Deluxe milk-chocolate desserts

Location, variety of cocoa beans grown and people’s expertise determine chocolate’s quality.

cocoa 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
cocoa 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
For many years, I didn’t like milk chocolate. But when I tested recipes for my book Chocolate Sensations and experimented with milk chocolate made by Valrhona and other producers of fine chocolate, I changed my mind.
Naturally, when Valrhona invited us recently to attend a chocolate conference, we were delighted to go. At the seminar, we sampled several chocolates, including the new Bahibe, an exceptionally dark milk chocolate made of cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic that Valrhona was introducing in the US. Its 46-percent cocoa content is high enough to impart a deep chocolate flavor that combines with the creaminess of the milk to make a superb chocolate.
Valrhona chocolate was used in an array of fabulous chocolate desserts prepared by a team headed by Chef Kamel Guechida, the director of pastry for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. One dessert was filled with gianduja, a classic Italian preparation traditionally made of milk chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, which happens to be the inspiration for the popular chocolate spread Nutella. The gianduja at the Valrhona tasting was made with Bahibe chocolate combined with an equal amount of hazelnut praline. Other desserts included milk chocolate soufflé; chocolate mousse cake with honey-glazed bananas served with chocolate sorbet; mango sorbet garnished with chocolate ganache and crowned with a thin chocolate flower; and individual desserts made of dark chocolate cake sandwiched between two layers of milk chocolate mousse. To wash it all down, there was hot chocolate made with milk chocolate. Somehow we managed to eat them all!
Producing the highest-quality chocolate begins in the tropical regions where cocoa beans grow. Not all cocoa beans are the same, said Pierre Costet, the manager of Valrhona’s Taste Mastery department, in his lecture on cocoa sourcing.
The first time Costet tasted Madagascar cocoa beans, he was amazed. They tasted like raspberries. “It was then that I realized that all the chocolate I had tasted until then wasn’t really chocolate,” he said.
Like grape juice for making wine, cocoa beans are fermented before they can become chocolate. When Costet talks about chocolate, he often uses the vocabulary of wine tasting. Good chocolate depends on finding the best terroir, or environment, he said. As in wine making, the location, the variety of cocoa beans grown and people’s expertise are key factors that determine the chocolate’s quality. When tasting chocolates, professionals at Valrhona use 35 flavor descriptors, such as acidity, bitterness and other terms used to describe the taste of wine.
For making desserts, dark chocolate is generally used, but milk chocolate is sometimes preferable. Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking from My Home to Yours, finds that milk chocolate’s milder flavor can make it a better team player. She told me that she often turns to milk chocolate when combining chocolate with spice or with fruit, especially citrus.
When I asked Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, what kind of chocolate she preferred for baking, she wrote: “As a pastry chef, I think I was embarrassed to confess I am not a bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate fan.” Lately she has been using milk chocolate more and more. She uses it in chocolate cream pie and adds it to banana bread, brownies and chocolate-orange biscotti. To fill rugelach, she uses ground milk chocolate, which accentuates the buttery taste of the pastry.
When chocolate sorbet is made from milk chocolate, writes Alice Medrich in Pure Dessert, it turns out like ice cream, even though water is used as its liquid. The chocolate itself has plenty of milk and makes the sorbet creamy.
We use milk chocolate to make desserts that need little or no sugar, such as mousses and soufflés. We also use it for ganache, a blend of chocolate and cream that is used as a glaze for cakes and cookies or to make chocolate truffles. Milk chocolate also makes good buttercream-type frosting; to make it, all you do is beat ganache into softened butter.
When making any dessert with milk chocolate, it’s important to use high-quality chocolate for the best flavor. Taste the chocolate to be sure you like it before using it to prepare a dessert.
Faye Levy is the author of Chocolate Sensations, which won the Best Dessert and Baking Book of the Year award in 1986 from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
MILK CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉSThe recipe for these easy-to-make soufflés is from my book Chocolate Sensations. You can prepare the chocolate mixture, without the whipped egg whites, in advance, and keep it in a covered container up to 1 day in the refrigerator.
