Such was Doctor Lisa‘s friendly diagnosis of my pre-Christmas party stressball whining. And I had promised myself that this time I was not going to go over the top with my menu. Nope. Not the week after Thanksgiving. I wasn’t going to fuss, I was going to keep things traditional, finger foods only, nothing crazy.
And Dan had already requested that the dessert table feature his two holiday favorites, peanut butter kiss cookies and buckeyes. He even volunteered to help me roll and bake them. So how could it be anything but a big old self-imposed helping of masochism that made me add candy cane-coated, caramelized white chocolate-dipped pretzels to the lineup?
Because I really wanted to see if caramelized white chocolate was worth the hype, that’s why. Also often called roasted white chocolate, it’s made through an easy bake-and-stir process. Applying a little heat to the milk, sugar, and fat in the chocolate transforms its simple sweetness into something akin to dulce de leche. As someone who’s only recently been coming around to the charms of white chocolate, this technique—which chefs have been tossing around for the past few years—is fascinating and opens up a whole new field of possibilities.
Don’t be tempted to melt down white chocolate chips for this recipe; chips, even top-quality brands, contain stabilizers that help the chip keep its shape when baked. You want chocolate that will melt down evenly and stay creamy, not chunky. For this recipe, I went with David Lebovitz’s recommendation (based on his excellent tutorial for caramelizing white chocolate, which I’ve adapted below) and used Valrhona Ivoire fêves. These white chocolate baking discs contain 35 percent cocoa butter, a much higher percentage than the standard 20 percent as mandated by the USDA, and make for a lushly creamy chocolate dip. While I use Callebaut chocolate blocks in my everyday baking, their white chocolate only clocks in at 25 percent.
The recipe below makes more caramelized white chocolate than you’ll need for dipping one bag of pretzels, so you’ll have a chance to experiment with other uses for this treat. (I’m planning on making some white chocolate buckeyes for Christmas morning.) It will keep in a sealed container at room temperature for a few months, though the cocoa butter will separate from the other solids and give it a mottled effect.
Of course, on the night I made these pretzels, I suffered for my masochism. At the same time I was keeping an eye on the white chocolate in the oven and unwrapping and crushing candy canes and fending off two inquisitive cats who decided that the kitchen was the place to have a no-holds-barred wrestling match, this website had a complete backend malfunction that required immediate attention. It just goes do show that despite my meltdowns and decisions to make seemingly finicky desserts, it’s completely possible to pull this one off in a holiday rush when your mind and body are being pulled in many exhausting directions.
And you’ll end up with a dessert that takes the traditional chocolate-covered pretzel into surprising and sophisticated territory—a treat for kids from one to 92.
Candy Cane-Coated Caramelized White Chocolate Pretzels
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Makes about 5 dozen dipped pretzels
- 1 pound high-quality white chocolate that’s at least 30 percent cocoa butter (in a block or in baking discs such as Valrhona Ivoire fêves or Guittard wafers)
- 2 tablespoons solid coconut oil
- 1 12-oz. bag pretzel rods
- 16 standard candy canes (about 9 oz. by weight)
Preheat the oven to 250˚F.
If you’re working with a block of white chocolate, chop the chocolate into small chunks (no more than 1 inch big). Spread the chunks or the baking discs on a small rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Glunk the 2 tablespoons coconut oil onto the baking sheet as well; it doesn’t need to be distributed evenly, since everything will melt soon enough.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir the semi-melted chocolate and fully melted coconut oil together with a silicone spatula, then return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more.
Remove and stir again. The chocolate will begin to darken to a taupe color and it may be a little lumpy or chunky, but don’t freak out. Just stir it and return it to the oven for 10 more minutes.
Remove and stir three more times. At this point (after an hour of baking), your chocolate should be fully darkened to a beautiful caramel color, depending on the insulation of your baking sheet and whether your oven heats evenly or runs hot. Your eyes and nose need to be the judge here; when it’s deep golden like supermarket peanut butter and very creamy when stirred, it’s good to go. If it’s not ready, continue baking and stirring at 5-10 minute intervals until it’s ready.
While the chocolate bakes, cut each pretzel rod in half with a sharp knife. There are roughly 30 pretzels in each 12-oz. bag, so you’ll have 60 half-size rods when you’re done.
Unwrap the candy canes and place in a large zip-top bag. Gently smash the candy canes into shards with a rolling pin or the flat side of a meat tenderizer, then pour the shards onto a small rimmed baking sheet.
Line a large cookie sheet with waxed paper.
When the chocolate has reached the proper caramelized color and consistency, pour it into a heatproof 2-cup jar such as a pint-sized canning jar.
Dip a pretzel rod into the chocolate, letting the excess drip back into the jar, then quickly roll it in the crushed candy canes and transfer to the waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Repeat with all the pretzel rods.
Let the dipped pretzels sit at room temperature for a few hours to allow the chocolate to fully harden.
Pretzels can be made 2 days in advance and will keep for up to a week in a sealed container at room temperature.