The Difference Between Using Chocolate Vs Cocoa In Brownies

Brownies may be a universally beloved dessert, but there's a wide range of opinions on how to do them best, and what you put in them can change their character dramatically. You may be a fudgy brownie person who wants a dense, gooey slab of chocolate that melts in your mouth, or you may prefer the softer, airier texture of cakey brownies. Either way, the one big thing both folks can agree upon is that the other side is totally wrong.

We aren't here to tell you what kind of brownie to like, or which is better; we are here to help you get whichever type of brownie you want. And while there are plenty of choices you have when making brownies that will end up affecting the final taste and texture, the most important is the choice between chocolate and cocoa powder. The big variation between cocoa and chocolate comes from how each is produced. Cocoa powder is made from dried and ground cacao beans, which have had the cocoa butter separated from the cocoa solids. Chocolate on the other hand is made with the whole cacao bean, and contains both solids and butter, with about 55% of the share taken by butter. That means chocolate is both less concentrated in cocoa flavor, and contains plenty of fat by itself. Those two differences produce some very different brownies.

Chocolate brownies are more fudgy and rich

Brownies made with chocolate are going to turn out denser than those made with cocoa, which is why it's been the traditional choice for the fudgy brownie fans. The cocoa butter in chocolate is what makes the biggest difference, but maybe not for all the reasons you think. While cocoa butter is a form of fat, it behaves differently than oil or dairy butter in recipes. Cocoa butter tends to firm up harder than other fats at room temperature and in colder environments like the fridge. That's what makes chocolate brownies so dense. Additional butter is usually added to chocolate brownie recipes to help it from becoming too hard, but the goal is that creamy, solid texture from the extra cocoa butter.

The flavor of chocolate brownies will also be noticeably less chocolate-forward than with cocoa. Being cut by the butter, the taste of chocolate is less intense than concentrated cocoa powder. Most chocolate you find in stores will also have at least a little sugar, as well as emulsifiers, flavorings like vanilla, and other additives. This isn't an upside or a downside, depending on your personal preferences, but it will make your brownies taste less like pure cocoa. It also means you have less leeway in adjusting how much sugar, vanilla, or other ingredients you put in your recipe, because it's already in the chocolate.

Cocoa brownies are more cakey and customizable

Cocoa powder is pure, unadulterated ground cocoa, so it has no fat whatsoever. Because of that you need to add all the fat yourself through oil, butter, and eggs. While you can have a cocoa brownie with more fat than a chocolate one, it will still come out softer and more cake-like because of the naturally softer properties of those ingredients. Not only is cocoa powder more concentrated than chocolate, but since it has less moisture, you need fewer additives like flour to balance it out, compounding the cocoa flavor even more. That may actually be too much for your tastes compared to sweeter chocolate, but for people who like intense dark chocolate flavor it may satisfy even more.

Maybe the biggest practical difference with cocoa, aside from the finished product, is how customizable it makes the recipe. With no fat, sugar, or moisture, everything is up to you. Butter will give you a richer flavor, but oil will result in a cleaner chocolate taste. You can control the bitterness of your brownies by adjusting the sugar, and you can make them lighter by cutting the powder with chocolate. You can even adjust between cakier and fudgier depending on your ratio of butter to oil, with butter giving you more rise, and oil creating a denser result. Cocoa powder may be the choice for people who like a cakey texture, but it also makes for a choose-your-own brownie adventure.