Makes 4 servings ❖ 1 cup milk ❖ 3 egg yolks, room temperature ❖ 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. granulated sugar ❖ ¼ cup all-purpose flour ❖ 140 gr. (5 oz.) fine-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped ❖ 5 egg whites, room temperature ❖ Pinch of cream of tartar ❖ Powdered sugar, if desired (for sprinkling)
Bring milk to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.
Whisk egg yolks with 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar in a heatproof medium bowl until blended. Lightly stir in flour, using whisk. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg-yolk mixture. Return to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is very thick and comes nearly to a boil. Remove from heat.
Add chocolate; whisk until melted. If not using immediately, dab this soufflé base with a small piece of butter to prevent a skin from forming.
When ready to bake soufflés, position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 220°C (425°F). Generously butter four 1¼-cup soufflé dishes; set on a baking sheet. Have ready 4 heatproof plates near oven.
If chocolate mixture is cold, heat in a small saucepan over low heat, whisking, until just warm. Remove from heat.
In a large dry bowl, whip egg whites with cream of tartar using dry beaters at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 2 tsp. granulated sugar; continue whipping at high speed until whites are stiff and shiny but not dry.
Quickly fold about ¼ of whites into chocolate mixture.
Spoon over remaining whites; fold in lightly but quickly, just until mixture is blended.
Transfer to prepared soufflé dishes; smooth top.
Bake about 12 minutes or until soufflés are well-puffed and lightly browned; when you gently move oven rack, soufflés should shake only slightly. Set soufflés on plates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve immediately.
This recipe is from Baking from My Home to Yours.
Author Dorie Greenspan writes that these cakes, which are flavorful and easy to make, have “a light, lovely, mild chocolate crumb, a mid-level swirl of sugared walnuts and a top glaze of dark chocolate.”
To simplify the preparation, you can omit the swirl and the glaze, and dust the cakes with powdered sugar before serving. Greenspan notes that because milk chocolate is so mild, you can serve these cakes with milk, hot cocoa or steaming strong espresso.
The cakes are baked in a pan that has 6 miniature Bundt pan molds and is constructed like a 6-cup muffin pan. If you don’t have the molds, you can use jumbo muffin pans, but the baking time may be different.Wrapped well, the cakes keep for 2 days at room temperature or for up to 2 months in the freezer; thaw them in their wrappings. If the glaze dulls, as it undoubtedly will, give it a shot of hot air from a hairdryer.
Makes 6 servings
For the swirl: ❖ 2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans ❖ 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder ❖ 2 tsp. sugar
For the cake: ❖ 1 cup all-purpose flour ❖ ½ tsp. baking powder ❖ ¼ tsp. salt ❖ 110 gr. (4 oz. or 8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature ❖ 1/3 cup sugar ❖ 1 large egg ❖ ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract ❖ ½ cup whole milk ❖ 200 gr. (7 oz.) premium-quality milk chocolate, melted and cooled
For the glaze: ❖ 55 gr. (2 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped ❖ 2 tsp. light corn syrup ❖ 1 Tbsp. chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Generously butter a 6-mold mini Bundt pan.
For the swirl: Toss the nuts, cocoa and sugar together in a small bowl.
For the cake: Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more, then beat in the vanilla.
Don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled – it will smooth out soon. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the flour mixture, mixing only until it is incorporated. Add the milk, and when it is blended into the batter, add the remaining flour mixture, again mixing just to incorporate. Finally, add the melted chocolate and mix to blend.
Fill each of the mini Bundt molds with a little batter, then divide the swirl ingredients evenly among the molds and top off the Bundts with the remaining batter.
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the centers of the cakes comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the cakes to rest for 5 minutes, then invert them onto the rack and let them cool to room temperature.
For the glaze: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of water or in a microwave oven. Stir in the corn syrup. Using a small offset metal spatula or a table knife, spread the shiny glaze over the tops of the Bundts, then scatter the nuts, if you’re using them, over the glaze. Let the glaze set at room temperature; it will take about 15 minutes.