My Recipe Box

Master Class: Classic Chocolate Truffles

For the softest, silkiest centers, stir the chocolate and cream into an emulsion

by

from Fine Cooking
Issue 31

In 1985, I began an apprenticeship at La Maison du Chocolat in Paris. A few days into it, Robert Linxe, my mentor and La Maison’s owner, offered me a small, round chocolate truffle. I bit into it. The brittle shell split open with a satisfying crack, revealing a melty, smooth ganache filling. A wave of deep bittersweet chocolate washed over me, and in its wake came a gentle ripple of fresh mint. Yes, I thought, that’s a Mint Chocolate Truffle all right—capital M, capital C, capital T.

Truffles are, or should be, like that—the essence of chocolate, concentrated in one bite. Like an intense but fleeting romance, the memory of a terrific truffle can linger for years. At least it did for me. Although I learned to make a lot of other chocolate confections during my apprenticeship, I never fell as hard as I did for that first truffle.

The best part is that I’ve learned to recreate that sublime chocolate experience time and again, and so can you. Truffles are made in two steps: first you make the chocolate ganache centers, and then you dip those centers into melted, tempered chocolate. Of course, you can add other flavors, as Robert Linxe did with that fateful mint truffle I tasted in Paris, but when I’m in my most chocolate mood, nothing beats a classic chocolate truffle.

If the thought of tempering chocolate keeps you up at night, you won’t lose sleep over these truffles. Tempered chocolate will give the truffles a wonderful shine and snap, but tempering isn’t mandatory. If you don’t mind storing them in the fridge, you can still make impressive truffles at home without tempering.

What sets these truffles apart from others are their velvety soft interiors, which I achieve by using a higher than usual proportion of cream to chocolate for the ganache. Because the ganache is so delicate, it needs a little extra care. But I never have a problem as long as I handle the ganache like the emulsion that it is, right from the start.

Working with chocolate can feel precarious at times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By using my emulsion technique, by remembering a few rules about melted chocolate, and by following my recipe, you’ll soon find yourself turning out truffles like a pro.

Start with top-quality chocolate and a dry work surface

To make a sensational chocolate truffle, you have to start with sensational chocolate. How can you tell the difference? My favorite way is to just taste it, but if that’s not possible, check the label for the percentage of cocoa solids. More cocoa solids usually translates into more intense chocolate flavor and less sweetness.

I use chocolate with at least 60 percent cocoa solids, but good truffles can be made with 55 percent. Lindt "Excellence" and Valrhona are safe bets, not only for their flavor, but also because they seem to be more fluid—and therefore easier to work with—when melted.

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Bill Yosses likes to get all the chocolate chopped at the start. Use a serrated knife or the heel of a chef’s knife and have a small stainless-steel bowl handy

Chocolate doesn’t like small amounts of liquid, although it does fine with larger amounts (anything over 25 percent of the weight of the chocolate is fine).

A few drops of water that accidentally splash into a bowl of melted chocolate can cause the chocolate to clump up, or seize, and become unworkable. To avoid this, start with a super-dry work surface, be fastidious about using dry utensils, and have a towel handy.

It doesn’t matter what tool you use to chop the chocolate, as long as you get small enough pieces. I’ve seen plenty of apprentices break off the tips of good chef’s knives while trying to chop a block of chocolate. Don’t follow their example—use the heel of the knife. The chore of chopping (and I won’t lie: it is a chore) is a bit more speedy using a serrated knife—preferably not your best one, since the chopping is bad for the knife.You can also use an ice pick to break up blocks of chocolate.

If you use a food processor, first chop the chocolate into chestnut-size pieces and then process with pulses, taking care that the chocolate doesn’t start to melt. Whatever method you use, chop until you get peanut-size pieces. Small, fairly uniform pieces ensure that the chocolate will melt quickly and evenly.

