as they are healthful.

Recipe Included

Vered Guttman, a Chevy Chase caterer who wrote our chard article, will be with us at noon today for the weekly Free Range chat, where she'll wax eloquent about chard or any other food-related topic you throw her way. The usual gang will also be there. So won't you sit down, tune in and join us?

Bring your questions, and remember that even if we can't get to all of them, yours might be the lucky leftover that gets answered a week from today. Like this question, from last week's chat:

I am always confused about Dutched vs. regular cocoa. My reference has always been, if soda is an ingredient then use regular, if baking powder is the leavening use Dutched. Am I wrong?

You're a little wrong, a little right. Here's the deal: Natural cocoa, which can be strong-tasting, is acid. In many recipes, it is meant to interact with baking soda, an alkali, to promote leavening, which makes batter rise. Dutch process cocoa, which is a little sweeter and mellower, has been treated with an alkali, so it's fairly neutral. If you try to substitute it for natural cocoa in a recipe that calls for baking soda, there will be no reaction, and no leavening.

But you can't translate that to mean that natural cocoa always requires baking soda, and Dutched cocoa always requires baking powder. In fact, take some time to leaf through chocolate cake or cookie recipes, and you'll find plenty that team up Dutch-process cocoa with baking soda. Why does that work? Because the recipes have been carefully balanced with other types of acidic ingredients to ensure that leavening occurs.

And that leads me (finally) to my point: Just follow the recipe! It has been carefully calibrated and balanced so all the ingredients work together in a specific way. For some recipes, the two cocoas might be interchangeable, but you can't be sure. Use the kind of cocoa the recipe calls for, and you won't go wrong.

Here's a recipe that goes against your formula: It pairs natural cocoa with baking powder. And it's great!.

-- Jane Touzalin

(Julia Ewan)

Milk Chocolate Espresso Cookies

These soft cookes are rich and sized just right. We've added a coating of espresso-flavored sugar to enhance their dominant flavor. The recipe comes from a professional kitchen, so we have included its original measurements in grams.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough can be made and frozen (scooped into balls) for up to 2 months. If you thaw the balls in the refrigerator first, they will spread a little more and be crisper. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes 40 cookies

About 2 1/4 cups (225 grams) flour
11 tablespoons (77 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (not Dutch process)
3 tablespoons (16.8 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (5.6 grams) instant espresso powder, such as Medaglia d'Oro brand
2 teaspoons (5.4 grams) baking powder
11 1/2 tablespoons (scant 1 1/2 sticks; 167 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
About 1 cup (200 grams) plus 1/2 cup (113 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
14 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons of the instant espresso powder and the baking powder in a medium bowl; whisk to mix well.

Combine the butter and 1 cup of the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, then add the flour mixture; beat until almost all streaks of flour are gone. Stop the mixer to add the milk chocolate chunks; beat on low speed until just combined.

For sprinkling: Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the remaining tablespoon of instant espresso powder in a shallow bowl; mix well.

Scoop the dough into mounds (about 1 tablespoon), then dip or roll them in the sugar-espresso mixture. Place them 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. Bake one sheet at time for 10 minutes, until the cookies are softly set, then cool completely (still on the sheet) on a wire rack. Repeat as needed to use all the dough.

By Jane Touzalin  | October 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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