Cocoa powder is the preferred ingredient for giving chocolate desserts their flavor and color. It is what is used in most chocolate cake recipes as well as in recipes for brownies, chocolate pudding and homemade chocolate ice cream.
If you find that you are out of cocoa powder and don’t have time to get any, you may be able to find other ingredients capable of filling its role. Note that when choosing a cocoa powder substitute, you will need to look for one that provides the right flavor without altering the texture of your recipe.
Your best bet: Unsweetened baking chocolate
Both unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa powder consist largely of cocoa solids, which means that they have many of the same flavor components. They are both made from cocoa beans. The only difference is that baking chocolate retains the cocoa butter while cocoa powder omits it. The result is that with baking chocolate you get the cocoa flavor, but in a solid format rather than as a powder.
To use unsweetened baking chocolate in place of cocoa powder, you will need to be mindful of the extra fat. This means that for every ounce of it that you add, you will need to remove a tablespoon of fat from the recipe. If you are using 2 ounces of baking chocolate, remove two tablespoons of butter or shortening from the recipe. You will also need to melt your baking chocolate before use. You can do this in a heavy saucepan over low heat, and stir with a whisk until it is completely melted. To minimize the potential for scorching, melt the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water.
A decent second choice: Carob powder
Carob is the best-known chocolate substitute and comes from the carob tree. The tree produces pods with a pulp that can be dried and powdered to make this chocolate substitute. The flavor of carob powder is not identical to that of chocolate as it lacks much of the distinctive bitterness; however, it is close enough to make a decent alternative and it does look a lot like cocoa powder.
Carob powder is used as a 1:1 substitute for cocoa powder, which means that you use exactly the same amount of it that your recipe requires for cocoa powder.
In a Pinch: Hot cocoa mix
Hot cocoa mix contains cocoa powder along with spices, a sweetener and milk solids. Of course, the exact additives will vary from recipe to recipe. Because it actually contains cocoa powder, hot cocoa mix can provide the richness and deep brown color that you want in a chocolate dessert.
It is important to be mindful of the additives when using hot cocoa mix as a cocoa powder substitute, especially the sweetener. Compensate by lowering the amount of sweetener in your recipe.
Unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate chips are similar to unsweetened baking chocolate and will have to be melted for you to use them in place of cocoa powder. Note that both contain cocoa butter and the semi-sweet version will have sugar, which means that you need to compensate by reducing any other sugar in the recipe. You should also remove some of the butter or shortening to compensate for the cocoa butter.
Sweetened milk chocolate can be used as well, but must be melted like unsweetened baking chocolate. You will have to compensate for both the sugar and the fat content by decreasing the amounts of each in the rest of the recipe.