Thursday, 7 March 2013
You've heard of caramelised white chocolate, right? It's been popping up all over the place since Food 52 posted about it a few weeks ago. I joined in and made Caramelised White Chocolate Éclairs filled with softly whipped cream. Just the memory of them makes me feel a bit weak at the knees.
One day when I was testing for the éclairs, I asked mum to get some extra chocolate from the shops. When she came back there was a bar of Frey Milk in amongst the selection, a sweet and creamy Swiss chocolate that she'd mistaken for a bar of white.
So, ever curious, I decided to see what happened if I applied the same process to milk chocolate.
For the first thirty minutes, nothing seemed to change. Then another flavour started to creep in, bit by bit. Once finished and cooled, it was quite different. It's not as big a change as with white, but I rather like it.
It's still sweeter and creamier than dark chocolate, but it's richer and more complex than usual. The difference is hard to describe - there's a touch of extra caramel, a bit of bitterness (even a touch of sourness in one of the chocolates I tried) and a roasted-coffee depth. The salt, as ever, heightens the flavours and takes the edge off the sweetness. Unlike white chocolate the colour doesn't change, though it does thicken a little. The flavour deepens as it cools.
I couldn't find much information on caramelised milk chocolate, though quite a few chocolate manufacturers talk of caramel notes and caramelised nuts are often folded through or paired with it (i.e. this is the first time I've ever googled an idea and not been able to find anything specifically about it. Cue shock and an uneasy feeling.)
In the oven it stiffens and the surface becomes rough, but it all smooths out if you work it with a spatula. You can see the difference the oven makes in this pair of photos (the first is after 5 minutes of baking, once the melted chunks - as above - have been stirred, and the second is after ten more minutes i.e. 15 in total):
Given all the talk about how you need to buy expensive, professional brands to make caramelised white chocolate (certainly never pick something conveniently from the supermarket), I thought it would be interesting to see what people thought of caramelised milk chocolate made with a variety of different brands.
I haven't organised a blind taste test since 2010. The first one I did was for chocolate hazelnut spreads, where I roped in four friends to taste Nutella, two other brands and a homemade version. Later in the year I organised a larger test for vanilla ice cream - four brands and two homemade versions tested by ten people. They're good, geeky fun - at least for me (though I've never had a complaint...).
So I persuaded five neighbours to come round and eat chocolate for me.
For the test, I tried six types of chocolate (the price is per 100g, calculated from the amount I paid):
Valrhona Jivara (£5.71)
Green & Black's Milk (£2)
Green & Black's Creamy Milk (£2)
Hotel Chocolat Milk 40% Cooking Chocolate (£1.87)
Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy Milk (£1.85)
Marks & Spencer Milk Chocolate (£1.49)
There were so many brands and types I wanted to try but in the end I had to stop somewhere (stirring every ten minutes, hour on hour, was messing with my mind). I tried to create a range of prices and cocoa/milk percentages. (As always, I bought all of the ingredients myself and do not have any links to any of the brands.)
The six were all baked at 120C/250F for 65 minutes, stirring after the first five minutes and then every ten. I used 100g of each, except for the Valrhona, which was 70g (due to the packet size). As I wanted to do two at a time, I used glass dishes as I don't have two appropriate metal dishes. A pinch of fleur de sel was stirred in at the end of the process, before it was all scraped into a numbered bowl and cooled. Once firm, I sliced it into squares for easier tasting.
I asked my testers to make comments (including on the suspected price) and then rank them. I then scored them so that their top choice received 6 points, the second 5 and so on. The result:
1 - M&S
2 - Lindt
3 = Hotel Chocolat
3 = Valrhona
4 - G&B Milk
5 - G&B Creamy Milk
As you can see, the rank is almost reversed in comparison with the price list. The Valrhona divided opinion, with two testers putting it last and the others ranking it highly (though only one placed it first). None guessed that it was the most expensive (I should note that if I had wanted to have a kilo of it, I could have reduced the price per 100g to £2.59). The G&B Creamy Milk behaved weirdly - it didn't seem to roast like the others and kept a milder, neutral flavour.
The amount of cocoa and milk didn't seem to make a huge difference. The M&S has 36% cocoa and a minimum of 26% milk, very similar to the G&B Milk (34%, min 25%), whereas the Lindt has 30% cocoa and a minimum of 20% milk.
The only ingredient that did make a visible difference was the amount of cocoa butter. The series of photos are of the Green & Black's Milk, which goes particularly thick when you roast it. Cocoa butter is the fourth ingredient in its list, compared with the fluid Valrhona, where it is the top ingredient.
Interestingly, the M&S chocolate lists 'caramelised sugar syrup' as an ingredient, which probably added to the effect. Other common flavourings included vanilla and malt (though the Hotel Chocolat has no flavourings, presumably as it's for cooking).
Obviously it's a small, imperfect test, but I think it shows that you can get a delicious result with a variety of chocolates. Perhaps it would have been different if I'd tried other brands or had a gathering of professional pastry chefs and world class chocolate experts around my table (but then when do I ever feed them?).
I think that the caramelisation and salt makes the most difference to the cheaper chocolates, where the conversion of the pure sweetness to a richer, deeper flavour is most needed.
So there you go. A little experiment. I'll be back next week with a recipe that uses some of my rather large pile of caramelised milk chocolate...
For the moment, my tip is to toss a few chunks into a mug then pour steaming hot milk over the top. Leave for a few minutes, then stir or whisk together. It makes glorious hot chocolate.
A few more recipes that use milk chocolate:
2009: Triple Chocolate and Pecan Cookies
2010: Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Biscuits
2013: Champagne Truffles