Easy now, chocophiles.

Amazing how even the mere mention of white chocolate is enough to get dark chocolate lovers all riled up. The prejudice is understandable. White chocolate has a reputation for vapidity, one that’s mostly deserved as there is in fact nothing “chocolate” about white chocolate save for the fact that it has cocoa butter in it. For those who relish the rich tang of cocoa solids, white chocolate is a confection without a point. Or worse. When Mrs. Pastry entered the kitchen to discover a pound of Ghiradelli white chocolate on the counter this morning, she reacted as though I’d set a five-pound bag of cow dung there. Disgusting. And you spent MONEY on that???

All I’ll say is: let’s keep an open mind, people. Many who loathe white chocolate love it in its caramelized form, as the rich flavors actually lend dimension and interest to what is essentially just sugar and milk solids bound together bound together with cocoa butter.

On which note I’ll also say something else, and that is that I find it ironic that most chocolate lovers utterly dismiss even high quality white chocolate, which abounds in cocoa butter, as an ersatz sweet, an edible nothing. Cocoa butter is but a flavorless fat! they say. However turn back the clock flour or five years, back when FDA chocolate labeling regulations were up for review, and you’d have found many of these same folks insisting that cocoa butter was the very essence of chocolate, the vital thing without which chocolate could simply not be considered chocolate. Chocolate without cocoa butter? An abomination!

Those positions aren’t entirely exclusive of one another, however I find it interesting that this essence, this utterly indispensable thing, when it stands more or less on its own, is also an abomination. Treasure in one context, trash in another. It’s not hypocrisy necessarily, just…interesting.

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33 Responses to Easy now, chocophiles.

  1. Jeff says:

    Jeni (of Splendid Ice Cream fame) opened my eyes to caramelized white chocolate — she does a bombe shell with caramelized white chocolate and coconut oil. Goooood stuff. And I’m about to make some of Lebovitz’s white chocolate/candied peanut rice krispie treats. There’s a time and place people!

  2. Chana says:

    White chocolate certainly has its place. Of course, I won’t say where that place is … :)

    Monsieur Lebovitz wrote about caramelized white chocolate a while ago, and yes, it does intrigue. It is on my “I have to try that” list, which is quite a list at this point. (So I’m glad you’re doing it for me!)

  3. LML says:

    Marketing… or nomenclature. If the fat of a cocoa bean + milk and sugar had its own discrete name, just as hazelnut blended with chocolate is called gianduia, then it would be another flavor to like or dislike.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey LML!

      Thanks for the comment! As a packaging issue I think you’re absolutely right. But them I’m a philosopher (I have a worthless degree to prove it), especially when it comes to questions like this. If you take cocoa butter out of the chocolate and substitute another fat that delivers an identical eating experience, is what you have still chocolate? And what happens, say, if you want chocolate in a frozen medium like ice cream where cocoa butter is absolutely tooth shattering? If you formulate your chips with vegetable oil in order to deliver an eating experience that mirrors piece of bar chocolate, do you lose the right to call your inclusion a chocolate chip?

      These are the sort of things that keep me up at night. ;)

      - Joe

  4. Bronwyn says:

    I wonder what Mrs Pastry would have to say about this stuff. http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/food-news/10305908/100s-and-1000s-chocolate-hits-the-spot

    Whittakers make some gorgeous chocolate, but despite its popularity I doubt this is one of them. I particularly dislike chocolate and biscuit (cookie) in the same mouthful. I did, however, have to buy a block to send to my granddaughters in Australia, who will just adore it – a) because it’s pink, b) because of the hundreds and thousands, aka “sprinkles” in Australia

    • joepastry says:

      My wife probably wouldn’t let it in the house, Bronwyn, though my daughters — especially my younger one — would go bananas. What is it about little girls and pink? And all the sprinkles…this is genius marketing, at least where kids are concerned.

