I love chocolate. I really do. A LOT. But for some reason, chocolate truffles, at best, illicit a lukewarm reaction for me– they are not my preferred chocolate delivery system. And you know what I enjoy even less than eating chocolate truffles? Making chocolate truffles. I admit that I groaned when I saw this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe for A Trio of Truffles from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Truffle filling (ganache) is generally pretty easy, but the tempered chocolate shell is the part that I wasn’t looking forward to. Tempering is one of those skills that I’d like to learn/get better at… but I never seem to have the time or the will to hassle with it. Not to mention, I’m not exactly jumping at the chance to sacrifice at least a pound of good chocolate for experimentation. It’s one of those “I know it’s good for me” things that I look forward to as much as deep-cleaning the kitchen (which is to say, not much). The process of heating the chocolate, then cooling it by adding already-tempered chocolate (called “seeding”) to a precise temperature is time-consuming and always feels so ambiguous. When you get to the correct temperature range, you’re supposed to test a little bit and wait a few minutes; what are you supposed to do during those few minutes– keep stirring? Let the chocolate sit? What if it cools too much while you’re waiting and you have to start over? What if you have the right temperature and the chocolate isn’t setting??
I’ll come back to tempering in a minute. For this recipe, we have three different different truffle varieties, as you might have deduced from the title: dark chocolate with honey, milk chocolate with almonds, and chocolate-raspberry. I was not at all interested in the latter two, so I went a little rogue. I did make the dark chocolate with honey as directed, but I decided to roll the truffles in toasted sesame seeds instead of confectioners’ sugar because I’m really digging chocolate-sesame stuff right now. For the milk chocolate ones, I settled on a sweet-and-salty pretzel version, in which I soaked pretzels in the ganache cream to infuse their flavor, and rolled the truffles in toasted salty pretzel crumbs. I decided to forgo the third truffle altogether because meh.
The ganaches are very easy to make. For the dark chocolate with honey, you bring heavy cream, honey, and espresso powder to a boil and pour it over chopped dark chocolate through a sieve. Let this sit for a couple of minutes to start melting the chocolate, then start whisking from the center outward until the mixture is a satiny, homogenous puddle of chocolate deliciousness. When whisking ganache, you want to start in the center and whisk in a tight circle to create an “elastic core” (as explained to me by a pastry chef), where the chocolate looks fully blended and shiny, before incorporating more of the chocolate and cream. Then start to widen the whisking radius until you’ve reached the bowl edges.
For the pretzel-infused milk chocolate ganache, I first toasted 1½ cups (50g) pretzels for about 10 minutes in a 350°F toaster oven (basically until they look darker). Let these cool for a few minutes, then add them to the heavy cream in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pan, and let the cream infuse for about 10 minutes. Reheat the pretzel milk just to a boil, then pour the milk through a strainer into a bowl with the chopped milk chocolate. Repeat the same steps as above to whisk the ganache to a smooth mixture.
Both of these need to be refrigerated for about 5 hours, or until very firm so that you can scoop the ganache for the truffle centers. For the outer coatings, I prepared toasted sesame seeds and toasted crushed salty pretzels, about ½ cup each.
So back to chocolate tempering– I was slightly less nervous about it this time because I got a fancy cheating tool last year that I would finally bust out: the KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl. One of the main functions of this spiffy temperature-regulating bowl is that it’s supposed to make chocolate tempering a breeze, with minimal hands-on intervention. This sounds like a brilliant idea; however, it did not go quite as planned, though I think it’s a matter of learning the machine’s strengths and weaknesses. I followed the instructions of putting the chocolate (I used disks) into the bowl, starting the melting process, and letting the mixer paddle stir/agitate the chocolate until it is melted and heated to the proper temperature. However, my chocolate didn’t melt very well, so I had to take the bowl off the mixer and put it over a low flame on the stove, then start over with the mixer bowl. Once it was all melted, I started adding small amounts of additional chocolate disks to cool the chocolate to the range of 88-90°F, but the pieces didn’t fully melt, so by the time it was “tempered”, the chocolate was a thick mess studded with tons of chocolate chunks– not exactly what I was looking for to coat truffles. I was able to do a few– and the chocolate was in fact tempered– but it was a mess. I transferred the remaining chocolate to another bowl with the intention of coming back to it another day to finish up…
One thing I realized would be necessary is to chop the chocolate disks down to even smaller pieces– they were too big to melt using the mixer bowl. On the second attempt, I decided to do the initial melting on the stovetop, then move back to the mixer, and I would seed the melted chocolate with chopped chocolate bits. However… the giant untempered chocolate blob took a very.long.time to melt completely, and the chocolate was so hot by that point (173°F!) that I feared I’d ruined it. It still looked okay, so I decided to continue, though I had to cool it rapidly a lot. I ended up adding a lot of extra seeding chocolate, but the mixer bowl couldn’t seem to understand what was happening with the temperature (as it was way out of the programmed range), so I had to agitate the chocolate and take the temperature down by mixing manually after all. Eventually I got it to the correct temperature, but the chocolate never really took on the glossy shine or hard snap that are characteristic of tempered chocolate. By that point, I was ready to throw the whole thing out, except… I still had milk chocolate ganache to work with.
This batch went a little better, though still not perfect. I started with small-chopped milk chocolate in the mixer bowl, which did manage to melt properly, but as the chocolate cooled, it was harder to melt the additional pieces that I was adding, so by the time it reached the target tempering temperature, the chocolate ended up fairly chunky again. I think I need to add the seeding chocolate while it’s still quite warm, and just keep mixing until it melts and cools.
To dip the truffle centers (scooped with a melon baller and frozen for 20 minutes) in ganache, I used a dipping fork to roll them around and lift them out, then dropped them into the topping bowls and rolled them around gently with a fork. You do have to work quickly here, as the outer surface of the chocolate will harden fast and the toppings won’t stick. Once they firm up, store the truffles in the fridge.
I thought the dark chocolate with honey were good; the sesame and honey flavors play off each other well, and since I don’t especially like the taste of honey, I didn’t totally love these. But don’t get me wrong, they were still good, and I thought the chocolate-sesame situation worked well. The pretzel-milk chocolate ones, however… I definitely considered not sharing these. They were super delicious– great balance of sweet and salty, plus the exterior pretzels stayed crunchy. I had considered adding extra salt on, but I’m glad I didn’t because the pretzels provided just the right amount.
Because of the annoying tempering process, I only made about a dozen of each truffle flavor, so I had tons of chocolate and ganache left over. I poured the tempered dark chocolate in a thin layer in a sheet pan and placed a chocolate transfer sheet over it, then pulled it when the chocolate had hardened and cut out circles for cupcake toppers. I poured the milk chocolate in a thicker layer and scattered crushed pretzel on top, then broke it into shards of milk chocolate-pretzel bark. The ganache can simply be scooped and eaten with a spoon for an ultra-decadent chocolate dessert (the sesame seeds or pretzel crumbs make great toppings).
You can make these ahead, so they make great holiday gifts, or you can just as easily include them on your holiday desserts table for those people who just want a bite of dessert, or those don’t like pie or cake or all the holiday things. (I try not to associate with negative people like that, but there’s always someone in the family who’s all, “I’m not a dessert person…”) The recipe for A Trio of Truffles can be found at Baked Sunday Mornings, and please take a look at my fellow bloggers’ truffle, some of whom probably followed directions better than I did and made them as originally intended. It’s hard to believe the holidays are upon us– I can’t wait to dig into Holiday 2017 recipes! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.