I can never pass up a good truffle - they're sophisticated, decadent, gourmet bite-sized celebrations of deliciousness. And because they're so good, during a recent trip, I happily walked into the store of an acclaimed trendy chocolatier, where each piece of chocolate was displayed like a jewel in a glass case, and paid $2 a piece for tiny truffles barely larger than a postage stamp. If they're handled with such care, if they have the word "artisanal", and if there are folks raving about them on the online foodie haunts, then they must be worth it, right? And sure, they were pretty good, but after I ate the truffles (which went by quickly cause I could only afford so many at $2 a piece), I couldn't help but feel that I had succumbed to the truffle mystique.
The truth is, truffles are super easy to make; they just take a little patience.
People in the U.S. are most familiar with Lindt's spherical truffles or other truffles that have been encased in a molded chocolate shell. We'll get to those later on. Today, we're going to discuss the more traditional French style of hand-made truffles which are created by rolling balls of ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream) in cocoa powder. It's this type of truffle that resembles the super expensive and equally yummy fungus of the same name.
The CoreBecause truffles are so simple, the key to a great truffle is great ingredients.
Here are some chocolate bar brands that this chocolate snob approves:
- Common, moderately-priced chocolates that you can find in most supermarkets: Lindt, Ghirardelli
- More expensive (though some would say tastier) chocolates that are also a little more esoteric (though I'm pretty sure you can find them at your nearest Whole Paycheck). These are usually the kinds used by the pros in the $2 truffle world: Callebaut, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Guittard
- And here's the best bang-for-the-buck option if you're lucky enough to live in a region with a Trader Joe's: Trader Joe's Pound Plus Belgian chocolate. Over a pound of decent chocolate for around $5 - that starts you at 5 cents per truffle!
As for the cream, pay the premium to get organic, not because of food ethics or hormones - it just tastes so much better than non-organic. If you don't believe me, try a side-by-side taste test (you can use milk if you would rather not buy so much cream). Good organic cream can have an ambrosial aroma with a natural, light sweetness and will make you wonder if you can go back to non-organic.
The FlavorsYou can keep it simple and just stick to the pure chocolate flavor or you can get really creative and use all sorts of interesting ingredients to flavor your chocolate. You can use spices, herbs, teas, liquors, fruit purees, nuts … and if you've got a lot of finances to support your cooking hobby, you can recreate the most expensive truffle in the world: the $250 truffle truffle (clever huh? And here I was questioning a $2 truffle).
The CoatingTraditional style truffles are coated with a layer of cocoa which makes the truffles a lot easier to handle. If you go buy cocoa from the grocery store, you'll see two kinds: dutch-processed cocoa and unsweetened cocoa. What's the difference? Dutch-processed cocoa has been through an alkali treatment to neutralize the natural acids in the cocoa. As a result, it's usually milder in flavor and also ends up a little redder in color. Regular unsweetened cocoa powder has been untreated and is usually stronger in taste and a little more bitter. I tend to prefer using the Dutch-processed cocoa with my truffles because I think it distracts less from the flavor of the core of the truffle. Do not use hot cocoa powder - that's something else entirely.
My favorite: Earl Grey Dark Chocolate Truffles
There are so many great flavors out there, but if I had to pick a favorite combination, this would be it.
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I like to use somewhere between 62% and 72% cacao)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 tsp loose leaf Earl Grey tea leaves
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- Chop the chocolate into fine shards (pieces that will melt easily) and set aside into a heat-safe bowl (e.g. glass, ceramic or metal).
- In a small saucepan, bring the cream and butter to a boil and add the Earl Grey leaves. Remove from heat and let this steep for around 5 minutes until the Earl Grey flavor is nice and strong in the cream.
- Place a fine-mesh sieve over the chocolate bowl and strain the hot cream mixture into the chocolate.
- Whisk until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a silky smooth ganache. (This stuff is so tasty; I need to remind myself that this it's just half done at this point - definitely lick the whisk before washing it).
- Cover the bowl and let the ganache cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to chill for around 2 hours.
Tip: never put hot foods in the fridge (unless you have an empty fridge) - it'll bring up the temperature of your entire fridge and can easily cause other food to spoil.
- The ganache is ready for handling once it's firm. Scoop out teaspoon sized chunks of hard ganache and place on a plate or cookie sheet.
Tip: if you use the small end of a melon-baller, you'll save yourself some effort in the next step
- Roll the ganache chunks into round balls and roll in cocoa powder to dust.
Tip:This step can be pretty messy if you do it with your bare hands. Instead, I like to use non-latex powder-free gloves or pieces of cling wrap to handle the ganache. Then I drop the ganache into a round bowl with cocoa powder and swivel the bowl to coat the ganache.
- If the ganache melted a bit during the shaping process, chill the coated truffles in the fridge. Bring the truffles back to room temperature before serving.
Now that the mystery is gone, give this a try and let me know if you come up with any other awesome flavor combinations!