In defence of white chocolate
Author: Annabel Crabb
Photography: Illustration by Lara Porter
White chocolate. It's always been the poor cousin of the chocolate family. Dark chocolate - with its hardcore fans intently monitoring cocoa-solid content as it rockets through 70, 80 and 90 per cent towards its ultimate bitter target of 100 - is the rock star.
It's bloody hard to offend anyone with dark chocolate. You can use it unimpeachably of course, in countless desserts. You can put it in savoury dishes. You can even eat it and remain smug about your dietary health, like those Paleo types and sugar-dodgers. (Indeed, every month or two someone releases a study concluding that dark chocolate is good for fending off Alzheimer's, or maintaining gum health, or some other health benefit.)
There is, in other words, widespread general support for the smug caste system of chocolate, in which the higher the percentage of cocoa solids in any given bar, the more prestige it accrues.
But poor old white chocolate has zero per cent cocoa solids. In the chocolate world, this makes it decidedly non-street. It is made from cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids, and, okay, that does sound sort of disgusting.
Its honky overtones, and near-endless capacity for opportunistic backfill (cheap fats, the geopolitical murk of palm oil, milk powders and sundry sugary bulking agents), make white chocolate the disreputable darling of cheesecake shops and basement-priced Easter hampers the world over.
It's the chocolate serious people are ashamed of and its persecutors will accurately observe that "it's not even chocolate".
All of this is deeply unfair to white chocolate, which, if it were simply called something else, would be recognised more uncomplicatedly for its best self, which is a smooth and accomplished friend in the kitchen.
No, it's not going to work with your venison. And it won't appeal to those sugar-free Paleo types, but a good-quality white chocolate can nonetheless be a deep fount of joy. Relieved of the obligation to manage the grit of cocoa solids, white chocolate allows cocoa butter to step to the fore, with all its silkiness and structural opportunity. It will obediently stabilise and deepen a ganache, or wordlessly enhance a mousse.
Its texture - if you buy a decent white chocolate which has a high proportion of cocoa butter and hasn't been rendered either chalky or tooth-crackingly sweet by cheap filler - is incredibly luxurious. You can buy it in little ovoid shapes called fèves, and tiny buttons called pistoles, both of which are facts I find extremely pleasing.
My friend and co-author Wendy Sharpe once ate a dessert at J Sheekey, the legendary fish restaurant in London's West End, that inaugurated a decades-long obsession. Called something like "Scandinavian iced berries", it was simply a dish of frozen berries over which a warm sauce of white chocolate and cream was poured at the table.
That's the trick with white chocolate. Team it with unrelenting sweetness and you wind up in a Fudgemallow nightmare of American proportions. (I trawled through a couple of websites for white chocolate recipes and was immediately assailed by White Chocolate Oreo Dippers and something called a Snickerdoodle Cookie; perhaps it is the inclusion of milk products that condemns white chocolate so readily to ghastly infantilism.)
But team it with tartness and you're onto a winner. I love white chocolate with passionfruit or sour cherries, or with its immortal soulmate, the dried apricot (as long as it's a proper, flame-orange, slightly jammy sun-dried one, and not one of those flaccid Turkish numbers).
Another way of subverting the excessive sweetness with which white chocolate is associated is to roast it, whereupon a whole new world of nuttiness opens up.
Another friend Julia makes an unforgivable brownie of dark chocolate and cocoa into which, just before baking, she shoves whole chunks of white chocolate. By the time it comes out of the oven, the brownie is harbouring hidden landmines of caramelised delight.
A ganache of roasted white chocolate is, of course, still sweet. But its rich, buttery brown hue and toasty flavour are ample rewards for a quiet declaration of faith in this much-reviled ingredient. Just forget that it's even called chocolate. You won't regret it.
Annabel Crabb is the host of the ABC's Kitchen Cabinet, co-author of Special Delivery (Murdoch Books) and a political commentator.