When a chocolate craving hits, do you look for a sweet treat or a bitter indulgence? If you’re the type to crave something that’s both sweet and savoury, look no further than “dark milk” chocolate. This new category of everyone’s favourite guilty pleasure straddles the line between that melt-in-your-mouth taste that you grew up with and the new generation of bitter chocolates.
Until a few years ago, a dark milk chocolate was a chocolate with about 45 percent cocoa solids; considerably more ‘cocoa-y’ than the commercial “candy” bars that Canadians are accustomed to. In fact, many candy bars have less than 30 percent cocoa solids. So when fine chocolate makers began introducing high percentage milk chocolate, it truly delighted chocolate connoisseurs.
Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto offers a bar called Cocoa Latte 45%, and the powerhouse fine chocolate makers like Valrhona and Michel Cluizel make delectable milk chocolates with about 45 percent cocoa solids. Coincidentally, these high percentage milk chocolates were all the rage around the time that dark chocolate was booming (2005 to 2010).
But in the last five years, chocolate makers have been pushing the limits of where this category can go. Many of the newer bars have between 50 percent and 70 percent cocoa solids. Toby Gadd, owner of Nuance Chocolate in Fort Collins, Colorado, says of his 55 percent dark milk chocolate bar, “Both milk-chocolate lovers and dark-chocolate lovers buy them.” And since customers can’t get enough, more craft chocolate makers like Gadd are including dark milk bars in their product lineups.
So why is dark milk chocolate a trending indulgence? For starters, it can be a transition treat for milk chocolate eaters, to help them on their path to enjoying darker chocolate. And since the dark stuff is considered a heart-healthy, cancer-fighting, cure-of-everything food these days, many people are trying to make the switch from a sweeter chocolate.
Foodies are also drawn to it because of that unique taste: sometimes tangy and sour cream-like, and other times like creamy hot cocoa, depending on the brand. And really good dark milk bars? They have that melt-in-your-mouth quality that milk chocolate lovers crave.
Dark Milk Chocolate: A Category Without Consistency
When delving into the world of dark milk chocolate, it becomes clear that the concept is open to interpretation. For instance, we generally know what colour to expect when we open the wrapper of a dark chocolate bar. The same goes for milk chocolate. But after purchasing more than 15 dark milk chocolate bars, I’ve learned that every one is different and often surprising.
Some dark milk chocolates can appear as dark as an unsweetened chocolate, such as the nearly black Lattenero 62% bar by Slitti. Or they can be as milky in colour as Chocolat Bonnat’s 65 percent dark milk bars. Since there’s no recipe for this new type of chocolate, the chocolate maker has the freedom to interpret it any way they like.
Chocolate makers can play with the cocoa percentage, which contains both cocoa mass and added cocoa butter. For example, world-renowned French chocolate maker Michel Cluizel offers a 50 percent dark milk chocolate that’s high in milk powder and cocoa butter, whereas Nuance Chocolate makes a 55 percent dark milk that has no added cocoa butter. Both bars are delicious, but certainly Michel Cluizel’s melts quicker on the tongue and has a fattier mouthfeel, and Nuance’s has a stiffer texture and hot cocoa flavour.
What is consistent among dark milk chocolates is that many have an acidic sour cream taste. Of the 15 that I tasted, at least 12 had a slightly sour flavour. Ambrosia Pastry of Waterloo, Ontario, and Chaleur B Chocolat of Quebec make dark milk chocolate bars that have no sour taste, but many others, including Florida-based Castronovo`s award-winning dark milk bar, do have that distinct sour cream taste. So, depending on your preference, you can enjoy something sweet or something closer to savoury.
When I asked Aura Hertzog, co-owner of Ambrosia Pastry, what makes her dark milk chocolate so delicious, she replied, “We take the time in the initial roasting of the beans.” And she explained that they use a natural cocoa butter, which “creates a foundation for the chocolate much like a good stock does for a soup sauce.” Ambrosia’s chocolate is certainly creamy and a little sweet, but also a little savoury with a burnt caramel finish.
Can We Taste The Origin of Dark Milk Chocolate?
When tasting fine chocolate, chocophiles are always looking for the origin flavours. But as a category overall, dark milk chocolate hasn’t focused on origin-specific flavours. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Bonnat’s smoky Indonesian-origin chocolate or Michel Cluizel’s 50 percent Mangaro bar, where the bold fruity flavour of Madagascar cacao shines through. And Patric just announced a Peru-origin dark milk bar (Piura). So this category is showing signs that the best may be yet to come.
Can You Bake With Dark Milk Chocolate?
You can bake with any chocolate, but at $10 to $15 per 100 grams, the cost of dark milk chocolate is so high that it’s not feasible for the average baker. This trend is not driven by large industry players but rather by the small craft chocolate makers, so the intention is to savour and taste it.
You can, however, purchase good high percentage milk chocolate, including Valrhona’s Bahibe 46% , and Cacao Barry’s Ghana or Alunga milk chocolates from Vanilla Food Company. And you can make your own by mixing dark and milk chocolate together! See below for a truffle recipe that replicates the taste of dark milk chocolate inexpensively.
Where Can We Buy Dark Milk Chocolate Bars in Canada?
A few Canadian chocolate makers offer dark milk bars, which you can buy alongside imported ones from specialty retailers, like these:
- La Tablette de Miss Choco (Montreal)
- XOXOLAT (Vancouver)
- JoJo CoCo (Ottawa)
- FoodiePages.ca (for Ambrosia’s 55% Ghana bar)
- ATasteForChocolate.com (Toronto)
You can find a list of dark milk chocolate bars and where to buy them on The Ultimate Chocolate Blog, as well as a tasting guide.
- 100 gram milk chocolate bar
- 100 gram 85% dark chocolate bar
- 125ml (1/2 cup) sour cream, at room temperature
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) butter, melted but cooled slightly
- 1 ounce of shaved milk and dark chocolate
- 30g (1 oz) additional shaved milk and/or semi-sweet chocolate
- Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Melt together the milk chocolate and dark chocolate in the microwave on half power for 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir until melted.
- Using a hand mixer, beat the sour cream and butter into the melted chocolate until fully mixed.
- Spread the mixture into half of the loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside on the counter for 2 to 4 hours until set.
- Using a warm but dry knife, slice into ¾-inch squares.
- Using clean kitchen gloves (if you have them; if not, just clean hands) roll the squares between the palms of your hands to form balls.
- To shred the chocolate, place it in the microwave for 10 seconds to make it easier to shave with your carrot shredder. Place the chocolate shavings in a small bowl. Roll the truffles in the shavings.
- Place in a container with an airtight lid (can be frozen for up to 2 months).
- Serve in mini cupcake papers or candy cups.
Lisabeth Flanagan is a chocolatier, chocolate educator, recipe creator, product reviewer and owner of Ultimately Chocolate, a small business on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. She writes for The Ultimate Chocolate Blog and maintains several popular lists of chocolate makers, brands, and diet-specific chocolate in Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Follow her on Twitter (@Ultimatelychoc) or on Facebook for chocolate recipes, chocolate news, and reviews.