Just about everyone is a chocoholic, with Americans preferring milk chocolate by a ratio of 3 to 1, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association reports.
However, milk chocolate often gets a bad rap, derided for being too bland and sweet; low-quality, mass-produced varieties haven’t helped.
Yet it’s time to take a second look. Several varieties of milk chocolate are really good. They have the chocolate’s characteristic creaminess, but don’t stop there. Once you start exploring milk chocolate you will discover subtle nuances, just as in dark chocolate.
Until 1867, milk and chocolate were used together only in beverages. Then, a Swissman, Henri Nestle, developed an evaporation technique that transformed liquid milk into powdered milk, which could be mixed with chocolate to form bars. A little later, Daniel Peter, another Swissman, used evaporated milk to make milk chocolate bars.
By U.S. law, milk chocolate must contain at least 10 percent chocolate liquor and 12 percent milk solids, which can come from a variety of milk products, each with its own protein, fat content and sugar profile. These characteristics, plus how they are combined with cacao beans and in what percentages, all affect the final taste.
While cacao percentages are stated on most chocolates, that isn’t as important as how the cacao balances with the other ingredients. Too much sugar and poor-quality milk are the major factors in inferior milk chocolate.
It’s harder to make a good milk chocolate than dark chocolate because of the variables and the need for high temperatures to encourage caramelization and develop the dairy flavor, said Gary Guittard of Guittard Chocolate Co. in Burlingame, Calif.
The way the milk also is dried is important, said Brad Kintzer, chief chocolate maker for Tcho, a San Francisco chocolate company. The rolled process can result in chocolate with a cooked taste, while spray dried can have a cleaner fresh dairy taste.
When I select a milk chocolate to use in baking, I think about the overall taste I want the dessert to have. Do I want a creamy milky taste or something more powerful? I often add a little bit of dark chocolate or cocoa powder to give more background flavor.
The recipes here work with any milk chocolate, but don’t make the mistake of using milk chocolate chips. Use bars or baking wafers.
I encourage you to try a recipe with several types so you can discover the differences in flavor. But whichever brand you use, remember that it will melt at a lower temperature than dark chocolate, so don’t overheat.
Milk chocolate isn’t your grandmother’s chocolate any more. It’s not one dimensional. Dark and milk chocolates are like apples and oranges, and can be appreciated for what they are.
Milk Chocolate Chip Cocoa Nib Cookies
- 21/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 11/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups milk chocolate chips or chunks
- 2⁄3 cup cocoa nibs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a bowl mix together the flour and baking soda. Add the salt. Set aside.
- Beat the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add the reserved dry ingredients. Mix halfway, then add the chocolate chips and cocoa nibs, mixing until incorporated.
- For each cookie use a heaping tablespoon of dough. Drop into balls onto the parchment-lined baking sheets 2 to 21/2 inches apart. Bake on the middle rack in oven until brown, about 14-16 minutes. If baking with two racks at a time in a conventional (non-convection) oven, switch and rotate the baking sheets halfway through.
- Slide the cookies still on the parchment paper onto a counter or rack to cool; continue to bake more cookies after the baking sheet has cooled a bit. (Once the cookies are cool enough to remove from the parchment, you can flip the parchment paper over and reuse it.)
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Makes 32 to 34 3-inch cookies.
Milk Chocolate Cheesecake
- For the crust
- 5 ounces graham crackers (1 cellophane package)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- For the cheesecake
- 10 ounces milk chocolate wafers, coarsely chopped
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate wafers, coarsely chopped
- 2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- Chocolate shavings, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a food processor, finely grind the graham crackers. Place the crumbs in a medium bowl; stir in the melted butter, then press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, until firm and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside while you make the filling.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
- Melt the chocolates in a double boiler over hot water, whisking until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, processing after each addition. Add the sour cream.
- Check to see if the chocolate is at room temperature. If not, stir until it is. With the motor running, add the room-temperature melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture, and process until smooth. (If the chocolate is added when too hot, it will make chocolate flakes in the batter. The cheesecake will still taste great.)
- You can also make the cheesecake in an electric mixer. Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature before mixing. This will let the batter become smooth faster and incorporate less air.
- Spread the batter evenly over the crust in the springform pan. Bake for 1 hour, then test for doneness by gently shaking the pan. The cheesecake should be set except for about a 3-inch center section. It won’t look done, but it continues to set as it cools. Bake 5-10 minutes more, if necessary.
- Immediately after removing the cake from the oven, run a small knife around the inside edge to loosen it from the pan. Cool at room temperature for 2 hours, then refrigerate until completely cold, at least 6 hours to overnight.
- Garnish with shaved chocolate.
- Makes 12 to 16 servings.
Milk Chocolate Sundae
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 9 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (see cook’s note)
- 12 scoops vanilla ice cream
- Cook’s note: Toast nuts by placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes; watch carefully to prevent scorching.
- In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the cream and cocoa powder over medium heat until bubbling around the edges and very hot. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate, swirl the pot to cover the chocolate with the cream, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.
- Place two scoops of ice cream in each of six bowls. Pour 1/4 cup of warm sauce on top. Sprinkle each with 2 tablespoons hazelnuts. Serve immediately.
- If making the sauce ahead, refrigerate and reheat in a microwave, double boiler or over low heat on top of the stove.
- Makes six servings.
Milk Chocolate Cinnamon Truffles
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 10 ounces milk chocolate wafers, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- Warm the cream and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edge and the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Swirl the pan so the cream covers the chocolate. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Whisk the mixture until smooth, then pour chocolate into a wide plate or cake or pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate until firm enough to scoop, at least 3 hours or as long as a couple of days.
- Place the cocoa powder and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon on a plate and mix the together. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.
- Using a measuring teaspoon, mini ice cream scoop or melon baller, scoop out 40 1-teaspoon-size spoonfuls of the truffle mixture. Place them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. When all of the scoops have been made, lightly roll them between the palms of your hands to give them a nice round shape. If at any point the chocolate gets too warm and the truffles become difficult to roll, refrigerate the chocolate for 30 minutes until it firms up.
- Place the truffles, a few at a time, in the cocoa powder. Shake the plate so the truffles roll around and the cocoa powder coats them on all sides. Place in a single layer on a clean plate or storage container. Cover and refrigerate.
- These truffles are on the softer side, so keep them refrigerated until right before serving. They can be made up to a week in advance.
- Makes 40 1-inch truffles