In a nutshell, milk chocolate is chocolate with added refined sugar and milk. It is generally considered an eating rather than a baking chocolate. While the relatively small amount of chocolate liquor makes it too mild and delicate to substitute for dark chocolate in most baked goods, it can be delicious in some sauces and frostings. It has a pleasant flavour but its chocolate flavour is much less pronounced than that of dark chocolate. It can also alter the texture of baked goods that call for semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. This can ruin your recipe.
Because of the milk solids and high sugar content, this chocolate must be heated very slowly or it will scorch. Do it over a double boiler. Once the water boils, turn off the heat and let the chocolate melt over the hot water, stirring often. It doesn’t take long, and the effort is its worth it.
Specifically, in the U.S., milk chocolate must contain about 12 percent mild solids (usually milk powder versus condensed milk in Europe), about 3.5 percent butterfat (cocoa butter, vegetable oil or hydrogenated fats), and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor (compared to 20%-25% in Europe). It also often contains vanilla and lecithin.
Here is a link to a Wikipedia article that describes the laws of various countries concerning content of various ingredients in chocolate, including milk chocolate. As I mentioned above, different countries have different regulations which are subject to penalties, and which end up producing very different qualities of chocolate.
Milk chocolate varies in quality, with European brands generally being the best, due to their higher content of dry cocoa solids/chocolate liquor (as you probably guessed from the preceding paragraph). Look for brands that contain pure ingredients with no artificial flavourings or chemicals, which come through in the flavour. It should have a nice chocolate smell and a smooth, glossy appearance. The texture should be smooth and velvety, not grainy or greasy on the palate.
Milk chocolate is the most common form sold to the masses, in the form of filled and boxed chocolates, chocolate figures (around the holidays) and chocolate bars, or as they are called in the U.S. by law, candy bars.
The most iconic American chocolate bar of all would have to be the Hershey bar, of course.
Hershey is by far the largest U.S. producer of chocolate under several brands. They also manufacture here in Canada and elsewhere. Unbelievably, they even have their own museum, resort and theme park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They are also responsible for the invention of a type of chocolate rationed to U.S.military personnel in hot climates. The chocolate doesn’t melt even in extreme heat, and has long been considered a necessity in soldiers’ survival kits. Hershey has, without a doubt, permeated American, and by extension, Canadian pop culture. Just think of Hershey’s kisses, Reese’s peanut butter cups, glossettes and all the other permutations of Hershey’s products on the market, and you will be reminded of your childhood.
Nestle (Switzerland) and Cadbury (British) are the other two big chocolate manufacturers. These companies cater to the masses and children in particular. Their products are very sweet and not too chocolaty, although I must admit that growing up I was hooked on all of them, and they were the first things to disappear out of my bag at Halloween.
And just out of interest, I just found this interesting tidbit on-line about Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar going fair trade!
There are too many chocolate slash candy bars out there to name, most of them just sugar. Some stand out i.e. Mars, Snickers, Oh Henry, Skor, Caramilk, etc. – ones with nuts, toffee bits and other flavour enhancers other than just more sugar in the chocolate.
Taking things up a notch, we have Toblerone milk chocolate with nougat, and Lindt milk chocolate bars in all types of flavours – very addictive.
And then we have Lindt Lindor milk chocolate truffle balls, a study in sublime perfection in my opinion. The flavour is mellow and sweet, and the filling is smooth and creamy. If there is one retail product that Lindt does best, their milk chocolate truffle has to be it.
Be sure to check out Camino (fair trade), Green & Black`s (fair trade) and Scharffen-Berger as well…
Some Godiva boxed milk chocolates, some with hazelnut fillings, never hurt once in a while either…
Finally, at the top of the gourmet ladder, we have Callebaut and Valrhona. It doesn’t get much better than these.
To purchase the higher-end milk chocolates I described, just check out the links in my entries on unsweetened and sweetened chocolate. The online purveyors I mentioned also sell good quality milk chocolate.
Although milk chocolate isn’t really a baking chocolate, it still has many applications in fondues, milkshakes, truffles, ice creams, sorbets, cheesecakes, meringues, buttercream frostings, soufflés, sauces, mousses, fudge, etc. And you can always substitute milk chocolate chips for semisweet chocolate chips in your cookies.
Here are a few recipes to get you going!
Suggested wine pairing: medeira
Milk Chocolate Orange Mousse
Suggested wine pairing: sherry, merlot
Suggested wine pairing: dry sherry, moscato
Old Fashioned Milk Chocolate Fudge
Suggested wine pairing: merlot, zinfandel
And for the more adventurous:
Milk Chocolate Dome with Caramel Cream, Fleur de Sel and Pistachio Crunch Ice Cream
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A well-made cream sherry such as the Lustau “Capataz Andres” Deluxe (Cream Sherry)
Lindt has a great website too – all kinds of chocolate recipes, some using milk chocolate, and a tutorial on tempering chocolate. I’m sure you’ll want to take advantage of all of this free information.