White chocolate is ready for its closeup. Photo credit: Gareth Morgans/StockFood
White chocolate, that major player of the ’80s, is making a comeback. Even though it technically isn’t chocolate at all since it doesn’t employ chocolate liquor or cocoa solids (chocolate’s two primary ingredients), it’s got plenty of cocoa butter from the the cacao plant, lending it a fatty, sweet mouthfeel that many love. Those same qualities, though, have induced the rallying cry of “it’s not even chocolate!” among those who dislike it.
Among them is Pichet Ong, the dessert consultant and founding chef of groundbreaking restaurants such as the now-shuttered P*Ong, whose unusual sweet-and-savory combos have drawn much acclaim. Although he acknowledged that white chocolate is “definitely trending again,” he told us “I’m not a big fan.” It’s too “cloying, one-dimensional, sweet, and fatty” for him.
But he’s seeing it all over the place, in part thanks to a boom in higher-quality white chocolate. Ong acknowledged that tastier white chocolate is on the market these days, with “much better flavor profiles” that include “deeper notes like caramel, salt or spices… elements have been added.” He’s even a (somewhat begrudging) fan of new options from Valrhona.
And at a recent Dessert Professional Magazine event at the Institute for Culinary Education, we noticed white chocolate sneaking its way into all sorts of sweets, from a bark studded with pistachios (a classic pairing) to a delicious goat’s milk flan of sorts from Delia Gossett at Spago, served with savory herbs and a cherry compote. By our count, three of the top 10 desserts from around the nation featured the stuff.
In Asia, noted Ong, white chocolate is very popular, especially when infused with green tea or jasmine tea. He attributes its general popularity to that “fatty mouthfeel,” but notes that even naysayers like himself can be swayed when it’s used smartly with other elements. “If you actually incorporate it into a recipe, it’s a whole different game.” He melts a bit of white chocolate to add into his whipped cream, which he maintains makes for a more stable end result.
White chocolate might make a lover out of you yet.