How to Substitute Chocolate Pieces for Cocoa Powder in Any Recipe

Yes, it's possible to substitute chocolate pieces for unsweetened cocoa powder, but you'll have to make some adjustments.

Craving a warm and gooey brownie but fresh out of cocoa powder? Before you reach for that chocolate bar, there are a few things to know about chocolate before trying to substitute it for cocoa powder. All chocolate starts from the beans of the cacao (kay-KAY-oh) tree. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked. The extraction process produces cocoa butter and an intense brown paste called chocolate liquor. Before it makes its way into the brown cocoa powder box in your grocery aisle, that solid cocoa butter from the extraction is ground into a fine powder to make what you know as unsweetened cocoa powder ($6, Target). Now that the science is out of the way, let's get to how to substitute chocolate for cocoa powder.

chocolate pieces and unsweetened cocoa powder arranged in still life

BHG / Ana Cadena

How to Substitute Chocolate for Cocoa Powder

Your best bet when using chocolate instead of cocoa powder is going to be unsweetened chocolate ($4, Target) since all other chocolates will have sugar and hence take more adjusting to work in your recipe. In general, a 1-ounce piece of unsweetened chocolate can replace 3 Tbsp. cocoa. Though because your chocolate piece will have oil in it, you might want to try leaving out some of the oil; take out 1 Tbsp. of called-for oil for each ounce of chocolate substituted. What if you only have milk chocolate or sweetened chocolate on hand? The chocolate liquor we mentioned in the science lesson earlier is what goes into the chocolate bars and chips you buy at the store along with sugar (and dry milk for milk chocolate). Unfortunately, sweetened chocolate is not a reliable exchange for unsweetened chocolate in your recipes.

Cocoa Powder to Chocolate Conversion

Here's a quick breakdown of useful measurements when substituting cocoa powder for chocolate:

  • Substitute for semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (1 oz.): 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder plus 2 tsp. sugar and 2 tsp. shortening is equivalent to 1 ounce of semisweet chocolate OR 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder plus 1 Tbsp. oil or shortening
  • Substitute for unsweetened chocolate (1 oz.): 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 Tbsp. cooking oil or shortening, melted
  • Substitute for chocolate, sweet baking (4 oz.): ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus ⅓ cup sugar and 3 Tbsp. shortening

If you need to get your brownie fix stat and aren't a fan of math, you could always make our delicious fudgy brownies recipe, which already calls for unsweetened chocolate rather than cocoa powder. You could also get creative with your boxed brownie mix for a quick sweet treat.

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