The Gourmet Cocoa Powder Ina Garten Likes Best

We can always rely on Ina Garten to give us excellent advice. She's got a way of making the most complicated dishes look easy, and her kitchen tips help us feel like we really can cook like a pro. That's why when the Barefoot Contessa recommends her preferred brands and assures us that, for certain substitutions, store-bought is fine, we believe her. Having already tested and perfected her recipes, we're confident she knows best. This is especially true when it comes to ingredients she likes to use in her heavenly desserts.

Much to our delight, her body of work includes many recipes with chocolate as the star ingredient. Whether it's her dark chocolate terrine with orange sauce, chocolate cassis cake, mocha chocolate icebox cake, or devil's food cake, there's one thing they all have in common — they're usually made with her favorite brand of gourmet cocoa powder, the Pernigotti brand from Italy.

She includes Pernigotti in her webshop along with her other product endorsements, and apparently, it's the key to how she makes her elegant cakes and other chocolate-based treats so exquisite. The specialty Dutch-processed dark cocoa powder is made with only two ingredients: alkalized cocoa and natural vanilla. It is unsweetened and contains no additives but maintains a high cocoa butter content (22% to 24%), resulting in an intense and full-bodied chocolate flavor. It's the perfect choice for not only cakes, but also brownies, cookies, ice cream, and gelato, as well as for making extra fancy hot chocolate.

What's the difference between natural and Dutch-processed chocolate?

To understand what Dutch-process cocoa is all about, we turn to The Netherlands, circa 1828. A Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten devised a way to separate cocoa butter from the cocoa seed via grinding. This resulted in two substances — the separated cocoa butter mass known as chocolate liquor and the cocoa solids. Van Houten developed a hydraulic press that further lowered the high-fat content of the solids, leaving behind a pure powder. To make this powder water soluble, he processed it with an alkali agent that reduced the cocoa powder's inherent bitterness and acidity. This process is called Dutching and is what differentiates Dutch-process cocoa from natural chocolate.

While natural chocolate has a mild citrus profile, this is removed with Dutching, which lends Dutch-processed cocoa a toasty and nutty flavor. As for when to use one or the other, there's more to it than just their taste.

For recipes that use baking soda, you'll want to stick with natural cocoa powder due to how its acidity reacts with the leavener. Recipes that have baking powder as their leavening agent should be made with Dutch-processed cocoa to avoid overdoing it on the acidity. For recipes that do not rely on a leavening agent, like custards, cheesecakes, puddings, and even some cakes, cookies, and brownies, either type of cocoa powder will do. Where appropriate, Ina Garten opts for Pernigotti due to its deep chocolate qualities, fragrant vanilla notes, and smooth, fine grind.

Where to find genuine Pernigotti cocoa powder

Pernigotti has been producing confections in Novi Ligure, Italy since 1860. Famous for its nougats as well as its world-renowned Italian chocolates, including Gianduiotto, Cremino, and Nocciolato, the company has changed hands a number of times over the years. In 2022 it was purchased by JPMorgan, and in 2023, shares were sold to Invitalia with the purpose of preserving the historic brand.

Formerly available in the U.S. through Williams Sonoma, Pernigotto no longer sells its cocoa powder directly to the public. However, thanks to a partnership with food distributor ChefShop, it can still be purchased as a private-label product. This arrangement has ensured that the original quality endures and guarantees a high 22% to 24% cocoa butter content. ChefShop warns of impostors using the Pernigotti name and selling fake cocoa powder made with less fat and artificial flavorings like vanillan, which is not the same as the real ground vanilla bean used in the genuine product.

The familiar-looking Pernigotti canisters have been replaced, and the powder is now sold in 2.2-pound plastic service pack bags designed for baking in quantity. One pack goes for $29.95 and can be purchased exclusively from ChefShop. While that's quite a bit pricier than brands like Hershey's or Ghirardelli — which are available in many supermarkets — the larger packaging justifies the higher cost. And judging by Ina Garten's love for the ultra-luxurious cocoa powder, no other brand quite compares.