I've always loved baking and cooking. It reminds me of my years of working in the chemistry lab in school, first at the College of the Holy Cross, and then at Northern Arizona University. And really, it's not so different. Baking works because of chemistry. Your basic ingredients all cause chemical reactions that make the rising and sweetening and flavors work. Baking IS science.
This week I tried a brand new (to me) recipe for a chocolate bread. The ingredients were pretty basic...except it called for Dutch-process cocoa powder. I didn't have that in my cupboard, and I couldn't find it at the supermarket. What's a geek to do?
Well, all Dutch-processing means is that it's been treated to make it more alkaline. This makes the cocoa have a milder flavor (other non Dutch-processed cocoa is bitter because it's acidic). It also changes the color slightly, but for a chocolate bread that's just going to end up in mah belleh, really, color doesn't matter so much. So there's a trick to achieving the same flavor with regular cocoa. All you do is look at the recipe. Where the recipe calls for baking powder, instead, take the amount of powder and replace it with HALF that amount of baking soda. If the recipe calls for 1 tsp of baking powder, just put 1/2 tsp of baking soda in instead. Both are leavening agents, but soda is more alkaline.
So...without further ado, here is the basic recipe for Dark Chocolate Tea Bread:
- 2 c. all purpose flour
- 1/2 c. cake flour
- 3/4 c unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 Tbsp room temperature unsalted butter
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 1 c sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/4 c buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 c chopped toasted hazelnuts
- 1 Tbsp raw coarse sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
Stir together flour, cake flour, baking soda, baking powder (if you are using Dutch-processed cocoa), and salt. *If you are using REGULAR unsweetened cocoa, use 1 1/2 tsp baking soda instead of 1 tsp and leave out the baking powder.*
In another bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed. When it's fluffy, add the granulated sugar (NOT the coarse sugar). When combined, add the eggs one at a time, mixing until fluffy.
Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl in 2 parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth after each addition. Fold in the hazelnuts until evenly distributed. The batter should be very thick.
Pour the batter into the greased pan, and make sure the pan is no more than 2/3 full. This bread has a pretty big rise to it. Smooth the top and sprinkle evenly with the coarse raw sugar.
Bake for about 1 1/4 hours. The top should be firm to the touch, and the edges will pull away from the edges of the pan. You might want to loosely cover the top for the last 10 minutes of baking so it doesn't brown too much. As soon as it's out of the oven, gently turn the bread out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before you cut it up to serve.
I was really pleased with how this bread came out. The crumb and bake were both perfect, and the sugar on top gave it just the right texture. The color was very consistent and pretty.
It tasted pretty darned good, too!
Melanie R. Meadors is an author of fantasy where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She is a blogger at The Once and Future Podcast, a professional author publicist, and a dabbling fiber artist. She studied both physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.