I think white chocolate is one of the exotic, mysterious ingredients in the baker’s kitchen. My friends from Europe seek out white chocolate and enjoy its creamy flavor and consistency. It is much less a mainstream item in America.
So what is white chocolate. It’s chocolate. I mean it says so on the label. But it’s not and it is glossy ivory, not brown. It smells and tastes very different than dark chocolates, mild and creamy. It is also more expensive than regular chocolate and has a reputation for being tempermental to work with.
White chocolate is made just like dark chocolate but it lacks the chocolate liquor, the dark, thick fat-free solids that remain after cocoa beans are ground into a paste. Instead it contains the cocoa butter, which was also pressed out of the paste. To make the white chocolate, the cocoa butter is combine with sugar, dry milk solids, and some flavor enhancer like vanilla or vanillin, then processed just like for other bar chocolate.
Depending on the type of cocoa butter used and to what degree it is deodarized, you will have some discernable nutty chocolate aroma and flavor. You will also smell the milk; it can be anything from nonfat to whole milk solids that were added. When you are buying a white chocolate, the percentage of cocoa butter tells you how good it is. A good all-purpose white chocolate for baking, also called couveture or coating, will have at least 38 percent cocoa butter, taste clean and never stale or sour.
White chocolate is extremely heat sensitive, so it melts easily and rapidly. If overheated, the proteins in the milk solids tend to clump or if steam or water reaches it, the batch can stiffen up, the baker’s nightmare as the entire batch is ruined. Some bakers recommend you only melt 8 ounces of finely chopped white chocolate at a time and stir a few times to get it right. Melt the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler set over very hot, never simmering water with the heat turned off. Some people brave the microwave on the lowest wattage for 30 second intervals. Slow and low are the key words here.
White chocolate is best incorporated into recipes at a tepid temperature, which is between 80 and 84ºF. Use a candy or instant-read thermometer if you are not sure.
White chocolate works best in recipes that contain some dairy products like cream cheese, crème fraîche, and ricotta, so its inclusion in recipes like cheesecake show it off to the best advantage. It is excellent in truffles, mousses, ice cream, whipped cream, puddings, and sauces. The chips are good in brownies, cookies, and pies.
Balancing flavor enhancers include vanilla, crystallized ginger, citrus, regular bittersweet chocolates, coffee, almonds, walnuts, pecans, coconut, mint, cornmeal, oatmeal, and sweet spices like cinnamon and cardamom. Use the orange or coffee flavored liqueurs and fruits like dried apricots, pears, strawberries, and cherries. So add white chips to your peanut butter cookies or dip half of your favorite oatmeal cookie in it, serve a cornmeal pound cake with white chocolate whipped cream, or make a white chocolate cream cheese frosting. Dip your biggest strawberries in it and serve with champagne. Since it is inherently sweet, a little goes a long way, so don’t use too much nor add too much sugar.
Everyone’s Favorite White Chocolate Ginger Cheesecake
13 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 50 cookies)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
6 1/2 tablespoons (just a bit more than 3/4 stick) melted butter
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and wrap the outside of the pan with 2 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the gingersnaps, sugar, and ginger in a food processor and add the melted butter; process with on/off pulses just until moist clumps are formed. Remove from the bowl and press evenly into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the springform pan until firmly packed. Set in the refrigerator until filling.
1 pound white chocolate, finely chopped
2 pounds (4-8 ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
Position the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 300º. Place the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler set over hot water until melted. Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.
Beat the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, 3 minutes. Add the eggs and yolk, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla, ginger, and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat 1 minute on medium-high speed. Gradually beat in the white chocolate and then the crystallized ginger.
Pour the batter into the prepared crust and set in a large roasting pan. Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes, just until the center top is puffed and begins to crack.
Set the cake on a rack to cool completely to room temperature. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, then cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve, remove sides. Pitting the knife under the cake, lift up slightly and slide off the bottom, pulling off the parchment, onto a serving plate. Store, covered in the refrigerator. Serves 12 to 14. From Bon Appetit Magazine 1998.
White Chocolate Chantilly
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3.5 ounces chopped white chocolate, melted and tepid (80º to 84º)
In a chilled bowl with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. On low speed, gradually pour in the tepid melted white chocolate. Cover and chill until needed. Makes enough to frost one 8- or 9-inch tube or layer cake, or use on strawberry shortcake.
White Chocolate Pecan Pie
3 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups pecans
4-ounces coarsely chopped white chocolate
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust, homemade or frozen
Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350º.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs until pale yellow, 5 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until thick and creamy. Add the butter, corn syrup, and beat to blend. Stir in the pecans and white chocolate chunks. Pour into the pie crust.
Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for 1 hour, until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pie to a rack and cool completely. Serves 8. From White Chocolate by Janice Wald Henderson (Contemporary, 1987).
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2013
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.