Make the ganache:
Using a serrated knife or the heel of a chef's knife, chop 12 oz. of the chocolate for the ganache by shaving shards from the bar and then cross-cutting, to get chips now bigger than peanuts. Transfer to a small stainless-steel bowl. Chop the remaining 2 lb. chocolate the same way, and set aside to use for dipping.
Chop the chocolate.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just comes to a boil and pour it over the chopped ganache chocolate. Using a wooden spoon, stir quickly in small circles in the center of the bowl. The chocolate center will become a viscous, shiny emulsion.
Add the cream.
Stir the mixture.
Gradually stir in larger circles, bringing in more chocolate from the sides. Keep enlarging the shiny center until all the chocolate has been incorporated. If the emulsion cools before all the chocolate has melted, briefly flash the bowl over a pan of hot (not simmering) water for a few seconds, being careful not to overheat the ganache and lose the emulsion. When there are no more lumps, continue stirring for one more minute; don't overmix. Set the ganache aside to cool.
Stir until all the chocolate has been incorporated into the mixture.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon until it's very soft, smooth, and creamy. When the ganache has cooled to room temperature and thickened noticeably, add the butter, in small pieces a few at a time. The butter should blend without melting. Stir until no butter bits remain. Gradually pour in the liquer, stirring constantly to maintain the smooth emulsion.
Add the butter.
If you want to pipe the truffles immediately, chill the ganache in the refrigerator until it's cool but not firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Otherwise, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it isit at room temperature until ready, up to one day. When you're ready to pipe, the ganache should be as smooth and as soft as peanut butter (but not as sticky).
Shape the truffles:
Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/2-inch tip, one third of the way with the ganache. Holding the bag vertically, pipe the ganache onto parchment-lined baking sheets, aiming for 1-inch drops. Refrigerate the truffle centers until quite firm, about 1 hour.
Pipe the ganache onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
Shape each truffle center into a smooth ball by rolling it between your palms. Your palms will be covered in chocolate after rolling a few truffles. If you sense that the truffles are melting too much as you roll, dip you hands in ice water, dry them well, and then continue rolling. (To smooth the truffles even more, refrigerate them for 30 minutes and then roll them a second time.) Refrigerate the shaped truffles on the baking sheet for 1 hour, or until ready to dip.
Shape the truffles.
Melt the chocolate coating:
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. 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.
If you're tempering the dipping chocolate, chop about one-quarter of it into even finer pieces. Set these aside in a bowl separate from the rest of the dipping chocolate. In a medium saucepan, simmer about an inch of water. Transfer the 2 pounds (or 1-1/2 pounds, if you're tempering) of chopped dipping chocolate to a stainless-steel or Pyrex bowl that's large enough to rest over--not in--the water.
Remove the pan of water from the heat and set the bowl of chopped chocolate over it. Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is completely melted. If you're not tempering, set the bowl on the work surface, and skip ahead to the section on dipping the truffles below.
Temper the chocolate (optional):
If you're tempering the chocolate, continue heating it over the pan of hot water until a chocolate thermometer registers between 120° and 125° F. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, dry the bottom, and cool the chocolate to 86° F by adding the reserved finely chopped chocolate, 2 Tbs. at a time, stirring after each addition until the pieces melt.
Heat the chocolate.
When the temperature reaches 86° F and the pieces no longer melt (you might not use all the finely chopped chocolate), very gently raise the temperature to between 88° and 91° F by flashing the bowl over the pan of hot water for 10 seconds at a time, drying the bottom of the bowl every time.
To test if the chocolate is in temper, spread a bit on a swatch of parchment and let it 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 process again by heating the chocolate to 120°F.
Keep the chocolate in temper while dipping by holding it between 88° and 91° F. To monitor the temperature, tape the thermometer to the bowl (the bulb shouldn't touch the bowl). If the temperature in the center of the bowl drops to 89° F, flash the bowl over the hot water in 10-second increments until the temperature hits 90° F.
Dip the truffles:
Remove about one-quarter of the truffle centers from the fridge; set them on the work surface. Immerse one in the chocolate and spin it around with a fork to cover completely. Lift it out on the fork tines. 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.
Dip the truffles.
Gently set the dipped truffles on the lined baking sheets, using a knife to nudge the truffle off the fork without scraping off any coating. When the utensils are sticky with chocolate, switch to clean ones to avoid scarring the shell. Continue with all the truffle centers.
Set the dipped truffles onto the lined baking sheets.
If you're rolling in cocoa, instead of setting the freshly dipped truffles on parchment, tip them into the dish of sifted cocoa. When the dish is full of truffles, snap it back and forth to coat the truffles, and then gently transfer them to another plate.
Roll in cococa.
Make Ahead Tips
Tempered truffles will keep for three days at room temperature. Store them in a cool, dry place, preferably with low humidity. In the refrigerator, they'll last for about a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. Untempered truffles must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Store all refrigerated and frozen truffles in air-tight containers to prevent condensation. Remove them an hour or two before serving, keeping them covered until they reach room temperature.
After getting the hang of classic chocolate truffles, you can experiment with other flavors. You can modify the ganache by using another liquer, adding a fruit purée, or steeping herbs in the cream.
To add fruit to the ganache, purée fresh ripe fruit and strain out any fibers or seeds. Try raspberries, mangos, apricots, passionfruit, sour cherries, or any fruit with strong flavors and not too much acidity.
To use herbs, steep them in the hot cream for 20 minutes; then strain them out. Remeasure the cream (The herbs will have absorbed some of the liquid), correct the measurement with more cream, and add it to the chopped chocolate. Try fresh mint, basil, licorice-flavored hyssop, or dried teas like Earl Grey and jasmine.
nutrition information (per serving):
per 1 inch truffle;
Photo: Ben Fink