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The story of high-end chocolate doesn’t end with the dark stuff

When I began making chocolates and had my first fantasies of doing it for a living, Americans were well past their misgivings for anything other than a Hershey bar. In fact, the national trend had been moving steadily toward a preference for dark chocolate, and for my fellow American foodies, dark chocolate was beginning to define the very concept of luxury confections. As a result, we were spending an increasing amount of money on chocolate, and asking for even better and more expensive products. 

As a fledgling entrepreneur, I was encouraged by this trend; my market was ready and willing to spend its hard-earned cash on luxury chocolates, so long as it was dark. This appealed to the business person in me, but as a cook who loves all the foods on the color spectrum, I couldn’t help but feel that this bias toward dark chocolate was not only unfounded, but also helped to negatively influence our perception of both milk and white chocolates. Especially white chocolate.

In my 11 years of talking with customers from behind my own chocolate counter, I can say definitively that nothing gets a self-professed chocolate snob’s blood up as much as the mere mention of white chocolate. 

“But it’s not really chocolate!” they exclaim. Or, “It’s too cloying.” Or, “It tastes like wax.”

They’re not wrong.

Most of the commercial white stuff on the market isn’t chocolate. Many bars on the shelf barely contain the minimum FDA-required amount of cocoa butter (20%) to define it as white chocolate, while the rest is filler of some other lesser quality vegetable fat (usually palm oil). Some contain no cocoa butter at all. Additionally, many producers of white chocolate bleach and deodorize their product, and then further manipulate it by adding copious amounts of sugar. And yes, some bars even contain paraffin—the producer’s effort to disguise the lack of sufficient cocoa butter in their inferior product. It’s only natural, and completely reasonable, for folks who pride themselves on their good taste, to be emphatic haters of the white chocolate readily available on their grocery store’s shelves.

So where’s the good stuff? And how can we tell the good from the bad?

First, and most important, read the label. A bar of plain white chocolate should consist of sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, natural vanilla, and usually lecithin (soy or sunflower). That’s it. Nothing else. A bar with these ingredients (and only these ingredients) is off to a promising start. From there, we can consider a few other factors. 

“As with dark chocolate, it all begins with the quality of the cocoa beans,” says Sally Baybutt, co-owner of Sparrow Enterprises, a Boston-based chocolate importing company. “Then, it’s the quality of the cocoa butter. After that, it’s the ratio of cocoa butter to sugar.” Baybutt goes on to explain that most higher-quality formulas have less sugar and between 28 and 35% cocoa butter.

Ratios of each will depend on the brand, and per Baybutt’s experience, we can assume that companies that produce an excellent quality dark chocolate, will also produce a high-quality white chocolate. Baybutt cites Valrhona, El Rey, and Callebaut as examples of makers of one or more lines of exceptional white chocolates.

See a brand you’re not familiar with? If it passes the label test, it is, at the very least, worth trying; and at its best, will change the mind of even the most passionate of haters. 

No lie. I’ve seen it happen.

As a cook, I pair white chocolate with the tart flavors of late winter and early spring fruits, like Meyer lemons, tangerines, limes, rhubarb, and strawberries. Its mellow creaminess also goes well with slightly bitter ingredients like coffee and black or green teas.

Even if you prefer to stick with your favorite bittersweet bar for snacking, white chocolate’s high fat content and sweetness add depth of flavor and incredible texture when substituted for part of the butter in recipes for cakes and other pastries. 

Curious? Feeling open-minded? The following recipes celebrate the very best white chocolate has to offer, and are a good place to start your experiments. 

Don’t need convincing? Great! Get your pans ready. And once the kitchen is clean, the haters don’t even need to know.

Iced Earl Grey La-Tea

Makes 2 8-ounce drinks

Smokey black tea and the zing of bergamot inherent in Earl Grey blends are dreamy with creamy white chocolate. Gild the lily with sweet, freshly whipped cream and a sprinkle of finely grated lemon zest. Perfect for a spring afternoon on the porch.

2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea

3 ounces white chocolate, chopped (I used Icoa from El Rey Chocolates)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Freshly whipped cream

1 lemon

Place the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tea leaves. Cover the pan and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on the leaves to extract as much milk as possible. 

Place the milk back in the pan, and bring to a boil. 

While the milk is re-heating, place the chopped white chocolate into the same bowl the milk was in. When the milk boils again, pour a small amount over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or 2. Whisk the chocolate/milk mixture until smooth and emulsified. While whisking gently, slowly add the remainder of the milk. 

