Fri 11 Feb 2011
A card game was on the schedule a few weeks ago, and I had to come up with something good. I wanted some food fun, and I miss making desserts, so I just had to make chocolate truffles. I don’t make sweets very often because they’re too tempting to have around the house. But with willing eaters, I could play in the kitchen and make people happy with soft, sweet chocolate treats.
I love working with chocolate. I did a lot of chocolate work when I was cooking professionally, and it’s one of those tasks for which I just seem to have a natural affinity. And making truffles is a sweet meditation involving slow melting, gentle stirring, scooping, rolling and dipping.
Truffles can be simple or complicated, depending on your choices. At their purest, they’re simply chocolate and cream melted together, cooled, and shaped into rough balls. To simulate the savory truffles from which they get their name, they’re rolled in cocoa powder so they look like just dug up earthy delights. They can be rolled in chopped nuts or colored sugar, or they can be dipped in chocolate for a satiny finish. If they’re dipped in chocolate, they can be left unadorned, or gussied up with food color prints, nuts, or even a sliver of gold or silver leaf.
Truffles are an easy dessert to serve in a restaurant, requiring no work during service, so I made truffles one busy New Year’s Eve at the vegetarian restaurant where I was the pastry chef. I worked all day and made four different kinds of truffles. At 4:00 pm I set them in the service refrigerator. I was cleaning up and ready to head out for my own celebration when one of the managers came running into the kitchen. “Krista!” he shouted “there’s a problem with the truffles – they’ve gone moldy!” I panicked for a minute. Was the cream bad? Was the refrigerator broken? He showed me some of the “bad” truffles. They were soft and powdery on the outside. I just laughed when I saw this. Those were the truffles that I had coated in cocoa powder, and they were supposed to look like that! I ate one to assure him, and popped one into his mouth, too. But he wasn’t fully reassured until he sampled one of each kind. You know, quality testing is important, right?
I had been thinking about making truffles for a few months now. I had my eye on a fun flavoring that I wanted to try – dehydrated strawberries. While I love working with fresh fruit and chocolate, once the fruit and chocolate connect, the candy has a 24-hour shelf life because the fruit reacts to the sugar in the chocolate and starts to give off liquid. When you see a chocolate dipped strawberry where the edge of the chocolate is lifting away from the fruit, that’s what’s happening. It’s natural, and there’s nothing to do but eat them quickly.
But dehydrated fruit is a different matter. I bought a bag of dehydrated strawberries to see what they were like. They were unsweetened, so they were a little tart, and the texture was a little too close to styrofoam for my taste. I didn’t want that texture in my chocolates, so I tried mashing them into a powder. It turned a lovely bright pink, but it was still a bit tart. I mixed in a little granulated sugar, and presto! The mixture was tart, sweet and a little bit crunchy – perfect. If nothing else, I had found the adult version of Pixy-Sticks powder.
When you bite into this dark chocolate strawberry truffle, the sweet chocolate shell collapses into the soft, rich center, and the tart strawberry powder punctuates with a bright zing of flavor and a delicate sugar crunch.
While truffles are a treat any time, these pink truffles would be the perfect finish for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Or breakfast. Whatever works for you!
Dark Chocolate Strawberry Truffles
1 C dehydrated strawberries
½ C white sugar
Put the strawberries into a plastic bag and crush them to a fine powder with the back of a soup spoon or small saucepan. Add the sugar and mix well. Let sit overnight for the flavors to blend.
1oz unsalted butter
1 C heavy cream
8 oz dark chocolate, broken into 1” pieces
½ tsp vanilla extract
Put the butter and cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate pieces. Let sit, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Let cool until almost room temperature. Stir in the extract. Pour the mix into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap is in contact with the chocolate. Let chill in refrigerator for two hours or overnight.
When the mixture is completely cooled, use a melon ball scoop to scoop out truffles. Rinse the scoop in hot water every few balls to make it easier to scoop. Set the truffles on a tray covered with plastic wrap or waxed paper. The truffles won’t be perfectly round yet. As each tray is filled, put it into the fridge.
Let the truffles chill for an hour, then take the tray out. Roll each truffle between your palms to make it into a nice ball, set each one back on the tray. Put the tray back into the fridge for an hour to firm up.
Dipping the truffles in chocolate
1 lb. high quality dark chocolate, chopped
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Put a metal bowl that fits the top of the saucepan on top. Add 2/3 of the chocolate, and let it melt, stirring gently occasionally. When the chocolate is melted, take the bowl off the saucepan and set the bowl on the counter. Let the chocolate cool for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the chocolate and let it melt, stirring occasionally. The chocolate should be thick and glossy.
I like to coat truffles with chocolate by hand, but you can also use a teaspoon or fork to place the truffles into and out of the chocolate.
Set the dipped truffles directly into the strawberry powder to coat them, then take the truffles out of the powder and set them on a tray. Let the truffles cool in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.
Of course, you don’t have to coat the chocolate coated truffles with strawberry powder. You can serve them as is, with a swirled chocolate coat.
If you don’t want to dip the truffles in chocolate, you can roll them in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or the strawberry sugar mixture.
Some wine “experts” say that wine and chocolate don’t go together. Hogwash! Just make sure that you drink a wine that has a strong fruit component (merlot or zinfandel), or drink a dessert wine like port. If you serve champagne, be sure to offer a sweet version.