  • Chop the chocolate for the ganache by shaving shards from the bar and then cross-cutting to get chips no bigger than peanuts. Transfer to the bowl. Chop the dipping chocolate the same way and set aside.
  • For tempered truffles, separate out one-quarter (8 ounces or about 1-1/2-cups) of the chopped dipping chocolate and, using a chef’s knife, chop it into even finer pieces. Set these pieces aside in a bowl separate from the rest of the pile.
Make the ganache

The key to this soft, smooth ganache is to create an emulsion, which simply means that the droplets of fat from the chocolate and cream are evenly dispersed in liquid. The technique I use is an energetic, controlled mixing. I’ve recently switched utensils, from a whisk to a wooden spoon, for an even denser, creamier ganache. A small stainless-steel bowl is ideal—a small bowl helps support the emulsion, and stainless steel is a good heat conductor.

Begin stirring in a very tight circle in the center of the bowl. A thick, dark pool of melted chocolate will form in the center, surrounded by a ragged moat of cream. Keep stirring only in the center until the small pool of chocolate turns shiny and viscous. At that point, the emulsion is established, and you can gradually widen the circle, pulling in more cream a bit at a time.

As soon as all the cream has been incorporated, stop stirring. This ganache doesn’t benefit from extra air, and excessive agitation can actually break the emulsion. For those reasons, I don’t recommend using a food processor. If the emulsion does break, you can salvage it by transferring one-third of the ganache to a separate bowl and whisking it vigorously while adding a few tablespoons of very hot cream. Once the emulsion returns, gradually ladle in the rest of the broken ganache, whisking all the while.

  • Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate for the ganache. Photo: Ben Fink
  • Stir quickly in small, tight circles to start forming the emulsion Photo: Ben Fink
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When you’re ready to pipe, the ganache should be as smooth and as soft as peanut butter (but not as sticky).Photo: Ben Fink

Once the ganache is made, be gentle with it. Temperature extremes can wreck an emulsion. When the ganache has cooled to room temperature, ease in the butter, also at room temperature. You need to mash the butter first into a soft, smooth paste, called a pommade, by beating it with a wooden spoon. Stir in the liqueur a bit at a time (this small amount of liquid won’t make the chocolate seize since it has already been mixed with the liquid cream).

Shape the truffles

I use a pastry bag to pipe the ganache into truffle centers. If you don’t have one, use a strong freezer bag and snip one corner to get a 1/2-inch opening. To pipe, use your dominant hand to press on the bag while the other hand guides the tip. Aim for spheres, but it’s all right if you get irregular blobs; it just means a little more time shaping. After briefly chilling the centers in the fridge, you’ll roll the centers between your palms to round out the shape.You can store the piped and shaped ganache centers, covered in plastic, for up to a week in the refrigerator.

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    Pipe the ganache onto parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate until quite firm. Photo: Ben Fink
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    Shape each truffle center into a smooth ball by rolling it between your palms. Refrigerate the shaped truffles on the baking sheet for 1 hour, or until ready to dip. Photo: Ben Fink
Melt the chocolate; hold your temper
Set up an assembly line that includes the baking sheet of shaped centers, the bowl of melted or tempered chocolate, another parchment-lined sheet for the just-dipped truffles, and, if you’re rolling the truffles in cocoa, a shallow dish of cocoa powder.

Prepare your work area — The first task before dipping is to organize your workspace. Set two parchment-lined baking sheets on a long work surface, leaving enough space to one side for the melted chocolate and the truffle centers, in that order. Set out two or three forks and knives. If you’re rolling the truffles in cocoa powder, sift it into a shallow dish and set it to one side of the work area.

Melt the chocolate — There are lots of ways to melt chocolate. Most pastry chefs these days use a microwave. I don’t. A microwave is fine if you’ve learned (often by trial and error) how high to go and for how long, but otherwise, it’s too easy to burn the chocolate. I use the time-honored double-boiler method, which is safer and almost as fast as the microwave.

Use a medium-size shallow bowl over a small saucepan. The bowl must be big enough to rest firmly on the saucepan so that no steam escapes, but it should also be small enough to maintain a well of chocolate for dipping. The water in the bottom saucepan should be hot but not simmering, so remember to take the pan off the heat before you set the bowl of chocolate on top. Also remember that steam is no friend of chocolate. Every time you lift the bowl off the saucepan, wipe the bottom dry.

