When invited over for dinner or to a party, we are all conditioned to ask “What shall I bring?” The expected answer is “oh, just a bottle of wine” which, invariably, does not get open and will be stashed away by the hosts to be used on another occasion.
In my case, most friends and closer acquaintances will ask me to bring a dessert – sometimes I feel I am invited somewhere so I can provide free cake. But maybe I am just paranoid or plain mean.
I found, though, that if you really want to impress your hosts, handmade chocolate truffles are the way to go. If you feel adventurous, or have nothing better to do on a winter night, you can actually make a large batch and keep it in the fridge and then pop them out and dip them in more chocolate when you need to make an impression.
Learning to make basic chocolate truffles is not terribly difficult. Learning to make them look absolutely perfect takes repetition but it is not perfection we are after. People at dinner parties will be oohing aahing at the mere sight of handmade chocolates. I learnt to make them in the pastry kitchen where many tools and many dishwashers are on hand and when I decided to replicate them at home for the first time, in an effort to surprise my mother, I ended up with chocolate plastered on every counter and an absurd stack of bowls in the sink. I have since streamlined the operation in a way that makes more sense for a home cook.
As always when working with chocolate, buy the best you can find – Valrhona and Callebaut can now be found in high-end markets. Lindt and Ghirardelli will work in a pinch but only in a pinch… You might also want to experiment with fancy Venezuelan chocolate or any 70% cocoa content.
You will also need surgical gloves in order not to burn yourself with the hot chocolate and to keep yourself reasonably clean. And yes, I do suggest an apron.
22 oz 65% to 70 % good quality chocolate, cut into small chunks
1 cup Heavy cream
1/2 cup Sugar
Fleur de Sel
1. Break 12 oz of the chocolate into small chunks and put them in a medium metal bowl. Place the sugar in a non reactive sauce pan add enough water to create a sand consistency. Let it cook on medium heat, undisturbed, until the caramel reaches a deep amber colour. Away from the flame, add the cream in a steady stream (mixture will bubble up), and then whisk to incorporate.
2. Immediately pour the caramel mixture on the chocolate chunks. Let sit for a couple of minutes and then gently mix with a spatula, being careful not to incorporate air, until the chocolate is smooth. Let cool for a while and then place the bowl in the fridge.
3. Stir gently every 10 minutes or so to make sure the edges of the ganache don’t harden more quickly than the center. Once the chocolate is firm (you are looking for the consistency of an almond paste – it will take over an hour), using a small scoop or just your hands form 1″ round balls. Work quickly, setting the truffles on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Wearing surgical gloves is helpful. If the chocolate starts to soften, stick it back in the refrigerator.
4. When you are finished, put the truffles back in the refrigerator to firm completely. At this stage, they can be kept, tightly covered,for three weeks to a month.
5. When you are ready to dip the truffles, place the remaining 10 oz of chocolate in a medium metal bowl and melt it over a double boiler.
Keeping the bowl on the pot of water (always make sure the hot water does not touch the bottom of the bowl), set it on the counter. Take the truffles out of the fridge and place them to the left of the pot. To the right (and these instructions are for right-handed people) place a clean cookie sheet, covered in parchment that has been secured with some pan spray or a few drops of melted butter on the four corners.
6. Cover you right hand with a surgical glove. Using your left, pick up a truffle and drop it in the melted chocolate. Using ONLY the right index and middle fingers, scoop the truffle from underneath, drag it against the side of the bowl and pick it up. The truffle will be resting on your two fingers. Shake any excess chocolate and drop the truffle onto the clean cookie sheet by turning your fingers upside down.
7. Every three or four truffles, before the chocolate sets, sprinkle a tiny bit of fleur de sel on top (using your left hand).
8. When finished, let the truffles set in the refrigerator for at least one hour before putting them in a pretty box or cellophane bag.
This recipe yields approx 30 medium size truffles. And the more you make, the better looking they will become.