Well, not everyone, really. For example, if I presented Anne with a bag of homemade truffles, she would certainly shake her head and say, “It’s like you don’t even know me at all.” (Which is exactly what I said to her one Valentine’s Day after she presented me with a garish, multi-colored bouquet involving — I’m not kidding — purple daisies. But that’s another story.)
At any rate, people who love chocolate really love it. Can’t live without it. And the truffle is probably the most perfect embodiment of chocolate that there is. With the December holiday season in full bloom, the Boston Globe and the New York Times have both recently published truffle recipes. This was lucky for me because, this year, I had decided to make treats for my co-workers instead of wandering aimlessly around Downtown Crossing trying to decide a) which co-workers it was appropriate to gift and b) what to get them. The better path, I thought, was to give everyone (I work with a relatively small group) something sweet and homemade.
All truffles are, essentially, a ganache (a combination of high quality chocolate and heavy cream) allowed to stiffen, either at room temperature or chilled, formed into slightly irregular balls and rolled in cocoa. But sometimes the truffles are also rolled in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon-spiked sugar or enrobed in more melted chocolate. My cursory internet research revealed that there are essentially two ways to prepare the ganache: either melt the chocolate in a double-boiler and then combine it with warmed cream, or chop the chocolate very fine and pour the hot cream over it. Once the cream has melted the chocolate, whisk to combine.
Because I am completely incapable of setting limits on myself, I decided to try to make two varieties. First, I made an orange-flavored truffle adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe. Following her advice, I used a mixture of bitter and semi-sweet chocolate, but I omitted the coffee. Because I wanted to boost the orange flavor, I added orange peel to the cream and allowed it to steep for about 20 minutes. I also decided to melt the chocolate before combining it with the cream. Madame Garten, whom I adore, says to let the chocolate sit at room temperature before rolling it, but I found it too difficult to work with, and I chilled it to get it workable. The resulting truffles were creamy and subtly flavored with orange. I don’t know if it was a result of melting the chocolate first or because of the ratio of chocolate to cream (1 lb to 1 cup), but the truffles rolled up easily and almost perfectly round.
For the second batch, I followed Mark Bittman’s method which calls for 8oz. chocolate and a scant 1 cup cream. Bittman instructs you to chill the mixture for an hour before rolling, and the resulting truffles were equally delicious but more irregularly shaped. I added a pinch of sea salt (because what doesn’t salt improve the flavor of?), a teaspoon of instant espresso and 1 tablespoon of Cognac (a flavor combination I first tried a year ago in a Cooks Illustrated recipe for an updated Bûche de Noël). The truffles were really wonderful; the Cognac made the truffles taste richer, warmer and more complex without being distracting.
Chocolate Truffles With Cognac
7/8 cup heavy cream
8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate*, chopped
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso
1 tablespoon Cognac
Unsweetened cocoa powder as needed (about 1/3 cup)
Put chopped chocolate and sea salt in a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream in a pot until it steams. Stir in instant espresso and pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand for one minute, and then stir slowly with a whisk to melt the chocolate and incorporate the cream. Add Cognac and stir well.
Chill until solid all the way through, 1 to 2 hours. Using a melon baller to prevent the ganache from melting or sticking to your hands, scoop out about a tablespoonful and quickly roll it into a ball. Repeat, lining truffles on a plate or a baking sheet.
Roll truffles in cocoa powder. Serve immediately or store, wrapped in plastic, in refrigerator for up to four days. Bittman says this recipe makes 24 truffles. The small end of my melon baller gave me 40 truffles, however.
* I used Callebaut bittersweet for this recipe. I like Callebaut whenever I am going to be cooking with the chocolate because it’s high-quality, has a clean chocolate flavor, but it’s relatively affordable. (Lucky for me, the local Whole Foods was running a special on it two weeks ago, and I stocked up.) For eating out of hand, I really love Scharffen Berger, but I find that it’s subtle acidity is lost once you add heat. Plus, it’s very pricey.