      Thanks and I’ll forward this along to the Mrs. for a reaction! ;)

      - Joe

      • Bronwyn says:

        Not just little kids either. The shops can’t keep up with the demand, and in my local supermarket it’s the university students buying it.
        Hundreds and thousands (sprinkles) have a special place in the hearts of New Zealanders. They go on top of plain white bread and butter turning it into “fairy bread” for parties, and sometimes inside sandwiches, and also on top of buttered cold pikelets (pancakes/drop scones/ etc depending on where you live). But only when you are quite small. There is a distinct nostalgia thing involved with anything to do with them.

        • joepastry says:

          Food kitsch in other words?

          I could see something like this catching on here as well. Thanks, Bronwyn!

          - Joe

      • Bronwyn says:

        I should add that Whittakers has just recently had an immense surge in popularity. What did they do? Nothing. Cadbury’s (big multinational) decided to add palm oil to its chocolate. They changed their minds within a couple of months and got rid of it, but the damage was done. A large percentage of their previously loyal customers jumped ship and discovered that Whittakers make really good chocolate. Since then Whittakers have been putting out limited editions of all sorts of flavours. When I was a kid they mostly just made a thing called “peanut slab”, a medium sized single serving hunk of milk chocolate packed with peanuts.

    • joepastry says:

      Mrs. Pastry writes:

      The biscuits don’t look too appetizing. The candy bar, on the other hand, is gorgeous. They would probably both be tasty. My problem is calling them “chocolate”. That sets up certain expectations, not only in terms of texture but depth and range of flavors.

      • ascanius says:

        so does mrs. pastry also belong to the joepastry school of cheap chocolate? her comment about texture and depth and range of flavor would lead me to believe she doesn’t.

        • joepastry says:

          Yes and no, that’s a good question. To simple eat it, she’s very particular. And in truth she was all about top quality for everything until we started taste-testing recipes for my old baking business. She came to realize (like I did) that there’s such a thing as too much club for some applications, to employ a golf analogy. But as a general rule she shoots for more quality than less I think!

          - Joe

    • Chana says:

      “Hundreds and thousands” has to be the most brilliant name ever.

      • Bronwyn says:

        How about “hundreds and thousands sandwiches”? The beauty of them is that the food colouring in the hundreds and thousands leaches into the butter so it’s like eating a sweet rainbow sandwich. A real treat that was 50 years ago when I was a kid.

  5. naomi says:

    I loved Lindt 70% chocolate until they decided a few years back to “improve” it. Before, there was an almost chocolate liqueur flavor; after, rather waxy and definitely not as chocolate. Could they have upped the cocoa butter, or is it really wax?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Naomi!

      Sometimes a lot of cocoa butter can make a bar chocolate taste and feel, well…a little insipid and fatty. Lindt is of course a Swiss chocolate and traditionally the Swiss have placed a premium on tame chocolate flavors and smooth textures. They accomplish this by “Dutching” their chocolate (neutralizing the acidity with an alkaline of some sort), and using plenty of cocoa butter and milk solids. My guess, since this is a 70% bar, is that there’s very little milk in it and more cocoa butter. Together those factors might make the bar taste a bit more bland than an American-style bar and perhaps give the waxy impression you describe.

      But check the label as well. It’s possible that there’s another fat in the mix with a higher melting point than cocoa butter. That’s the most common source of waxy mouthfeel. Palm oil for instance is a common chocolate additive and it, unlike cocoa butter, melts above body temperature. That means it doesn’t liquify in your mouth like cocoa butter will (which melts just below body temperature) and the results is that waxy texture.

      But in answer your question there’s no wax in bar chocolate, at least not here in the States where adding wax to commercial chocolate has been illegal for some time.

      Thanks for the question!

      - Joe

  6. Gerik says:

    I love white chocolate. Green and Black makes an excellent bar and for those low-rent days, the Hershey’s Cookies and Cream white “confection” has a certain place as well. I want to try one of the bars that is made with the non-deodorized cocoa butter, though I can never justify the $8+shipping that they all seem to cost.

