To Be Or Not To Be
Food for Thought - Oct 21, 2009 - Mark R. Vogel
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White chocolate is not chocolate.
Or is it? For years food experts have been arguing that white chocolate cannot, technically speaking, be classified as chocolate. But, like so many definitions in the culinary world, (not to mention the world at large), it all depends on who you ask. There is an extant faction who profess that white chocolate is chocolate. Once again our old friend “subjectivity” rears its ugly head. Subjectivity thrives because so many phenomenon, regardless of their precise scientific nature, are subject to what we as a society “decide” to label them. We’ll elucidate the lexicological quandary of white chocolate more in a moment. But first, to comprehend how white chocolate fell into the semantic abyss, we must first understand what traditional chocolate is.
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, an evergreen indigenous to the tropical Americas. The seeds are encased in pods. There are numerous steps from pod to Hershey Bar but here’s the crucial one for the purposes of our discussion: The seeds contain a natural vegetable fat, known as cocoa butter, which is extracted. After the cocoa butter is removed the resulting product is called chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor is then further processed, and depending on the type of final chocolate desired, (unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk chocolate, etc.), lecithin, milk, vanilla, and/or sugar are added.
The vegetable fat that was extricated forms the basis of white chocolate, to which sugar and milk solids, and sometimes lecithin and vanilla are added. White chocolate contains no chocolate liquor and therein lies the basis for the debate that white chocolate is not chocolate. However, in 2002 the FDA modified its demarcational standards and promulgated that white chocolate can be deemed chocolate if it is produced from a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, 15% milk solids and no more than 55% sweetener. White chocolate that does not meat these parameters is not chocolate but a “confectionary.”
So there you have it. With a wave of its magic wand, the FDA unilaterally changed the way we define white chocolate. Purists would still argue that FDA delineations or not, white chocolate is still not real chocolate. In the end, you can call it whatever you want. My goal is to illuminate what chocolate and white chocolate are composed of and more specifically, the history and uses of white chocolate.
The invention of the first traditional chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry in England in 1847. White chocolate’s origins are more obscure. The Nestle company commercially produced the first white chocolate bar in Europe in the 1930’s (and later in America in the 1940’s), but who and where it was actually invented is unclear. When all is said and done, wherever it hails from and however we define it, white chocolate is delicious. Of course its delicious, it’s all fat and sugar.
White chocolate has many uses in the dessert world. In fact, it basically can be used in almost any manner that traditional chocolate can. However, it is a little trickier to work with because it has a greater tendency to separate when warmed. Care must be taken when heating it. If it separates it can often be re-emulsified by whisking in some butter or regular chocolate.
When you buy white chocolate, make sure you’re getting the real deal. Whether we dub it chocolate or not, one thing is for sure: real white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, the vegetable fat naturally found in the cocoa bean. There are imitations out there made from vegetable fat, but not cocoa butter. This is referred to as “compound chocolate” despite ignorant or unscrupulous vendors marketing it as white chocolate. Compound chocolate will not behave in recipes like white chocolate does. The best way to tell the difference is the ingredient list. Ensure that it is composed of cocoa butter and not ordinary vegetable fat. Moreover, if the price of the product in question is noticeably lower than its counterparts, it’s either not white chocolate or only partially white chocolate. If you’re a purist, find a good chocolatier or at least a reputable brand.
WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA COOKIES RECIPE
· 5 oz. unsalted butter (one stick plus 2 tablespoons)
· ¾ cup white sugar (or a combination of white and light brown sugar)
· 1 egg
· ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
· 1 ¼ cups flour
· ½ teaspoon baking soda
· ¼ teaspoon salt
· 6 oz. macadamia nuts, chopped
· 6 oz. white chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Grease two cookie sheets, or cover them with parchment paper.
In an electric mixer beat the butter until it starts to get soft, then gradually add in the sugar. Continue beating until the butter/sugar combination is fluffy. Then beat in the egg and then the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt and gradually add to the mixer. Then add the macadamia nuts and white chocolate.
Dollop the dough onto the cookie sheet making approximately two inch balls at least three inches apart. Do not flatten the dough once dolloped on the sheet or the cookies will spread out too much. Leave ample room between them and use both cookie sheets.
Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
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