the making of ube dulcey pudge
Ube has been the the most requested flavor over the last 2 years -- but I’ve been hesitant to develop an ube pudge since I didn't grow up with this flavor. Since 2020, I've seen swarms of ube crinkles and ube white chocolate cookies across Instagram. I made a couple attempts at an ube pudge in 2021, but didn't have strong enough inspiration to continue.
What is Ube?
Ube is a purple yam commonly used in Southeast Asian desserts. It is naturally purple in color, with a subtle nutty, vanilla flavor. It is often confused with taro and purple sweet potato. Unlike the sweet potato, the skin of ube is a creamy, off-white color while the flesh of raw ube is a light purple and becomes dark purple when it’s cooked.
I'll emphasize here that I believe ube is not an ideal flavor to put in cookie form because of its subtle flavor. To that end, we didn't make just an ube pudge. More on that later.
Earlier this year when I tried PQ’s ube-misu with flan, I was starstruck. It was ube paired with caramel notes, and I immediately wanted to recreate this flavor profile. I wanted to achieve a relatively robust ube flavor, caramel notes, and a crunchy textural element.
Caramelized White Chocolate (Aka Dulcey)
I got rich toasty notes from caramelized white chocolate, which is a blonde chocolate made by cooking white chocolate until it caramelizes. The result is a deep butterscotch flavor with the creaminess of white chocolate. (Fun fact: it was created by mistake when a chef at Valrhona left white chocolate in a bain-marie for too long.) For aesthetic and educational purposes, we top each ube pudge with a piece of this chocolate so you can isolate its flavor.
During the early testing phases of ube pudge, I didn’t want to splurge on valrhona chocolate, so I made my own caramelized white chocolate in the oven. You can also try making it at home :)
The Textural Element
Customers generally look for a textural element in pudges because it helps add interest to the very large cookie. For our texture component, I a/b tested toffee and white chocolate crunchy pearls. I hoped that the white chocolate pearls would stay very crunchy while providing color contrast, but it wasn’t crunchy enough. However the toffee was a hit - adding both buttery caramel notes and a delightful crunch throughout. It did however add sweetness as well, so many versions were spent adjusting the amount of brown sugar, toffee, and chocolate by increments of 5 and 10 grams.
Testing Other Variations
- It seemed like a right of passage to test ube white chocolate, but I found that it looked better than it tasted.
- I also tested ube with cheesecake filling, in which case the cheesecake overwhelmed the subtle ube flavor.
- Lastly, I tested something of an ube latte - perhaps it was executed poorly, but I found the additional flavor components overwhelmed the ube flavor.
I really felt that ube’s most striking characteristics is its color, not so much its flavor. However, paired with caramelized white chocolate, the flavor has truly won me over.
Blind Testing Chocolates
Before we released this flavor, we calculated the cost, and with the Valrhona chocolate we originally planned to use, this cookie became the most expensive to make, by 20 cents per pudge (beating out pink lemonade, which is expensive due to the freeze dried strawberries). It was a no-brainer to halt the launch and first test the other producer of caramelized white chocolate: Callebaut.
Here's a quick summary of the differences:
|$14 / lb||$8 / lb|
|~35% cocoa butter (melts better, richer, velvety mouthfeel)||~30% cocoa butter (less rich and creamy, but less likely to overwhelm ube flavor)|
|larger feves (uneven distribution even with chopped chocolate)||smaller disks (even distribution)|
- 36 total testers (I did not participate due to possible bias)
- We baked fresh pudges with the same base: ube toffee
- We loaded the dough with about 50g more chocolate than what we would use in the final pudge, so that each piece would have chocolate. This was just for the sake of the chocolate test but could have been a flawed approach if testers got too much chocolate in their piece.
Result: 19 to 15 in favor of Valrhona, with 2 undecided votes.
I know. Not the clear answer we were looking for. I'll note that 9 of the testers were sent cookies, and I wasn't present to ensure that only the most important factors were taken into account.
Lawrance and I made a decision based on the qualitative feedback:
- An outstanding number of participants were intrigued by Valrhona's flavor and texture of chocolate - "more flavorful", "less sweet", "smoother", "chocolate is a strong point", "buttery".
- Compared to very few comments on Callebaut like, "too sweet", or "tastes cheap".
It was fortunately very clear that Valrhona's caramelized white chocolate was a rockstar, which led us to have 2 questions in this blind test: 1) which chocolate makes the better cookie overall? and 2) which chocolate makes the better ube pudge?
I went back to my original intention for this cookie: I never planned to create a an ube cookie. It was always meant to be ube with caramel notes. So with the rockstar that Valrhona dulcey is (not sponsored, though I wish we were), we decided to name this cookie "ube dulcey" rather than just "ube pudge", so you know what to expect. Know that the chocolate might win your heart, and it should really be "dulcey ube", but that sounds way worse.
Hope you enjoyed this bit of cookie philosophy and the testing notes :)