By Nicholas Boer
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - A gift of homemade chocolates is always appreciated and - even at this late date - a genuine possibility. If all your gift shopping is done, consider making truffles for a stylish holiday finish or New Year's Eve treat.
Fortunately for us non-pastry chefs, a successful truffle depends more on the chocolate than on the cook.
Some of the very best chocolate in the world is produced here in the East Bay.
It would take a true lack of talent to make a truffle with Berkeley-based Scharffen Berger chocolate taste terrible. If you can't afford Scharffen Berger, keep it local and consider San Francisco's Ghirardelli.
The base for truffles is ridiculously easy. The master recipe I use comes from "The Silver Palate Cookbook." It calls for boiling cream and adding grated chocolate, Grand Marnier and soft butter. That's it.
The base's flavor is limited only by your imagination. Instead of running out to buy Grand Marnier, let what you love or what's on hand inspire you.
This year, I made three kinds of truffles. I used Cointreau (another orange liqueur) along with tangerine zest for one batch. For another, I replaced the liqueur with espresso and added a big pinch of Peet's ground French Roast. For the third, I used Frangelico (a hazelnut liqueur) and some hazelnut extract I happened to have in my pantry.
Once made, the base (called ganache) needs to be portioned, shaped and coated before it can properly be called a truffle. But this process, too, can be as easy as mud pie.
For the espresso truffles, I simply shaped the ganache into balls and rolled them in cocoa powder.
For the hazelnut truffles, I formed the balls and rolled them in chopped, roasted nuts.
For the tangerine truffles, I rolled the ganache in cocoa, cooled them and dipped them in chocolate (see MAKING TRUFFLES.)
It was so easy that my girlfriend, Lisa, and I were able to make eight dozen of each type in just one evening after supper.
Turning these into truffle packs of three, we had more gifts than we had friends. Until we began sampling, that is.
To form a hard candy-like chocolate shell that stays shiny, the dipping chocolate should first be tempered. If you simply dip your truffles in just-melted chocolate, when it cools the exterior may bloom - meaning the cocoa in the chocolate begins to separate - turning your shiny dark chocolate to a dusty brown.
Tempering involves a three-step process of melting chocolate, cooling it to a prescribed temperature and then reheating it.
"If you just melt it and roll it, it will probably destabilize," says Norm Shea, marketing coordinator for Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.
For proper tempering techniques, Shea recommends checking out the company's Web site at www.scharffenberger.com (click recipes). He also recommends the cooking site at www.baking911.com.
That said, dipping chocolates without proper tempering isn't taboo. Finding myself without a proper thermometer, I melted my chocolate in the microwave and cooled it down by adding more grated chocolate. I brought it back up to a good dipping temperature by placing the bowl on a kitchen towel over a pot of water that had just been brought to a boil. This also kept the chocolate warm enough to dip a large batch of rolled balls.
You can use whatever kind of chocolate you want, but the better the chocolate, the better the truffle. Scharffen Berger chocolates are available at Whole Foods as well as at the brand's retail stores in Berkeley and at the Ferry Market Plaza in San Francisco. The chocolate maker's most popular type for ganache would be its 62 percent cacao semisweet, or its 70 percent cacao bittersweet (the higher the cacao content, the less the sugar).
Just this month, Scharffen Berger introduced two new chocolates. An extra dark 82 percent chocolate; and a milk chocolate made with 41 percent cacao. Shea says these chocolates might be better used for coating than ganache. Having just been released, the milk and extra dark chocolates are currently only available in 5-gram and 3-ounce sizes. The other chocolates are available in 9.7-ounce bars and in bulk 2-kilo bars.
Scharffen Berger also sells a truffle-making kit, complete with ready-made ganache (which can also be heated and used as chocolate sauce). The truffle-making kit includes Scharffen Berger's excellent cacao powder and its Cacao Nibs_chopped, roasted Venezuelan cacao beans. These nibs can be used in place of nuts for rolling truffles (Shea advises using a somewhat sweet ganache to compensate for the nibs bitterness).
Be sure to chill your truffles before dipping them. I rolled mine lightly in cocoa powder and refrigerated them for about 30 minutes. Then I shaped them again in the palms of my hand before dipping them in melted chocolate. A two-pronged truffle fork is ideal for dipping, but even a regular dinner fork will do. After dipping, tap the fork on the side of the bowl to remove as much excess chocolate as possible. Transfer coated truffle to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, flipping the truffle over as you do, so that any excess chocolate runs back down over the truffle before settling on the paper. After cooling, the truffles can be dipped again for a more sturdy shell.
Makes 24 (or 96)
This recipe comes from "The Silver Palate Cookbook." The amounts listed in parentheses are for a batch of 96. If you want to dip your truffles, refer to the Dipping section on this page.
¼ cup (or 1 cup) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (or ½ cup) Grand Marnier
6 ounces (or 1½ pounds) best-quality chocolate
4 tablespoons (or 2 sticks) butter, softened
Powdered, unsweetened cocoa
1. Boil cream in a heavy pan until reduced by half. Remove from heat, stir in Grand Marnier and chocolate, and return to low heat; stir until chocolate melts.
2. Whisk in softened butter. When mixture is smooth, pour into a shallow bowl and refrigerate until firm, about 40 minutes.
3. Scoop chocolate up with a teaspoon and shape into rough 1-inch balls. Roll the truffle balls in the unsweetened cocoa.
4. Store truffles, covered, in the refrigerator. Let truffles stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
5. Variations: Mocha: Substitute espresso and a pinch of freshly ground coffee for Grand Marnier. Hazelnut: Substitute Frangelico for Grand Marnier and roll in chopped hazelnuts instead of the cocoa.
60 calories, 0 protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 4.5 g fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 0 sodium, 0 fiber. Calories from fat: 67 percent.
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© 2003, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
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