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.

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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!

Sugar-Dusted Chocolate Cupcakes

Sugar-Dusted Chocolate Cupcakes

I am not the biggest cupcake fan, but these are delicious. No need for frosting, simply dust with confectioner’s sugar! Recipe yields 12 cupcakes.

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
1 large egg
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2-3 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper liners or spray with cooking oil spray.
In medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In large bowl, whisk together egg, oil, and sugar until thick and creamy. Stir in vanilla and milk. Add dry ingredients and whisk vigorously until well mixed.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Each cup should be about 1/2 full. Bake in preheated oven for 15-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 2 minutes before removing to wire rack.
Cool completely. Pour confectioner’s sugar into tea strainer or sifter and shake over each cupcake until lightly dusted with sugar. Enjoy!

Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream Frosting

Frosting:
3 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (1 lb. box)
1/2 cup butter, softened
3-4 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:
In large bowl, combine all ingredients on low speed until mixed. Beat mixture on medium speed for 1-2 minutes until creamy. Add additional milk to reach desired consistency.
This recipe makes enough for 24 cupcakes, a standard 2-layer cake, or a 13x9x2-inch sheet cake.

 

 

Cream Cheese filled Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Cream Cheese filled Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Filling:
4 oz package cream cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Cupcakes:
any carrot cake or chocolate cake mix – (yields 18 cupcakes)

DIRECTIONS:

Start by mixing the cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then mix in sugar with mixer until blended. Spoon mixture into a small bowl and refrigerate.

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Follow the directions for your cake mix/recipe. Line cupcake surprise pan with paper liners. You do not need to grease the prong in the middle of each cup. Spoon batter into each cup until 1/3 full. Remove cream cheese filling from the refrigerator. Carefully spoon filling onto each prong. You can use how much or how little filling you want; I used about the size of a standard bouncy ball that you would find in a vending machine. Once each cup has filling, add batter to each cup, ensuring they’re about 2/3 or 3/4 full. Bake according to your recipe. Let the cupcakes cool for at least 15 minutes before tasting!

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*To purchase a cupcake surprise pan look here: http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Metallic-Non-Stick-Surprise-Cupcake/dp/B00570C0A6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1371586062&sr=8-2&keywords=cupcake+surprise

**Check back for other varieties of surprise cupcakes, and feel free to share any ideas in the comments!