What could be simpler than the truffle? Essentially ganache, the elegant truffle is nothing more than chocolate and cream rolled into small lumpy balls reminiscent of a European fungus.
Escoffier and the Rube
While some claim the first chocolate truffle was created at the Patisserie Siravdin in Paris, others maintain it was Switzerland. You say potato I say potato, the best story of the lot gives famed French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier the credit, or rather his assistant.
It is said that sometime in the early 1920’s in Escoffier’s kitchen in Paris his blundering assistant, while attempting to make a pastry cream, accidentally poured hot cream over a bowl of chopped chocolate. In typical chef form, Escoffier reacted by thundering through the kitchen, roaring obscenities at the poor miscalculating hayseed. Among other fiercer terms, Escoffier shrieked the word “ganache” meaning fool in French.
Tired out from his emotional tirade Escoffier returned to the cooled ganache and upon further examination discovered the magic properties that the combination of good chocolate and cream possess. Realizing that he could handle the ganache he began to play with it, molding it and rolling it into balls.
Looking down at the dark uneven lumps he was struck by their resemblance to the subterranean mushroom. To enhance their likeness he rolled them in cocoa powder and voilá! the first chocolate truffle was created.
The Corruption of the Truffle
Since then the chocolate truffle has been corrupted on a number of levels. And it all began with Belgian chocolatier Jean Neuhaus, who invented the first hard-shelled chocolate. Suddenly chocolates became a multifaceted experience. Now a hard exterior of chocolate gave way to a soft interior. While Neuhaus called these Pralines, many chocolatiers referred to them as truffles because they were originally filled with chocolate ganache.
As chefs continued to experiment with the chocolate, fillings became more exotic. Cream fillings, caramel, nougat, and nuts all found their way inside chocolate and the terms continued to be used interchangeably. Though delicious, these new chocolates were not truffles in the strictly traditional sense of the word. But wait there’s more, both Americans and French have their own version of the praline, both confections devoid of chocolate altogether.
The French take on the Praline is a combination of caramel and almonds, and the American contains syrup, pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds, and cream. Resulting in a soft almost fudgy confection.
Since the creation of the original truffle and its subsequent bastardization, truffles have settled into five main varieties: French, Belgian, Swiss, American, and Canadian.
The French truffle we have already covered and any self-respecting chocolatier remains true to this heritage.
The Belgian version has a hard chocolate shell with a soft filling. Ranging anywhere from nut pastes and buttercream to pure butter and marzipan.
The Swiss truffles are made by adding melted chocolate to a boiling amalgam of butter and cream, then poured into round molds to set, and finished with cocoa powder.
The American truffle, first created by Joseph Schmidt in the 1980’s changed not only the interior fillings but the shape of the truffle. Instead of being completely round, the American version has a flat bottom, is made of a mixture of chocolates and butterfat and filled with literally anything. And the line continues to blur.
The Canadian truffle also called the Harvey Truffle, shares the same half-egg shape as the American variety, but includes peanut butter and graham crackers as acceptable filling variations. And the line is gone.
So in an effort to reestablish the distinctions between truffles and all other chocolates here is a recipe for the tried and true classic truffle. Simple and delicious this silky ball of chocolate is the perfect accompaniment to any meal and now that you’ve read this, great fodder for dinner conversation.
E Trufflis Unum
11 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate
¼ cup heavy cream
2 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp good-quality liqueur
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
Chop your chocolate into small pieces, placing them into a bowl and setting aside for later use.
In the top of a double-boiler heat cream and butter until steam begins to rise from the surface and bubbles have begun to form. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir quickly in small circles in the center of the bowl. As the chocolate starts to form an emulsion in the center, start widening your circle incorporating the rest of the cream.
This is the moment where most cooks reach for the whisk. But resist! It may be faster to use a whisk to incorporate the two ingredients but this will introduce air into the ganache – something we do not want. Instead, use a large rubber spatula being sure to keep the spatula submerged at all times to also safeguard against air. This method may take slightly longer but results in the smoothest, silkiest ganache.
If chunks of chocolate remain unmelted put the bowl back over the double-boiler stirring continuously until all the chocolate has melted.
At this point add any liqueur of your choice, or none at all if you so choose, my current favorite is Disarrono. Pour the mixture into an 8×8-inch baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for roughly an hour.
While the Ganache is chilling, pour your cocoa powder into a bowl, preferably a wide shallow one, that will give you plenty of room to work.
Once thoroughly cooled the ganache should be scoop-able. Using a portion scoop, or a melon baller, scoop out rounds of chocolate ganache, placing them on a parchment-lined baking tray.
At this point I like to put gloves on, this helps prevent me from licking the chocolate off my hands while I work, and it also helps prevent the warmth from my hands melting the truffles while I’m rolling them.
Now, gloved or ungloved as you so desire, roll each truffle into a ball. Remembering that they don’t have to be perfectly round, don’t forget what they’re named after!
As each truffle is rolled, throw it into the bowl of unsweetened cocoa powder. After 4 or 5 truffles have made their way into the bowl, swirl them in the bowl, effectively coating all the truffles at once.
Remove to another tray, storage container, or serving plate and voila!
Truffles keep well covered in the refrigerator for up to a week, and in the freezer for up to a month.