The holidays are here, and we're all on a budget. Inexpensive handmade gifts take a long time to create, and unless your last name is Stewart and you've done time, your crafts are likely to look…well, crafty. But I have the answer: truffles. Handmade chocolate truffles impress anybody with a stomach, and they're supposed to look like they've just been rolled around in the dirt—like their real fungus namesakes—so even fumble-fingered cooks can make 'em.
Most cookbooks make creating truffles seem a little like handling nuclear material. I've made truffles at home—stirring my ganache (the creamy stuff in the middle of a truffle) softly so as not to make it cakey, gently placing it in the cupboard so cold won't shock its delicate sensibilities, and avoiding breathing to limit the heat and moisture in my kitchen. And my truffles still weren't good. My ganache was leaden. My dipping chocolate—which I painstakingly brought to temper (the process that turns chocolate from mottled, crumbly crud to shiny deliciousness) with the help of a thermometer, a knife, a fan and a ruler—never quite got the crack found in store-bought truffles.
So I went to Portland's chocolate experts for help making simple, delicious truffles. Your loved ones will thank you. Well, they would if their mouths weren't full.
First, I went seeking answers from Cheryl Wakerhauser of Pix Pâtisserie.
"You've made truffles at home? Then you've done it wrong," she said to me over fizzy water at the Pix outpost on North Williams Street. I hadn't even told her how I made them, but here's a 31-year-old woman who decided her career as an astronaut wasn't going to work out and now owns a small dessert empire, so I believed her.
"Freeze the ganache, melt chocolate, dip the ganache in the chocolate, then roll the chocolates on a tray of cocoa powder," Wakerhauser told me.
And that was it. There was no talk of temperature (in fact, Wakerhauser made a point of telling me to ignore the thermometer), no mention of a marble slab, nothing about a fan or a dipping fork. According to her, the only things you need to make truffles are good-tasting chocolate, a microwave, and an immersion blender for, well, blending stuff. Wakerhauser had an equally simple technique for that the ganache. She calls it "The Dude's Method," after a vendor whose name she can't remember, who demonstrated it at Pix.
"Bring heavy cream to a simmer. Melt chocolate in the microwave. Pour a quarter of the cream into the chocolate. Blend it. Then the next quarter and so on. Let the ganache set up in the refrigerator. Scoop it and then put it in the freezer."
I couldn't believe it would be that easy. She showed me what the melted chocolate should look like when you stop microwaving (about 80 percent melted, stir the rest until it's melted too).
"Remember, chocolate has two enemies: heat and humidity," she said, and sent me out into the brave new world of simple truffles.
My next stop was Cacao, where—bless 'em—they offer tastes of everything in their whole chocolate shop. I met with co-owner Aubrey Lindley and told him I needed chocolate I loved to eat
that was easy to cook with.
Lindley and I sampled the professional Felchlin chocolate from Switzerland that Cacao repackages in smaller batches for the home cook. It's excellent for the beginning trufflemaker because the pieces are uniform and melt easily.
"The 65 percent chocolate is very user-friendly," Lindley told me. I can't deny a guy who reads books on chocolate farming, the smelly processing and the minutiae of beans, pods and nibs and describes it all as "exciting." I picked Felchlin's 65 percent Maracaibo ($9) for the chocolate I would use for dipping, and Felchlin's Cru Sauvage 68 percent ($12.75) for my ganache. (Translation: The percentage on a bar of chocolate refers to the amount of cocoa mass in the bar. Unsweetened, inedible chocolate is about 100 percent.)
I was almost ready to make truffles. But what modern girl can turn down an opportunity to purchase a new long, slender vibrating device? Not me. So off I went to Kitchen Kaboodle for Wakerhauser's tool of choice: the immersion blender. I chose a Cuisinart Smart Stick ($29.99) because it was very basic and within my price range. I picked the red one because I'm sassy and fun that way.
Home again to make truffles, I dried all of my pots and pans, dried my counters and my hands. Moisture = enemy.
I simmered a cup of cream and kept a close eye on the chocolate in my microwave. Heat = enemy. When the chocolate was not quite melted, I stirred until it was smooth. Then I dumped in a quarter of the cream and hit it with the immersion blender—which promptly shot chocolate everywhere. But I was undaunted. I stirred with a spatula, added another quarter of cream and then blended again. I did this twice more, and soon the cream was incorporated. After the ganache spent the night in the fridge, I scooped it into bite-sized truffles using a half-tablespoon measuring spoon and put them in the freezer.
That evening I melted half of my Maracaibo chocolate and got dipping. I rolled the truffles in the cocoa powder and microwaved another batch of dipping chocolate. Small batches keep the chocolate from getting too cold and too thick to work with. I dipped all my ganache and still had melted chocolate left. So I zapped some milk, whisked in the melted chocolate and poured it into a cup—hot chocolate—a reward for my hard work.
After the truffles lost their chill, I took my first bite. The ganache I had beat into submission was silky and light, unlike its formidable predecessor. The chocolate exterior had a satisfying snap. And the taste…dark and bitter, creamy and rich. Simply delicious. And deliciously simple.
See? You can make everyone's favorite gift: chocolate. Start now—truffles will keep in the freezer for several weeks, just defrost in the fridge before serving. But just between us, you probably go buy a pretty, pre-tied ribbon to wrap 'em with.
Chocolate Ganache using Cheryl Wakerhauser’s “Dude’s Method”
- 8 oz. good-tasting chocolate, cut into uniform pieces
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Microwave chocolate in a dry glass bowl until 80 percent melted. Meanwhile, bring cream to a simmer.
2. Stir to melt the remaining chocolate
3. Add 1⁄4 cup of hot cream to melted chocolate and blend with immersion blender or stir with a spatula until incorporated. Chocolate may appear grainy. Add remaining cream in 1⁄4-cup batches, stirring well with each addition.
4. When cream and chocolate are fully incorporated, place bowl in refrigerator. Leave for four hours, or until cooled and slightly hardened.
5. Using a small spoon, scoop bite-sized pieces into a small pan. Place pan in the freezer overnight.
Chocolate for Dipping
- 12 oz. divided, good-tasting chocolate cut into uniform pieces; 65 percent is the easiest to work with.
1. Melt 6 oz. of chocolate in a dry glass bowl in the microwave until 80 percent melted.
2. Stir to melt remaining chocolate.
- Frozen ganache pieces
- Chocolate for dipping
- Plate of natural-process cocoa powder, or chopped nuts
Dip frozen ganache into the chocolate in small batches. Remove when covered in dipping chocolate and roll the dipped pieces in powder or nuts. Set aside on a clean plate. Continue working in small batches and making more dipping chocolate as needed. Enjoy truffles once the dipping chocolate has hardened and the ganache has lost its chill.