Friday, February 10, 2012

Chocolate Pecan Truffles

There is more than one way to make a truffle. (That should be a saying, don't you think? Instead of the skinning-a-cat one?) In fact, if you do an internet search for truffle recipes, it's enough to make your head spin: truffles with coffee, truffles with tea, truffles with liquor, with cayenne; tempered chocolate, untempered chocolate, dutch-processed chocolate... The list goes on and on.

This is a basic chocolate truffle recipe. I don't temper the chocolate coating. It's not hard to do, just more effort than I think is required for homemade truffles. Without tempering, the coating will dry a little cloudy, and will melt at a lower temperature. Rolling them in chopped nuts fixes this. You could also roll them in dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder. (In all honesty, un-dipped ganache balls rolled in good cocoa make a damn fine truffle, too.) 

Why Dutch? Dutch processed cocoa just tastes better (milder, more delicate, less bitter -- important if you're using it as a truffle coating; less important in stuff like brownies that are loaded with other flavors). I didn't have any on hand, so I just used pecans. Usually I would coat some in cocoa and some in nuts. You can even coat in finely ground coffee. Oh, the possibilities!

If you want to add a liquor, like Grand Marnier, Frangelico, Kahlua, Baileys... add 2 TB to the cream mixture after you remove it from heat, and increase the chocolate in the ganache by 1 oz.

And you certainly can get as-crazy-as-you-wanna-be with the flavors. Just add spices of choice to the ganache. Garam Masala, anyone? Espresso powder would be good, too. The recipes that used tea steeped a couple of bags in the cream mixture. I don't know about the cayenne pepper. I like spicy chocolate, but I think I'll leave that particular combo to the experts.

Speaking of experts, I deferred to America's Test Kitchen in this recipe, by including butter. Ganache is traditionally just chocolate and cream. They thought this made the truffles smoother and richer and I tend to agree. They also use corn syrup in their truffles toward a smoother texture, but I left this out because I just didn't like the idea of corn syrup in my fine chocolate. It wasn't missed.

Last bits of truffle advice: Enlist a partner when it comes time to dip, if you can. It's more fun that way. And (especially if you're going it alone) set everything out assembly-line style and prepared-like. This is something I have to constantly remind myself to do when I'm in the kitchen, cooking something I really just want to eat. And soon. "Read the recipe through. Prepare. Slow down." Truffles are easy, but they can get messy and somewhat frustrating without proper planning.

Very last advice (as if I really need to say this): Use good chocolate. Sharffen Berger is the best my regular supermarket could offer, and it's pretty good. I used 72% (bittersweet) for the inside and semisweet for the outside. Very conveniently pre-chopped, too. In the best of all possible worlds, I'd use a big block of Valhrona or Callebaut, 56-72%. Whole Foods almost always has the latter. Chopping/sawing is pretty easy with a good serrated knife.

There. That's it. Now, here's the recipe (it's really not as hard as I just made it sound). Adapted from America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated.

8 oz. semi or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 TB unsalted butter

8 oz. semi or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 c. nuts, toasted, chopped and cooled
1 TB granulated sugar

Using a double-broiler, or a medium heat-proof bowl set over a small saucepan containing a couple of inches of barely simmering water, melt chocolate. Stir occasionally. Set aside once melted and smooth.

Bring cream and butter to a simmer over medium-low heat, about 160 degrees F. Once it reaches a strong simmer, remove from heat and cool for a few minutes before gradually stirring into the melted chocolate. Refrigerate this mixture (the ganache) until the temp drops to about 80 degrees F.

With a handheld electric mixer or electric mixer with whip attachment, mix at medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minutes until mixture thickens slightly and lightens. 

Using a melon-baller, a pastry bag, a ziplock bag with a snip taken out of one corner or a tiny cookie scooper, pipe/scoop 3/4"-1" mounds of ganache onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. They don't need to look perfect. I mean, just look at their namesake:

Black Truffle, the fungus.

Then pop those puppies into the fridge for at least an hour, until hardened.

For the coating: Toast the nuts in a skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, stirring frequently. This should take less than 3 minutes. Cool, then combine with granulated sugar in food processor. Process until nuts are like course sand, but not so much that you make nut-butter out of them:

Set aside.

Melt remaining chocolate the same way you did the first. Cool to about 90 degrees F. Set up your truffle-making assembly line.

Includes, fine mesh sieve; chilled ganache mounds; melted chocolate coating; processed nuts; fork; and airtight containers with mini-muffin liners.
Now, here's they way I do it with one person. (But, like I said, it's easier and more fun with two.) Dip fingers of one (gloved) hand in melted chocolate. Using non-chocolate hand, pass over an un-dipped truffle. Roll around in the chocolate hand, then drop in the nuts (or cocoa, as the case may be). With non-chocolate hand, use a fork to roll the newly coated truffle through the nuts (/cocoa). Leave it there to set for a bit (at least 1 minute). Repeat, leaving coated & rolled truffles in the nut dish until you're running out of room. Then use your clean hand to give them a shake in the fine-mesh sieve and move them to mini-muffin-tin liners, in an airtight container. Repeat the process until you're done!

Makes 24-36 truffles, depending on size.

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