Temper the chocolate — Decide if you want to temper. Tempered chocolate has a professional-looking sheen, snaps cleanly, and is less likely to wilt at room temperature (because it has a higher melting point). If those are important qualities for your truffles, you’ll want to temper the chocolate you use for dipping. All you’ll need are an accurate chocolate thermometer and a calm disposition.

Store-bought chocolate has been tempered during manufacturing. When you melt it, as you must do to dip the truffles, the chocolate loses its temper. To regain its temper, the chocolate must be heated, cooled, and then very gently warmed as described below. Tempering chocolate is an intuitive science. Because I do it every day, I know when the chocolate is in temper by sight and by touch. But beginners will need to monitor the thermometer closely, first to get the chocolate in temper, and then to maintain it.

The tempering process is as follows: — Continue heating the chocolate over the pan of hot water, until the temperature reaches  120° and 125°F.

Photo: Ben Fink

Cool the melted chocolate to 86°F. There are several ways to do this, but one of the simplest is to add very finely chopped pieces of tempered chocolate to the melted chocolate and stir them around. This process, known as seeding, floods the melted chocolate with tempered cocoa-butter crystals, which encourage more of those same crystals to form. It’s important that you use store-bought chocolate (which has already been tempered) for this step. Stop adding chocolate when the shavings are no longer melting and the temperature has dropped to 86°F or slightly lower.

Warm the chocolate—very carefully—to between 88° and 91°F. To raise the temperature only a few degrees, you will "flash" the bowl over the pan of hot water for ten seconds, wipe the bottom of the bowl dry, check the temperature, and flash again as necessary.

For untempered truffles, it’s a good idea to roll the dipped truffle in cocoa powder. You could also try ground nuts, coconut, or confectioners’ sugar. Besides adding another texture, the coating masks the untempered truffle’s duller finish. I like to leave tempered truffles unrolled to flaunt their glossy, smooth shells.

To test if the chocolate is in temper, spread a bit on a swatch of parchment and let cool for a few minutes. The chocolate is in temper if it sets quickly. If the chocolate has white streaks and is tacky to the touch, it is not in temper; start the tempering process again by heating the chocolate to 120°F (or just continue, knowing that the truffles may not be tempered).

Maintain the chocolate between 88° and 91°F. In this range, the chocolate is in temper and ready for dipping. Outside of this range, it’s at risk of losing its temper. Don’t worry about the chocolate that hardens on the sides of the bowl during dipping. It’s more important to maintain the pool of tempered chocolate in the center.

  •  Testing the chocolate's temper.
  • To monitor the temperature, tape the thermometer to the bowl (the bulb shouldn’t touch the bowl).
Dip, tap, and roll

Whether your melted chocolate is tempered or not, the final step—the dipping—is the most thrilling. But unless you want to end up like Lucille Ball in the famous runaway chocolate candies episode of I Love Lucy, it’s critical that you stay organized and work quickly.

Your assembly line should be set up by the time the chocolate is ready for dipping. You’ll need a fork to dip. Choose one with thin tines so the melted chocolate drips off more easily. Professional truffle forks have very thin, very light tines; you can simulate that effect by bending back two tines of an old cafeteria fork or by breaking off the middle tines of a plastic fork.

Tap the fork on the sides of the bowl several times so the excess chocolate drips off and a thin chocolate shell forms around the truffle. You may have to tap 20-times or more. If the untempered chocolate thickens too much, or if the tempered chocolate falls to 89°F, flash the chocolate over hot water in 10-second increments to warm it.

If "feet" have formed on the truffle, it means you haven’t tapped off enough of the excess chocolate. Just snap off the feet when the chocolate has set.

  • Immerse the truffle centers in the well of chocolate and lift out on a fork tine. Photo: Ben Fink
  • Gently transfer the dipped truffles on the lined baking sheets. Photo: Ben Fink
Recipe:

Classic Chocolate Truffles

Bonus Video:

How to Make Classic Chocolate Truffles

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