I know, I know: we covered chocolate in number 2. And most of the time in baking ‘chocolate’ does mean the brown stuff: milk, semisweet, bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate. White chocolate isn’t properly chocolate at all, since it contains none of the cocoa liquor or cocoa solids that gives dark chocolate its characteristic colour and flavour. But it is a close cousin, made from the rich cocoa butter combined with sugar, milk solids and vanilla. And it is, in its own right, a fabulous thing.
Before you leave now, thinking how much you don’t love the tooth-hurting pasty stuff you think white chocolate is, hear me out. Most of us probably have pale memories of waxy white chocolate in the dubious shapes of bunnies and eggs, but if that’s what comes to mind when you hear the words, you’ve been unforgivably scarred. It’s ok: Healing is big fun. Real, high quality white chocolate is incomparable. Its flavour is milder than dark, but is full, warm and incredibly rich. It’s divine on its own, just a little square left to melt on your tongue until it becomes a thick warm liquid, but I happen to think white chocolate’s sexy, friendly flavour is best as a partner with others. It goes at least as well with the flavour of mint as does dark chocolate, and is even better with fresh berries. Toffee, caramel, any dried fruit, and virtually every type of nut are equally good matches. See? Suddenly, you can nearly double the number of desserts you can make! Just swap out dark chocolate for white, and Poof! Whole new kind of yummy.
In spite of the name, white chocolate should be a distinct ivory colour; any truly white white chocolate is vastly inferior as it’s been made with vegetable fat rather than the necessary cocoa butter. Remember, the thing with cocoa butter is that aside from the gorgeous creamy nutty flavour, it happens to melt at the exact temperature of the human body. (Which in my opinion is as much proof of the existence of a good force in the universe as I need.)
Which chocolate, like milk chocolate, has a shorter shelf-life than its more bitter cousins, thanks to the increase in milk solids and cocoa butter. It needs to be stored in a cool, dark, dry place, and used within 6 months.
There are usually fewer options in terms of brands when it comes to white chocolate, but fortunately one of the very best, Lindt, is widely available. I think the Swiss chocolatiers still make the best white and milk chocolate – smoother and just that much more voluptuous than some others. But there are some great domestic white chocolates out there too, and since it’s so lovely to eat on its own, it makes a great excuse for trying a few different brands when you come across them.
Try using it in place of dark chocolate in recipes that call for the chocolate to remain relatively intact: as chunks in cookies, or grated into an angel food cake. Melted, it makes silky rich icings and is wonderful melted and drizzled over cookies, cupcakes and truffles. One caveat with white chocolate is that again due to the milk solids and the cocoa butter content, it has a lower melting point that dark, and can scorch easily. It melts incredibly easily: just make sure you chop it into evenly small pieces, and then take it slow. If you prefer to use the microwave, keep the power low, try half-power, and go in 20 second increments. If you’re using a bowl over a pot of simmering water, make sur the water never actually boils, and watch carefully as it melts, stirring often. Either way, remove the bowl from over the bain marie or from the microwave when it is about 3/4 melted. The residual heat in the chocolate will melt it the rest of the way. Heck; at this point, you’ve more or less got a great dessert component ready-to-go: drizzle melted white chocolate over pound cake, ice cream, fresh fruit, or dip shortbread into it.
Below is one of the easiest ways to use white chocolate to it’s greatest advantage: in the form of a gorgeous creamy ganache, perfect for drizzling, spreading, or dipping. Or, of course, spooning into one’s mouth directly.
White Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces of finely chopped, very good-quality white chocolate
3/4 cup 35% (whipping) cream (a few tablespoons more or less cream can be used to achieve a looser or thicker ganache)
1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy-bottomed pot, and place the pot over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, then immediately remove the cream from the heat. Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and stir slowly with a wooden spoon or a wide-looped wire whisk until the ganache is smooth. Transfer to a clean container, and refrigerate until the ganache is the desired consistency, or until needed.
2. For glazing cakes and confections, you want the ganache to be still liquid and smooth, so it is best to chill it for only a short time, stirring often so it cools evenly. For a spreadable ganache, to frost layer cakes, spread onto tart shells, or use as a filling for truffles, chill the ganache until it is firm, but still malleable. The ganache can be made up to 4 days ahead of time, and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It can be gently warmed or even re-melted in the microwave or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Makes about 1-1/2 cups; can be doubled.