February 10, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Several months ago, J and I were gifted with some homemade chocolate truffles- a truly unique gift that was both beautiful to look at and delicious to eat! Seemingly professionally crafted and packaged, the little treats were very impressive. One of my goals on our trip to Baltimore was to learn the recipe and techniques required to produce my own home-crafted chocolates. What better pre-Valentine's Day post than to share it with you?

Chocolate Truffles

12 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (or use morsels)
4 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped (42% cacao)
2/3 c. heavy cream (do not use ultra-pasteurized)
1 tsp vanilla extract
5.5 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
nuts, shredded coconut, sprinkles, other toppings of choice

Warning: This recipe requires several steps, lots of cookware and kitchen accessories, many hours and a lot of patience. Don't worry- the end result is well worth the time and effort!

First up: line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap, making sure to leave no cracks and allowing plastic to drape over the edge of the sheet.

Next, construct a double boiler. If you don't have one of these in your kitchen, use a heat proof bowl set into a pan of water with a protective layer between the bottom of the pan and the bottom of the bowl. We improvised with a glass baking dish in a pan containing two glass dish lids. Make sure the water level is not too high, and also ensure that the top bowl or dish is completely dry- any water contamination either prior or during the melting process could ruin the chocolate.

"Double Boiler"

Turn the heat on medium-low and bring the water to a very gentle simmer. Meanwhile, prepare 4 oz. of bittersweet (dark) chocolate and 4 oz. of milk chocolate, if necessary (if using chips/morsels, no preparation necessary). Also of utmost importance: choose high quality chocolate for a tastier outcome. We used Ghirardelli.

Dark Chips, Chopped Milk

In the double boiler, gently melt the two chocolates together, stirring constantly until a thick, smooth consistency is formed. The optimal temperature is 120 degrees, but we didn't measure. Remove from the double boiler to a stable surface.

In the meantime (it helps to have multiple hands in the kitchen), heat the heavy cream and vanilla in a small saucepan JUST until the cream begins to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly while stirring (again, optimal temperature is 120, but I decided the ability to touch the cream pain-free was a good enough estimate). Our first batch of cream either boiled too much or cooled too quickly, causing a skin to form over the top. Stirring our second batch continuously helped to avoid this problem.

Once the chocolate and cream are ready, slowly pour the cream into the center of the pan/bowl of chocolate, stirring from the center and working towards the edges until completely emulsified.

This process may take several minutes and some good elbow grease- just keep stirring. After everything comes together, add the butter and continue stirring (you can also use an immersion blender, although I suspect this could get messy) until melted. Starting with room temperature butter and pre-cutting it into small chunks helps the process. After completely mixed in, pour the mixture onto your prepared pan, gently smoothing the chocolate until one large, even, thin layer is formed.

Cover the chocolate with another layer of plastic wrap and press down gently, allowing plastic to contact the chocolate. Freeze for one hour, or refrigerate for several hours/overnight. Perfect time to clean up and get out of the kitchen!

Once you're ready for the next step, prepare another baking sheet covered with wax paper. You can also set up a large bowl of ice water if you'd like- just make sure you have paper towels or old rags on hand. This helps significantly for this next step: rolling the chocolate into truffle-shaped balls. The chocolate will quickly warm up during the rolling process, and if it becomes too warm, it will begin to melt and smear onto your palms. Intermittently during the process, dipping your hands into the ice water will help minimize meltage.

Unwrap the top layer of plastic and cut the chocolate into even sized squares using a pizza cutter. If you start with an even layer of equal sized squares, you have a better chance of creating identical truffles.

Begin peeling the squares off of the plastic (with cold hands), and gently but quickly rolling into a ball. If you do not create a perfect sphere, you will have a chance to re-form them later. Place the balls onto the fresh baking sheet. If you find that the chocolate is sticking to the plastic wrap, fold it over from the bottom and peel plastic away. Or, simply re-freeze for a few minutes.

Once all of the balls are formed, place in the freezer for one hour.

Before the hour has passed, begin preparing for the next step. Use your double boiler (cleaned and well dried) to melt the final 8 oz. of bittersweet/dark chocolate. You may also want to change into clothes that you wouldn't mind splattering chocolate on! When truffles are ready, remove from freezer, and carefully scoop a small amount of melted chocolate into your hand (make sure chocolate is cool enough to safely do this!). If necessary, any reshaping of the ball can be done immediately before coating. Place the chocolate ball into the center of your palm and with your other hand, gently twist and turn until completely covered.

Place back onto wax paper. Once all are coated, place back in the fridge or freezer for at least ten minutes. This first coating step forms the initial layer of hard chocolate around the soft chocolate ganache filling.

Adding an additional layer helps to thicken the shell, as well as cover any imperfections that may have occurred in the first phase. This second layer proceeds almost identically to the first. However, before the second layer hardens, a topping can be added (although the most perfectly formed truffles can be left untopped!). We used finely chopped almonds, cocoa powder, and some edible gold or red dust. Coconut, other nuts, sprinkles, chopped peppermint candies or other more creative toppings can all be used as well. Prepare each topping in a separate dish prior to beginning your second coating. After rolling in your palm of melted chocolate, roll the truffle in the topping until completely coated and place back onto wax paper.

The second coat should set after just a few minutes. The truffles are now complete and can be prepared for gifting (gifting to yourself is completely acceptable). For a professional touch, place each truffle into a small paper wrapper (like a mini cupcake wrapper) and fill a festive box.

The truffles are good for up to two weeks stored in the refrigerator, but should be served at room temperature for optimal flavor. Admittedly a lot of work, they were a joy to make while spending time with our friend. Recruit your girlfriends and spend an afternoon in the kitchen to really wow your Valentine!

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