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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.