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Introduction

I'm making Nanaimo bars for my coworkers. Some of them don't like chocolate, so I'm going to make a second, terribly non-traditional batch with different flavours (I'm thinking maple syrup is the obvious choice, dried apple, and cinnamon).

I need an alternative to chocolate ganache for the top layer.

Replacement Criteria

Taste

I think that my coworkers who dislike chocolate dislike its bitterness and "chocolatey" flavours. If possible, I'd also prefer to avoid the flavours of white chocolate, either by covering it up or using something else.

Texture

The replacement should be something with a bit more tooth to it than icing, since it has to contrast the middle layer, but not something sticky like caramel or hard like crème brûlée.

Relative importance

The most important part is that the replacement doesn't taste like chocolate. I think the contrast in texture is important to the experience of eating a Nanaimo bar, so keeping the texture close to ganache is the next most important part.

Original Ganache Recipe

I am planning on using this Nanaimo bar recipe. The portions of the recipes that deal with the ganache layer are quoted below:

Ganache Ingredients:

4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet baking chocolate

2 teaspoons butter

Ganache Instructions:

...melt the [4 ounces of] semisweet chocolate and 2 teaspoons butter together in the microwave or over low heat. Spread over the chilled bars.

Additional Comments

I also considered this ganache recipe by Ina Garten. However, I doubt it will be dense enough, so I'll probably end up using the one in the Nanaimo bar recipe.

Would dulce de leche work? I haven't worked with it before so I don't know the consistency.

Thanks!

  • Welcome to Seasoned advice, justforplaylists. I appreciate that you specify a number of desired characteristics; it makes it easier to answer this question. You can make it even easier by adding any other criteria you have for a "best" alternative. (For example, is it more important to get closer to the texture of chocolate ganache, or is it more important to have something that can be easily flavored as long as it meets your textural requirements?) – user95442 Jun 26 at 4:43
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    Are you willing to elaborate on why your coworkers do not like chocolate? As I understand it, the current question rules out a white chocolate ganache, which may not have the flavors that they dislike and have a texture similar to that of a to a milk or dark chocolate ganache. – user95442 Jun 26 at 5:04
  • Would it be convenient for you to post the chocolate ganache recipe you plan to use for the other batch that you want to replace? When I searched for "ganache recipe", the first three results used a weight ratio of about 2 parts chocolate to one part of heavy cream; when I searched for "nanaimo bar recipe", the first recipes used ratios from 4:1 to 6:1 chocolate to butter. I expect significantly different results from the two approaches, but it is not clear to me which one you want to use. – user95442 Jun 26 at 5:07
  • Added answers in the question. – justforplaylists Jun 26 at 23:15
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    Dulche de leche will not work. It never stiffens up, it's always a gooey consistency. – FuzzyChef Jun 29 at 21:46
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I would suggest a dark, dry caramel. If you make a dark caramel and add just a tiny bit of cream or butter to it at the end, it will be firm and dry (at least, as much as ganache is) and not "sticky", as you say in your question. The trick will be adding enough butter or cream that the caramel remains pliable, but not so much that it is sticky; you may have to experiment some here.

A dark caramel will also add some bitter notes and contrasting flavors that would otherwise be missing in the chocolate-free bars.

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Experimenting with the approach described by FuzzyChef, will probably be faster and more convenient than the approach suggested in this answer; this answer is mostly a record of my experiments.

Caramelized White Chocolate Ganache

Many if not most white chocolate varieties use deodorized cocoa butter, so most of the flavors present are from milk solids and vanilla, with relatively little "chocolatey" flavor. Caramelized white chocolate is heat processed in a way that browns the milk solids and sugars; the end result is chocolate that tastes similar to milk caramels like dulce de leche.

Caramelized white chocolate behaves like other chocolates; as far as I can tell, it produces a ganache that is relatively close to one produced with dark chocolate.

Executive Summary of Recipe and Results

Recipe Summary

Melt 4 parts of caramelized white chocolate per one part butter (by weight) over gentle heat and stir until combined. 2 tablespoons is about one ounce of butter, so the ratio is 2 ounces of chocolate per tablespoon of butter.

Texture

Caramelized white chocolate ganache is noticeably grittier than a ganache made with the same amount of dark chocolate and butter. Out of the refrigerator, it is slightly harder than dark chocolate ganache, but, after enough time spent at room temperature, both soften to similar textures.

Taste

Caramelized white chocolate ganache will taste like the chocolate used. Especially when deeply browned, caramelized white chocolate can taste like milk caramels (for example, dulce de leche).

The process of caramelizing white chocolate at home does not appear to introduce or intensify any dark chocolate flavors, though it also does not completely remove vanilla flavors if they were present in the white chocolate before caramelization.

Between the caramel flavors and vanilla, ganache made with caramelized white chocolate will resist further flavoring.

Logistical Difficulty: Acquiring Caramelized White Chocolate

Unfortunately, obtaining caramelized white chocolate may be inconvenient. It is available for purchase from some vendors, but the most readily available option is probably making it yourself from white chocolate.

Buying Caramelized White Chocolate

Caramelized white chocolate is a specialty product; it will likely be only available at specialty stores or online, and at a markup compared to similar white chocolates. Two examples of caramelized white chocolates available online are:

Caramelizing White Chocolate at Home

It is possible to make caramelized white chocolate at home.

If you have an oven, you can caramelize white chocolate by cooking it in a 250F (120C) oven four about an hour, stirring every 10 minutes. There are more details in this recipe by David Lebovitz.

It is also possible to caramelize small amounts of white chocolate in a microwave by microwaving in 15-30 second bursts, stirring thoroughly between bursts. This method may take as much as 45 minutes for 4 ounces of chocolate and requires close attention; I find it tedious and recommend the oven method. Note that the chocolate will still reach temperatures around 250F before it starts appreciably browning; use a sufficiently heat-proof bowl.

Choosing the Right White Chocolate

Since you want to avoid the flavors of dark chocolate, you should avoid white chocolated made with non-deodorized cocoa butter. Deodorized is usually the default; El Rey is the only producer that I know of that sells bulk white chocolate made with non-deodorized cocoa butter.

In the US, Ghirardelli and Guittard are two brands that make relatively common white chocolate (*and non-chocolate "white chips") bars and wafers for baking. The varieties that I know of are produced with deodorized cocoa butter.

"White Chips"

The recipe by Lebotitz also links to an article that makes the distinction between "real white chocolate" and similar candies that use fats other than milkfat and cocoa butter (cacao fat). This distinction is also maintained by some regulatory bodies, including the United States FDA.

The term "white chips" is used for some of these confections, which are sold alongside other chocolate chips. The presence of fats other than cocoa butter and milkfat means that these chips may have textures and melting properties slightly different from those of white chocolate. On the other hand, the smaller amount (or absence) of cacao product may be desirable if you want to minimize the possibility of introducing chocolate flavors.

In this application, caramelized "white chips" may be close enough to the real thing. Ganache produced with 4:1 caramelized white chips:butter seems to have a similar texture; I find it slightly waxy compared to a ganache prepared with white chocolate, and, when both are brought to room temperature, the ganache made with white chips seems slightly harder than a ganache produced with white chocolate.

However, compared to white chocolate, "white chips" seem more prone to burning or producing large, crunchy pieces when caramelized in a microwave. This can be somewhat mitigated by caramelizing in larger batches (at least 2 ounces or 56g at a time). I was not able to test caramelizing white chips in an oven; the gentler heat of the oven may make this tendency a non-issue.

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