I love chocolate. Not all chocolate. Only really good chocolate, like Callebaut, Cocoa Barry, Valrhona, and Scharffenberger. I have a couple of friends who not only love great chocolate like me, but are also crazy enough to make things like truffles and filled chocolates. About 12 years ago, they invited me to join their chocolate-making party. We have missed a few years since my friend Mary Ruth relocated to Arizona for the winter, but this year we made sure to get together with pounds of chocolate before she ran off to the Grand Canyon State.
Unless you want to invest in a tempering machine or are really serious about working with chocolate, you are not going to dip truffles. Chocolate has a complex crystalline structure which makes it difficult to melt to use for dipping. You can melt it easily, but getting it to set up properly is tricky. If you have ever melted a chocolate bar on your dashboard and then found it after it has set up again, you have experienced chocolate in the wrong crystalline state. The original chocolate bar is shiny, smooth when it melts in your mouth, and has snap. The re-solidified bar has none of these properties - it's dull, coarse-grained, and crumbles rather than breaking cleanly. You do not want to eat it because, aside from taste, it bears no resemblance to your original chocolate bar. Chocolate in the correct crystalline state is called "in temper" and the process of getting chocolate to this state is calling "tempering." You can temper by hand (if you care to try, Mark Bittman has an recent article in the New York Times on how) or you can spend a few hundred bucks to get a machine that will manipulate the temperature of the melted chocolate to make sure it is tempered, and then hold the chocolate at the correct temperature so it stays that way. Crazy chocolate person that I am, I have one of these machines, as do my friends Mary Ruth and Ronnie.
Maybe you don't want to play with melting chocolate like Mr. Bittman? You just want to impress your friends with some good chocolate. Luckily, truffles are perfectly wonderful if they aren't dipped in chocolate. The centers, which are made of ganache, are easy to make. A little messy, but do-able by anyone. Instead of dipping them in chocolate, you roll them in cocoa. These truffles actually look more like their namesake, the mushroom truffle. The cocoa is supposed to look like the soil that clings to the mushroom, which grows underground.
Ganache is so simple yet so wonderful. In its simplest incarnation, it's chocolate and cream. It's pretty decadent stuff, provided you use high quality chocolate. Nowadays, you can find good chocolate in most supermarkets. I have seen Ghiradelli and Guittard in my local supermarkets. Both are decent, though not exceptional, American-made chocolates (Guittard does make some excellent chocolate but you are not likely to see it at your local supermarket). The brands I mentioned at the start of this entry are all exceptional chocolates and, except for Scharffenberger, European-made. Scharffenberger is a standout for an American chocolate. You can usually find these chocolates at Whole Foods and they are quite a bit more expensive.
This basic recipe is from Nick Malgieri's Chocolate. You can change up the liquor. Don't add too much additional liquid though, because the truffles will be too soft to shape. This year I added 2 tablespoons of Chambord, a French liqueur made from black and red raspberries.
Ganache for Truffles
(makes 35 - 50 truffles depending on the size)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
9 ounces bittersweet, semisweet or milk chocolate, melted
up to 2 tablespoons of liquor(s) of your choice
about 2 cups of sifted cocoa
1. Combine cream, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes.
2. Add cream mixture to melted chocolate and whisk smooth. Whisk in liquor.
3. Allow ganache to cool for 2-3 hours at room temperature.
4. At this point, you can scoop them with a melon baller which will result in a dense truffle. Or, you can whip the ganache with an electric mixer for about a minute and then scoop out the truffles, which will result in a lighter truffle. Place the balls of ganache on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper. Don't worry if they are rough; you will make them round later.
5. Place the sheet pan in the freezer to firm up the ganache.
6. If you want to stay cleaner, pull on some latex gloves. Take the ganache out of the freezer, and roll each ball in your palm to make them round. Don't work them too long because they will melt. Place back on the sheet pan.
7. After you have rounded all the truffles, drop them one by one in the cocoa, and fish them out, shaking off excess cocoa.
8. To store, place in a tightly-lidded container and store for up to 1 week at a cool temperature.