Pour this mixture into a jar and cool to room temperature. Do not refrigerate. 

Fill two pint glasses with ice. Pour the cooled white chocolate mixture into the glasses. Top each drink with whipped cream. Finely grate a small amount of lemon zest over the whipped cream. Serve with a straw.

Matcha White Chocolate Pound Cake with Tangerine Black Sesame Seed Glaze

Makes 1 9-inch loaf cake

This cake’s striking green batter bakes up into a fine-crumbed pastry that looks more earthy than neon. The dark, crackly, split-topped crust is hard not to eat right out of the oven, but try to resist. Also, watch the cake closely as it ends its baking time. Even a slightly over-baked loaf will result in a somewhat dry crumb. However, if you overdo it, remedy by serving with softly whipped cream, or even orange sherbet. 

8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups sifted flour

¼ cup matcha green tea powder

½ cup milk, warmed to room temperature

8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (I used Icoa from El Rey Chocolates)

1 tablespoon grated tangerine zest (or any kind of orange)

1¾ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup tangerine juice (roughly the juice of one tangerine, or other orange)

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)

Heat your oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with butter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand-held electric beater, cream together the butter, salt, and granulated sugar until very smooth. Add the baking powder. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the matcha powder. 

Add the flour/matcha mixture and the milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour, and mixing well between each addition. 

Beat in the melted white chocolate. The batter should be satiny smooth and bright green. Stir in the tangerine zest with a rubber spatula.

Scrape the cake batter into the pan, spreading evenly with the rubber spatula.

Bake the cake for 75–90 minutes. When a knife stuck in the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it, it’s done. 

Remove the cake from the oven. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert and release the cake onto a plate. 

When the cake is completely cool, mix the glaze: Place the confectioner’s sugar in a medium sized bowl and add the tangerine juice. Whisk until the glaze is completely smooth. Spoon the glaze over the cake, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let the glaze set before serving.

Blonde Chocolate Pudding and Rhubarb Parfaits

Makes 6 parfaits

A few years ago, one of our chocolate makers left a melter of white chocolate cranked up and plugged in over a long weekend. When we got back to work and took the lid off the melter, we were dismayed to see a vat of thick, tan-colored chocolate. Clearly, the white chocolate was ruined. But then we tasted it. The milk solids and sugars in the chocolate had caramelized into a dreamy, sweet confection that was something wholly different than anything we’d ever tasted. What we were sure was an unmitigated kitchen disaster turned into a very happy accident. 

It turns out that we weren’t the only chocolatiers in the world to have made this mistake. We were just the only ones not to capitalize on it. Shortly after our unplanned experiment, Valrhona released its Dulcey Blond Chocolate, a caramelized white chocolate that they “discovered” in much the same way we did. Following Valrhona’s lead, there are now several other lines of “blonde” chocolate on the market. 

7 ounces blonde chocolate (such as Valrhona Dulcey Blond), or plain white chocolate, chopped 

⅓ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

4 egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups chopped rhubarb (I cut mine into ¼-inch chunks)

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Nutmeg or cinnamon for garnish (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate into a large bowl. Set aside.

Place the ⅓ cup sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks into a medium sauce pan and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk and heat over a medium heat, stirring constantly. 

Bring the milk mixture to a gentle boil, and cook at this temperature for 1 minute, stirring constantly. 

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately scrape the custard over the chopped white chocolate. Allow to sit for a minute or 2, then stir until the chocolate is melted and the pudding is perfectly smooth. Stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated. 

Cover the bowl by pressing plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the warm pudding. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. 

Make the compote: Place the rhubarb, ¾ cup sugar, and lemon juice into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the rhubarb is perfectly tender, about 10 minutes. Scrape the compote into a clean bowl, cover, and chill. 

To finish the parfaits, place a dollop of pudding into the bottom of a parfait glass (or wine glass, or whatever you have). Follow with a spoonful of rhubarb compote. Spread each layer so that it completely covers the layer beneath it. Next, add the pudding. Then the rhubarb. Finish with the pudding. Grate a little nutmeg over the top (or sprinkle with cinnamon) and serve with a long-handled spoon.


Kate Shaffer is the author of Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier, and owns Black Dinah Chocolatiers, an award-winning confectionery with locations in Westbrook and Blue Hill, Maine.

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