Cocoa: A Word in Review

Growing up, I always loved baking and the only cocoa I knew was Hershey’s. As I grew older I started to realize the rest of my options. The quality of ingredients always has some effect on the end result, but usually there is little change. This is different with chocolate ingredients. A good cocoa powder can make any simple chocolate cookie rise to the top.

Here is my basic list of the brands of unsweetened cocoa powder that I have used in baking:

1. HERSHEY’S: This may be what I grew up with, but I would never buy it now. You can see in the color alone that this is not a quality product. The shade of brown resembles a beach more closely than a chocolate bar. I would say “you get what you pay for” but I definitely think the price is too high for this product.

2. Nestlé: In my opinion, this is a really good cocoa for those not looking to spend much. In some stores it will cost even less than Hershey’s and it is much more delicious. If you plan on baking frequently or you just don’t wish to spend a lot of money, this is a great option for you.

3. Ghiradelli: Looking for a higher-end cocoa, but nothing too fancy? This is the cocoa for you. Ghiradelli cocoa will help you make some incredibly delicious cakes, cookies, or brownies. And you can even use it for some homemade hot cocoa. This powder has the best of both worlds; powerful taste for a small cost.

4. Valrhona: YUM. This cocoa is my favorite. It’s pricey, but well worth the money. I purchased 1lb through Amazon and was shocked when I opened the package. The powder is extremely dark and the intense chocolate aroma emanates from the back. If you’re looking for a really special treat, Valrhona is the one. But be warned; once you taste a bit of Valrhona’s magic you won’t be able to settle for less.

So there you have it, folks. My reviews and recommendations for cocoa powder. Here’s the recap:

NEVER buy Hershey’s again unless you like fake chocolate.

Nestlé offers a wonderfully AFFORDABLE quality product.

Ghiradelli starts to get FANCY and it’s worth it.

Valrhona will send your taste-buds straight to HEAVEN.

Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies

Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies

Ingredients:
1 & 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (your choice on variety)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In small bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In large bowl, beat together butter ad sugar until fluffy. Beat in cream cheese until combined. Some chunks are okay. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.
Stir in dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for 10 minutes or until it’s less sticky.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls ad place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-13 minutes, or until cookies are set. Transfer to cooling rack. Cool completely before storing.

*The photo makes these cookies appear quite dry. They are actually quite soft and moist with a wonderful brownie-like texture!

Easy Pizza Dough

Easy Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions:
In medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in remaining ingredients. Beat vigorously (about 20 strokes). Let rest 5 minutes.

*To Make Pizza*
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
With floured fingers, pat dough into two 11 inch ungreased pizza pans OR into one standard cookie sheet pan. Dough may tear, but small holes are okay (the dough will rise and fill these holes when it bakes).
Spread dough with your favorite sauce and toppings.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.

I mixed ground beef in my sauce before topping with cheese. It was delicious! Try using peppers, pepperoni, bacon, pineapple, or other tasty toppings!

Easy Pasta Bake

Easy Pasta Bake

Ingredients:
1 box Barilla pasta, almost any shape (I chose colored rotini)
1 jar Classico meat sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse.
Return pasta to pot. Add sauce and mix well (on warm burner). Pour mixture into 8×8 baking dish.
Top pasta with cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and pasta is hot.
Remove from oven and enjoy.

Try cooking ground meat and adding it to regular sauce OR use different sauce/cheese combinations

Cake Mix M&M Cookies

Cake Mix M&M Cookies

I’m not the biggest fan of cake, so these aren’t my favorite tasting cookies. I brought this batch with me to work and everyone gave them rave reviews!

Ingredients:
1 box (15.25 oz) yellow cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 & 1/2 cups M&Ms

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, and oil. Stir until well combined.
Stir in M&Ms. Mixture will be greasy. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake about 10 minutes or until cookies are set. Transfer to cooling wrack and let cool completely.

Variations: try different flavors of cake mix or different mix-ins for even more deliciously simple cake mix cookies!

Bite Size Cheesecake with Cranberry Topping

Bite Size Cheesecake with Cranberry Topping

Mini Cheesecakes

Ingredients:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:
Line 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In small bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press mixture gently into bottom of cups. You will have some extra mixture.
In another small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add egg and beat on low speed until just combined.
Spoon mixture over graham cracker crusts. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until cheesecake centers are set.
Remove from oven. Cool for 10 minutes in pan. Transfer to cooling rack. Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or until ready to serve.
Remove paper liner and top with cranberry topping (recipe below), your favorite jam, or eat plain.

Cranberry Topping

Ingredients:
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup orange juice

Instructions:
In medium pot, stir together orange juice and sugar. Dissolve sugar over medium heat.
Stir in cranberries. Cook until cranberries pop, about 10 minutes (stirring constantly). Remove from heat and place in bowl.
The sauce will thicken as it cools. Spoon onto cheesecakes when ready to serve.