Why are you still buying chocolate truffles? There is no candy easier or more satisfyingly glamorous to make at home. No special equipment is required, and the four ingredients--heavy cream, good chocolate, butter, and cocoa powder--are readily available.
Bay Area Bites decided to learn from a pro: Charles "Chuck" Siegel, owner of Charles Chocolates in San Francisco's Mission Creek. In a recent Google+ Hangout event, Siegel talked chocolate and demonstrated a simple recipe for rich (and easily gift-able) chocolate truffles. Could it be as easy as it seemed?
Unlike, say, fondant flowers, which are infinitely trickier to master than the final product might suggest, chocolate truffles register as much fancier than they really are, perhaps due to their high price tag in upscale chocolate shops. What makes, or breaks, a good truffle isn't technique but the quality of the chocolate used. Since they're nothing but a lot of chocolate, a little cream, and a smidge of butter, the chocolate is what you'll be tasting, so make sure you use a brand you like.
Wanting to buy local, we used Recchuiti Confections' "dark milk" bar mixed with Guittard 63% extra-dark chocolate chips. While Recchuiti doesn't make its own bean-to-bar product, we like supporting small-scale artisans in the Dogpatch, and their dark milk bar is one of the best we've tried. Family-run Guittard, made in Burlingame, offers a good price-to-quality ratio, and their chips have been a longtime Bay Area baking favorite. As for cream, the glass-bottled heavy cream produced by Straus Family Creamery is utterly dreamy, but Clover's organic heavy cream is also a good choice. You'll get a better texture in the final product if you steer clear of ultra-pasteurized heavy cream, which means avoiding most supermarket brands as well "big organic" brands like Horizon.
Now, amounts. Using the ingredient amounts listed on Siegel's recipe--a pound and a half of chocolate, over a pint of cream--you'll end up with lot of truffles--about 100 if you make 1"-x-1" cubes, more if you make them smaller. A 9"-x-13" pan of truffles is a whole lot of truffles, especially since they are rich enough to make it hard to eat more than two pieces in a sitting (really!). And here's why we love pastry-chef wonks who do the math for us: Siegel points out that an 8"-x-8" pan (the typical square brownie pan) holds 60% of the volume of a 9"-x-13" pan, so rather than just halving the recipe, you'll get best results if you use 60% of the original amounts. This is only slightly tricky when it comes to the amount of milk chocolate, 5.4 ounces. If you don't have a scale, eyeballing just under 5 1/2 ounces should be fine; 1 cup of chocolate chips equals 6 ounces.
Once you've assembled your chocolates, it's important to get it chopped evenly into roughly chip-sized pieces. You're melting the chocolate by pouring hot cream over it, and if you try pouring your hot liquid over one big solid lump, it won't melt evenly. This is an argument for using chocolate chips or couverture wafers in the first place, as chopping chocolate can be a sticky and rather mess-making task. But if you need to do it, use a sharp, heavy knife (like a cleaver or chef's knife) and make sure your cutting board is clean and non-oniony/garlicky.
If you want to infuse your truffles with a subtle but distinctive flavor, try steeping whole spices or herbs in the warm cream. Add whole cinnamon sticks, coffee beans, finely chopped mint, tea leaves or other flavorings to the cream while it's heating. Once cream is steaming, remove from heat, cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain, discarding solids. Rewarm the cream briefly if necessary before using. We made Mexican-style truffles by adding 2 cinnamon sticks and a whole dry chipotle chile to the cream, giving a warm hint of smoky spice to the final product.
Charles Chocolates Recipe: Chocolate Truffles
Ingredients: To make a 9"-x-13" pan:
15 oz bittersweet chocolate
9 oz milk chocolate
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, preferably organic and non ultra-pasteurized
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, for finishing
To make an 8"-x-8" pan:
9 oz bittersweet chocolate
5.4 oz milk chocolate
6 tbsp heavy cream
1 tb plus 1 tsp butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, for finishing
1. If not using chips, chop the chocolates evenly into pebble-sized pieces. Combine in a medium bowl and set aside. Line pan with a long strip of plastic wrap, using enough that you'll be able to wrap the long edge completely over the top of the finished truffles.
2. In a saucepan, heat heavy cream until just steaming and beginning to bubble around the edges. Pour hot cream over chocolate. Let mixture stand for several minutes.
3. Using a rubber spatula, a whisk, or a hand (immersion) blender, begin mixing the chocolate and cream at the center of the bowl, slowly moving outwards from the center to the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until chocolate is fully melted and mixture is smooth.
4. Add butter and continue mixing until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour chocolate into prepared pan, using an offset or rubber spatula to push mixture evenly into the corners. Smooth the top and fold the excess plastic wrap over the top, gently pressing down onto the top of the mixture.
5. Chill mixture in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. When mixture has hardened, remove from refrigerator. Peel back the top plastic wrap. Flip over onto a cutting board and peel off remaining plastic wrap. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut into small, even squares.
6. Sift cocoa powder into a wide-mouthed bowl. Add truffles a few at a time to bowl of cocoa, shaking to cover each truffle completely with cocoa. Shake excess cocoa off through a fine mesh strainer and arrange finished truffles on a serving plate. Continue coating truffles with cocoa powder until all the truffles are coated. Cover and refrigerate until serving.