White Chocolate Cranberry Bark, sweetened with honey and spiked with vanilla bean and orange zest, will fill the little holiday boxes we give to neighbors and friends this time of year. They'll sit there, nestled in dotted crimson tissue paper, right next to the date-sweetened gingerbread men, mandarin oranges and the sesame honey candy. That is, they will if a certain tow-headed little boy I love doesn't get to them first.
You see, we favor a five-handed holiday; that is: handmade, hand-me-down, secondhand, helping hands and hand-in-hand. The frantic nature of the holidays never appealed to me (which is, of course, not to say I don't enjoy a good holiday sale). Instead, I prefer to take the time and sit down with my little boy to work on projects hand-in-hand. We bake. We snowshoe. We snip away at squares of paper to make snowflakes. This year we're painting our own wooden Advent Calendar which I'll fill with little homemade treats and special hand-crafted items we bought at the recent holiday bazaar. I plan to tuck a few pieces of this Honey-sweetened White Chocolate Cranberry Bark into the calendar's little boxes.
Why Cocoa Butter for Homemade White Chocolate
Cocoa butter is the primary ingredient in white chocolate and it is produced when cocoa beans are fermented, roasted, and pressed. This process separates the chocolate liquor from cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is often then refined and deodorized which removes its beautiful, rich and bloomy floral notes which is why it's imperative to buy food-grade, unrefined oil.
Cocoa butter is rich in vitamin E and K - fat-soluble vitamins that help to support eye, skin and heart health. Saturated and monounsaturated fat comprise the 97% of fatty acids found in cocoa butter, and these fats also contribute to cocoa butter's stability in cooking and its long shelf-life. Monounsaturated fat, the same kind found in olive oil and avocado and lard, supports cardiovascular health while stearic acid (the primary saturated fat in cocoa butter as well as in beef) has cholesterol-lowering properties.
Homemade White Chocolate for White Chocolate Cranberry Bark
While cocoa butter, with its floral notes and rich creaminess, is the primary ingredient in white chocolate, I still prefer making my own. Commercial white chocolates are typically loaded with emulsifiers, additives and white sugar. And they are, to my taste, far too sweet.
I prefer a simply making my own white chocolate - with honey and vanilla - similarly to this recipe for honey-sweetened white chocolate chips though I prefer to use far less sweetener.
Where to Buy Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is not widely available, which is why I use it only occasionally - for holiday treats where its use as a special occasion ingredient can be best magnified. Occasionally, if you look hard enough, you might find unrefined, food-grade cocoa butter available at large health food stores.
Honey-sweetened White Chocolate Cranberry Bark
- 8 ounces natural unrefined cocoa butter
- ⅓ cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean powder
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- ½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries
- Melt cocoa butter in a double boiler over gently simmering water. When the cocoa butter melts into a viscous, fragrant and slightly yellow oil, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool on the kitchen counter for 20 minutes.
- Pour the melted cocoa butter into a food processor and pour in honey. Pulse three or four times, then add vanilla bean powder and orange zest to the sweetened fat. Process until well-emulsified, then transfer the cocoa butter (still in the food processor bowl with the blad attached) to the refrigerator and let it cool a further 20 minutes.
- Remove the food processor bowl from the fridge and reattach it to the base. Process the sweetened cocoa butter a minute or two until its color becomes opaque and its texture creamy.
- Pour the cocoa butter into a mixing bowl and fold in cranberries. Spread the cocoa butter and cranberries onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until hard. Break into hunks and serve.