by Katherine Preston (A Botanist in the Kitchen)
’Tis the season to sound the trumpets and pronounce judgment upon the holy or evil status of traditional holiday foods. If you are among the many vociferous critics of white chocolate, you’ve probably complained that white “chocolate” is not even chocolate (uncontroversial) and that it tastes like overly sweet vanilla-flavored gummy paste dominated by an odd powdered-milk flavor, and that it exists only to cover over pretzels or perfectly good dark chocolate or to provide a color contrasting glue for peppermint candy flakes.
When is chocolate not chocolate?
It’s true that white chocolate is not technically chocolate; it lacks the cocoa solids that give genuine chocolate its rich complex flavor, borne of hundreds of aromatic compounds balanced by just a touch of sour and bitter. However, white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, the purified fat component of the Theobroma cacao seeds from which true dark chocolate is made. Raw cocoa butter has its own subtle scent and creamy texture, and I thought I could use it to make a version of white chocolate more to my liking, with less sugar and less stale milk flavor.
A flavour to go with white chocolate
Because it can be fun and instructive to find a culinary match within the same botanical family, I searched for a balancing flavor on the list of common edible members of the Malvaceae: Baobab? Durian? Okra? No. Just no. Hibiscus? Bright red and tangy and perfect. Although hibiscus and Theobroma are rarely united in cooking – and they took divergent evolutionary paths about 90 million years ago – I found that these species work extremely well together in truffles. Even better, the most widely available culinary hibiscus flowers come from the species Hibiscus sabdariffa, sometimes called roselle, which has its own connection to the winter holidays: it stars as the main ingredient in a spicy punch served at Christmastime in the Caribbean.
For my recipe for Merry Hibiscus Truffles, and to learn what they have to do with gomphotheres, see the full blog post here: https://botanistinthekitchen.blog/2019/12/19/dreaming-of-white-cocoa-hibiscus-and-a-happy-gomphothere/