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Bittersweet bliss

How to make melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles for Valentine's Day

Timothy Adams Chocolates co-owner Timothy Woods adds heavy cream into a mixture of melted chocolate to make a ganache. Photo by Michelle Le.

Chocolate truffles mirror the qualities some people seek in a potential partner -- they're smooth, rich and make you melt on the inside. The confection is often purchased as a gift for a significant other on Valentine's Day, but can be made from scratch at home.

"When it comes to chocolates, it typically becomes a precious commodity people enjoy sharing just by themselves," said Adams Holland, co-owner of Timothy Adams Chocolates in downtown Palo Alto. "It's an easy, lovely thing to put a smile on someone's face."

In recent years, Holland said he has seen chocolates become part of a Valentine's Day gift rather than the focal point.

"I like it when the person buying the box realizes that 24 is too much for one person," Holland said.

In advance of Feb. 14, Timothy Adams Chocolates is bringing back fruity and floral flavors to its display case, including strawberry, raspberry, passion fruit, rose and violet, Holland said.

Instead of buying chocolate already made, chocolate lovers can take their Valentine's Day gift a step further by making truffles at home with common kitchen tools, including a kitchen thermometer and a double-boiler.

"A double boiler doesn't have to be what our mothers told us it had to be," said Timothy Adams Chocolates co-owner Tim Woods. (He uses a sauté pan with a little water in the bottom and a metal bowl placed on top.)

At a recent chocolate-making workshop at Timothy Adams, about a dozen financial advisers and lawyers trickled into the whimsical shop. The shop's logo, a rabbit in mid-leap, was evident everywhere, from the entrance to the walls to the packaging. The group was immediately drawn to a display case of delicately decorated bonbons at the front of the store and settled in within the shop's bright pink and blue patterned walls.

After mingling, the group put down their glasses of wine, prosecco and Champagne and traded their blazers for aprons. They gathered around a marble table behind an espresso machine for a two-hour workshop on truffles, beginning with seven samples ranging from light to dark, and cups of sipping chocolate.

Woods, a longtime chocolatier who has been leading the classes for over a year, learned his craft from the experts at Puccini Bomboni in Amsterdam and attended the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago.

He also took classes from baker Alice Medrich, known as the "First Lady of Chocolate" who founded the now-closed Bay Area chocolate shop chain Cocolat. She introduced handmade truffles with French recipes to the United States more than 30 years ago. Woods said he learned from her the value of experimentation to help improve the product.

The key to making truffles at home is to buy moderate- to higher-end chocolate, from companies such as Guittard Chocolate Company and TCHO, both based in the Bay Area, Woods said.

An important word to look for in the packaging is "couverture," French for "covering." In the chocolate-making world, the word means when the chocolate is melted the cocoa butter stays intact, unlike chocolate chips used for cookies or inexpensive chocolate that can be purchased at the grocery store, Woods said.

The chocolate should be between 50 to 60 percent cacao, as anything with a higher percentage will be difficult to work with.

One common mistake when making truffles is over-mixing the ganache, a filling made of melted chocolate combined with a heavy cream, according to Woods. If the mixture becomes lumpy and breaks down, Woods recommended putting a few tablespoons of warm cream into a bowl and slowly pouring it in the broken ganache, continuously whisking, to get it to come back together.

The ganache can be enhanced with numerous add-ins. Flavor it by grating orange or lemon zest into the mixture or adding finely chopped, toasted nuts, he suggested. Or, to make a rocky road truffle, add pulled-apart marshmallows and chopped nuts.

Woods said he likes to create mint truffles by purchasing a bundle of spearmint and placing it in a container with heavy cream overnight. The next day, he strains the mixture to remove the spearmint and adds it to the ganache, which creates a cold infusion without the flavor of cooked mint.

The next step -- tempering -- is one of the most common challenges in making truffles. The melted chocolate will be layered over the ganache, giving the truffle a polished look on the outside.

While there are many ways to temper chocolate that are equally good, Woods prefers not to use the tabling method where the chocolate is poured on a marble table and woven into S-shapes with a scraper or palette knife.

"You see that on TV quite often because it's highly dramatic," Woods said.

Instead, he adds the remaining chocolate into the melted mixture and stirs until everything has liquified and the temperature lowers to 90 degrees for dark chocolate and 88 degrees for white or milk chocolate.

Applying the tempered chocolate proved to be the messiest part of the process at the workshop as the group took turns scooping out the mixture with a wooden spoon and smearing a layer on their gloved hands. In no time, splotches of chocolate covered their baking sheets and the marble table.

If the chocolate isn't tempered and is applied to the chocolate balls too early, it could leave truffles with a gray or white bloom on the outside and they could lose their crispy exterior shell.

"When chocolates become mushy on the outside, they just don't have the luxurious melt," Woods said.

Another common mistake Woods has seen is people expecting to see "miraculous results the first time around." While the group's chocolates weren't as pristine as the ones in the Timothy Adams' display case, which are created with a mold to help speed up production, they were just as velvety in texture.

Depending on your mood, truffles can be paired with coffee, Champagne or cognac, which Woods considers the best option.

Any leftover tempered chocolate can be reused to make truffles for another occasion by wrapping it in two layers of plastic wrap and storing it in the refrigerator for up to six months.

"But you have the danger of waking up in the middle of the night and carving pieces off with a knife," Woods said.

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Basic truffles

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (11 ounces if using brandy)

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 to 3 tablespoons brandy or liquor of your choice (optional)

1 pound, plus 1/4 pound of chocolate, either bittersweet, semisweet or white chocolate

Melt the finely chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl over a double-boiler.

Pour the cream, and brandy, if using, into the chocolate and whisk together until smooth. Line a metal pan with plastic wrap and pour in the ganache. Cover the ganache with additional plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight.

The next day, unwrap the ganache and use a teaspoon to scoop out small balls. Lay out each one on a baking sheet.

Heat 1 pound of the remaining chocolate until it is mostly melted, about 125 degrees F, then remove from heat and stir until smooth.

Temper the chocolate by letting it cool to 100 degrees F and mixing in a couple of 2-ounce chunks from the 1/4 pound of unmelted chocolate.

Stir constantly until it reaches 90 degrees F for dark chocolate or 88 degrees F for white or milk chocolate. Remove any unmelted lumps of chocolate.

Put on plastic gloves and apply a layer of tempered chocolate on your palm with a spoon. Apply two coats of the tempered chocolate to each ganache ball, applying the second layer as soon as the first one dries.

Allow truffles to air-dry for 90 minutes, or expedite the process by letting them cool in the refrigerator for five minutes.

Note: For the chopped chocolate, you will get the most flavor from a bittersweet in the 70 percent range, but you will have good results with semisweet or bittersweet chocolates (50 percent to 72 percent). Chocolate chips are an acceptable substitute.

Adapted by Timothy Woods from a recipe by Alice Medrich.

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