White chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all because it contains no cocoa solids or chocolate liquor. It’s made with cocoa butter (the fat from cocoa beans), sugar, and milk and usually contains natural vanilla or vanillin, an artificial flavoring. More commonly used in desserts than eaten plain, white chocolate has a quick, even melt and creamy texture that make it ideal for mousses, cheesecakes, truffles, and cookies.
To find out which brands to buy, we gathered Fine Cooking staffers for a blind tasting of several widely available white chocolates. We were looking for smooth, silky texture and rich milk and vanilla flavor not overwhelmed by sweetness. Our favorite was Callebaut ($6.99 per pound), without a doubt. It best delivered the subtle flavor we were after, with a nearly perfect balance of milk, sugar, and vanilla. Its buttery flavor managed to be both rich and delicate, and we loved its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Even white chocolate skeptics would find this one good enough to eat plain. Callebaut is available in specialty food stores and in some supermarkets. It’s usually sold in chunks cut from a large block and individually wrapped by the store.
If your local store doesn’t carry Callebaut, look for Lindt ($2.59 for 3.3 ounces) or Ghirardelli ($2.79 for 4 ounces), which were our second favorites. We liked Lindt’s smooth melt and pleasant balance of milky sweetness and mellow vanilla flavor, but we didn’t love the hint of artificial vanilla on the finish. Ghirardelli also had a nice mouth-feel with a quick melt and a pleasantly creamy, rich flavor, although some found it a tad too sweet.
Not your ordinary white
If you like to snack on white chocolate (or any chocolate, really), this one’s for you. El Rey Icoa white chocolate has a rich, nuanced flavor reminiscent of sweet milk chocolate with nutty, caramel undertones. It’s almost too distinctive for baking, especially if you’re expecting a classic white chocolate flavor, but perfect for a sweet nibble.
I asked Leah Shields, international sales manager for Chocolates El Rey, why their product is so outstanding. She explained that because the cocoa butter used for most white chocolates is made from beans that come from all over the world, it goes through a “deodorization” process that removes any strong, possibly conflicting flavors. El Rey’s cocoa butter, on the other hand, is not deodorized because it’s extracted from single-origin Carnero Superior beans grown in one small region of Venezuela, so it maintains all its complex natural flavors. El Rey Icoa white chocolate is available in baking supply and specialty food stores for about $3.99 for a 2.8-ounce bar.