    I guess it’s just an easy thing to hate on for people, especially because all of the super high cocoa % dark chocolate seems to have become the popular item the past few years. Personally I find them worse than white chocolate.

    • joepastry says:

      Nice to have an opposing view on this, Gerik! White chocolate wouldn’t be so widely available if nobody ate it. Thanks very much for joining the conversation.

      Cheers,

      - Joe

    • rainey says:

      “Non-deodorized cocoa butter”? I’m trying to think of the inverse and why that would be an objective…

      • joepastry says:

        Hey Rainey!

        Cocoa butter is routinely deodorized because it’s main use — outside of the confectionery industry — is cosmetics. The reason is because of its just-below-body-temperature melt point. It makes cocoa butter great as a base for skin creams of various kinds. The cosmetic industry demand is a big reason why cocoa butter is so expensive!

        Thanks for the question!

        - Joe

  7. rainey says:

    I’m with Mrs. Pastry on the concept of white chocolate. But, like Chana, I’ve had it on my to-do list since DL did it a considerable time ago.

    But when it comes to white chocolate, let’s — none of us — even think about this thing: http://www.chow.com/food-news/153595/the-most-fabulous-candy-bar-ever/ Tho it might be best suited to caramelizing. …provided you did it with a blowtorch. ]=>

    • joepastry says:

      Oh good lord. That’s amazing if only for the kitsch value!

      Something else to forward on to Mrs. Pastry.

      - Joe

    • joepastry says:

      Mrs. Pastry writes:

      These two items are what we chocolate addicts would call “chasers”, perfectly serviceable as a treat but not the main course. They are both fun ideas and make me think of a carnival or fair. The first seems geared toward kids and the second is a kind of grown-up version of fun, kiddie food.

  8. ascanius says:

    ghiradelli? and here i thought you were a proud hershey’s and nestle’s kind of guy. what’s next? valrhona and scharffen berger?

    • joepastry says:

      Let’s not go nuts, Ascanius. If I could get my hands on a lower quality white chocolate easily — and if in fact it actually WAS white chocolate — believe me, I’d use it!

      - Joe

  9. LML says:

    If I purchase a large push-up stick of 100% pure cocoa butter and melt it with milk and sugar will I have white chocolate?

  10. Catherine says:

    While white chocolate may not be as flavorful a fat as butter, I think it does have a really nice aroma, texture, and mouthfeel. It definitely has a place in the culinary world. I think it’s kind of hypocritical to be OK with the celebration of butter, but declare anything that focuses on white chocolate to be an impostor.

    And it makes sense for pastry chefs to substitute an ingredient with similar baking properties but different flavor profiles. This decision is hardly sacrilegious. Even though my husband does not like the flavor of limes, he doesn’t declare all Key Lime pies to be lemon meringue knock-offs or Margaritas as subpar Sidecars.

    And I still don’t understand why a white chocolate dessert would be a let-down. I can’t imagine a single situation where someone would be promised a chocolate pastry, only to be delivered something made entirely with white chocolate. I’ve only seen white chocolate confections clearly labeled as such. When a person who dislikes white chocolate spies it on the dessert menu, I would expect they would react the way a person who hates cherries does when they run across a Black Forest cake – order something else. But I don’t think the cherry-hater would term the Black Forest cake offensive or disappointing.

  11. Linda says:

    All of this reminds me of how people will call something bland or dull as “vanilla”. Can’t imagine any flavor LESS dull. I’m sure it is the same with white chocolate. Most of what I have eaten alone does seem over sweet and less dramatic or deep flavored than regular chocolate but then how many people snub milk-chocolate these days and argue the darker, the better. I tend to be one of the “darker is better” folks but I have tasted some poor versions of that. And though I rarely use milk-chocolate in baking due to its flatter flavor and overly sensitive nature to burn or seize easily…it has its place too. What’s wrong with diversity?? Good blog, Joe. Always good for thinking here!

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