The Best Chocolates For Indian Desserts
Image Credit: Rasgulla | Image Crediit: Freepik

Nearly every Indian state has its own signature sweet, or mithai. From the fudgy Mysore Pak of Karnataka to the cotton candy-like Soan Papadi of Uttar Pradesh, the Indian subcontinent has something for even the pickiest sweet tooth.

A lot of these sweets are extremely intricate, with no equivalents in global cuisine. This complexity leaves a lot of room for tinkering, which has seen these sweets go through several changes through the years, from being laced with inexpensive artificial flavorings to being served as deconstructed desserts in fine dining establishments.

One of the most popular and successful alterations to Indian sweets sold across the country is the addition of chocolate, from inexpensive local compound bricks to single-origin couverture callets. Chocolate makes for an excellent additive to mithai because of the sheer range of possibilities with respect to flavor and texture pairings. The same desserts can be flavored with different forms or types of chocolate to create unique expressions of the same product.

The most commonly used forms of chocolate for this purpose are artificial chocolate flavoring, alkalized cocoa powder, and compound chocolate. Products that contain chocolate are also popular additives to Indian mithai; you can find everything from Oreo kulfis to boost-flavored barfis in the countless sweets shops that line the streets of every city and town in the country.

It is unclear as to how and when chocolate became a mainstay in the pantries of Indian halwais, but most food critics attribute the inclusion as an attempt to stay relevant in a time period where the market was being flooded with both chocolates and chocolate-based confectioneries. These efforts would prove to pay off since they made the sweets accessible to a wider audience, especially foreign nationals and younger generations who grew up with western palates.

Almost any sweetmeat can benefit from the addition of chocolate; that said, the most popularly altered items are those that have dense and/or grainy textures, such as barfi, Mysore pak, peda, et al. This is because these sweets remain consistent in terms of taste and texture with almost any form of chocolate added to them, which would not be the case with more delicate preparations like soan papadi or rasgulla.

Several fine dining restaurants in the country have been pairing chocolate with Indian flavors since the late 2010s, as a part of culinary movements that saw several Indian staples being remade with techniques and ingredients carried over from other cuisines, primarily European and American. The addition of chocolate to mithai through the lens of contemporary cuisine features substantially different approaches as opposed to those favored by artisans with more traditional backgrounds. Patissiers have access to a range of high-quality chocolates that are indeed for institutional use. Chefs can therefore make desserts with a more holistic approach, putting more weight on the technique and quality of individual elements rather than the dessert as a whole. This method has been proven time and again to work in the toughest commercial kitchens around the world.

A deconstructive approach works especially well with mithai because of how most sweetmeats are prepared, with an emphasis on technique as opposed to the quality of ingredients used. This gives chefs a lot of leeway in terms of possible enhancements to each component of the dessert, making it possible to incorporate ingredients at any step.

Even desserts that are sensitive to conventional inclusions can benefit from this approach to cooking. Consider rasmalai: adding chocolate directly to the syrup or the golas would be disastrous; the golas would not set, and the syrup would be too thick to be absorbed. Using contemporary techniques and ingredients can help address this problem. The first step is to consider the type of chocolate to be used for each component. A dish like this would benefit from the addition of chocolate, which would accentuate the flavors that are characteristic of the dish, namely saffron, clotted cream, and pistachios. The best inclusion in this case would be white chocolate, processed in a manner so as to flavor the dish without affecting the texture or overpowering the existing flavors.


The first obstacle lies within the golas themselves; directly adding white chocolate to the paneer-malai mixture at any stage of cooking would disrupt the curds from setting, which would make it impossible to plate the same. This issue can be addressed by making a paste using white chocolate and dehydrating it to make a coarse powder. This powder can be added to the curd lattice at a low temperature to enhance taste, texture, and flavor. The malai, too, can benefit from the addition of white chocolate, albeit not in the conventional form. The high sugar and fat content of the chocolate would instantly thicken the mixture, which would make it difficult for it to soak into the golas. This too calls for a specialized technique: caramelizing the white chocolate in a bain-marie to enhance flavor. Just a dollop of the resulting mixture would be enough to impart the flavor of the white chocolate throughout the entirety of the cream without weighing it down. Similar trains of thought can be applied to nearly any Indian dessert to make for a truly unique experience that would be impossible to replicate with inclusions other than chocolate.