Cocoa powder is cocoa power! For cupcake baking, cocoa powder is an essential ingredient. Cocoa powder is the ingredient that provides chocolate flavor in most cakes and cupcakes. Cocoa powder is the ingredient in two of the most popular cupcake flavors, chocolate cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes. There are two kinds of cocoa powder: natural and dutch processed.Natural cocoa powder is derived from cocoa beans. It is chocolate where up to 25% of the cocoa butter has been removed. For cupcake baking, it is better to use natural, unsweetened cocoa powder. The powder should be a rich brown color. Natural cocoa powder is made from the solids of a roasted, dried cocoa bean, which are very finely ground into a powder for packaging. The powder is slightly acidic and has a very sharp taste to it similar to dark roasted coffee beans. Natural cocoa powder will react with leavening agents like baking soda, which depend on the presence of an acidic ingredient to activate them.
Dutch-process cocoa powder is chocolate where up to 25% of the cocoa butter has been removed as well but it is treated with alkali to reduce its acidity. Because of that, Dutch process is milder in flavor.
When it comes to cupcake baking, natural cocoa powder is preferred because of chemistry. Natural cocoa powder reacts with baking soda because of its acidity. It acts as a leavening agent. Dutch processed cocoa is alkaline so it lacks that acidity. For no-bake chocolate desserts, Dutch processed cocoa is great. For example, Dutch process is recommended for making chocolate ice cream, chocolate truffles and fudge.
What about baking chocolate? Baking chocolate is used in cookies, cakes and cupcakes as well. It is easier to substitute cocoa powder for baking chocolate but not the other way around. The consistency is different, and baking chocolate doesn't mix well with the other dry ingredients in a recipe like flour and baking soda. You can use cocoa powder as a substitute for chocolate in some baking recipes, but only if you are out of it. If a recipe calls for one once of unsweetened chocolate, then you can substitute with three tablespoons of cocoa powder and one tablespoon of vegetable shortening. Cocoa powder, if stored properly in a sealed container in a pantry, can keep for up to a year.
Some of the popular cocoa powder can be found easily at your local grocery store. Hershey's cocoa powder is a classic, but there are some other brands that are great for cupcake baking.