When I was little, I didn’t like chocolate. The dark was too bitter, the milk tasted soapy. The only chocolate I could stand was white chocolate, or a thin layer of milk chocolate filled with sweetened yogurt (so all things Kinder were mine). After a while I got sick of white and yogurt chocolate and started eyeing the “real” stuff. Today I can’t get enough of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. I’m not a fanatic about spending a lot for high-percentage chocolate (why not just eat cocoa or baking chocolate?), but I won’t touch yogurt chocolate anymore. I love the complex slightly bitter, slightly sweet, tongue-coating “real” chocolate melting in my mouth.
Everything about truffles falls into this last category: they are soft, usually bittersweet, and definitely melt-in-your-mouth good. The little gems are prized in our society as a chocolate lover’s euphoria, and are often priced accordingly. What we don’t realize is how easy, and relatively inexpensive, it is to make them ourselves. Even Mark Bittman has jumped on the boat and devoted his latest column to these gourmet chocolate balls (and let me say, I have been planning this post for a while, so I have mixed feelings towards his video this week).
Truffles are basically a form of ganache. This is melted chocolate with cream and can vary in consistency according to what you are using it for. If you are using it as a chocolate coating for petit-fours it will be thinner, but for truffles you want a nice thick cookie-dough ganache. The ganache is rolled into semi-round shapes (the great thing about truffles is that they’re named after the mushroom because they look similar to the irregularly shaped fungi of northwest Italy, so you actually don’t want a perfectly round sphere). Lastly they are traditionally coated with cocoa powder, but you can also use chopped nuts, sweetened coconut shavings, or anything else you can get your hands on.
When making truffles, you can go wild with flavoring experimentation. One ganache recipe can be separated into different bowls, to which you can add different flavors. If you want to get fancy you can fill them with a nut or cream. You can also keep it simple and just flavor the ganache. I’ve made mint and raspberry truffles with extract and I’ve added ground black pepper to give the dessert a familiar savory sensation. You can also add a quarter cup of brandy, Grand Marnier, or Bailey’s to the following recipe. In school some students decided to put powdered chipotle pepper in the ganache, giving the truffle an initial chocolate flavor and at the last second a wonderful punch of smoky spiciness.
At this time of year, people are scrambling to get things for loved ones that will knock their socks off. It’s amazing though how much people will be impressed with you if in addtition to (or instead of) a store-bought gift they might return, you give them homemade truffles. People don’t often make things at home anymore but I promise you, you won’t regret making these – and no one will return them.
Note: For professional reasons I’ve removed this recipe. Please contact me with any requests and I’ll see what I can do.