When you bite into one of these exquisite chocolates, the delicate shell gives way to reveal a rich ganache in the center which you can flavor with liqueurs, extracts, caramels, chilis, fruit purees, sea salts, candied zests and beyond!
The process of making a good chocolate truffle can sound complicated, but if you take the time to read these directions through a few times, you’ll see it’s not as hard as it sounds! The trick is to make sure your chocolate is “in temper” or “tempered,” and to do that you must take the temperatures seriously. A good probe thermometer is a must!
What is Tempering?
Working with chocolate is a tricky business because chocolate contains several crystals that each form or sets at a different temperature. Chocolate that has not been tempered will react to heat and humidity more dramatically or when stored for any length of time (this is what happens when chocolate goes white or “blooms”). It can also feel rough or tacky and have a chewy, cake-like texture.
Tempered chocolate on the other hand is heated to specific temperatures and specially cooled, (giving it a precise crystal structure). This makes it shelf stable and gives it a beautiful shine, snap and texture. And it is so silky smooth in the mouth!
Can you use just any chocolate?
Couverture is the preferred chocolate for tempering and enrobing truffles, bonbons and other fine candies. It contains a greater percentage of cocoa butter relative to the other ingredients and has been ground to a finer texture during the production process. [Callebaut, Lindt, Guittard, Vahlrona and Scharffen Berger are all wonderful couverture chocolates].
Milk and white chocolate can be tempered too; they just need slightly different handling, mostly with their temperatures (a subject for a future post).
In order to be properly labeled as “couverture”, the dark chocolate product must contain not less than 35% total dry cocoa solids, including not less than 31% cocoa butter and not less than 2.5% of dry non-fat cocoa solids, milk chocolate couverture must contain not less than 25% dry cocoa solids. Try and avoid chocolate chips: Most contain soy lecithin to help them hold their shape when baked but make them trickier to temper.
Useful Tools for Tempering
A bain marie or double boiler (a container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking)
Probe thermometer For quick, accurate digital temperature readings
Polycarbonate molds Allows you to have fine detail and design to your molded chocolates and truffles. The polycarbonate material will not warp or flex, lasting a lifetime.
To Do Ahead
Clean and thoroughly dry your polycarbonate mold. I use clean lens cleaning cloths for this. (You can also use plastic or silicone candy molds instead of polycarbonate: just make sure they can lay flat).
Since you will be pouring the chocolate into your mold and then turning it upside down and letting it drip out (leaving a chocolate shell behind), have a large sheet pan or large piece of parchment ready to catch the chocolate drips.
A Rule You Must Not Ignore
Chocolate is absolutely ruined if it comes in direct contact with even the tiniest drop of water (it will have a dramatic seizure…hard to recover from). Keep your work stations dry. Have a dishtowel ready to wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl when it comes off the bain marie. Check that the tools you are using are completely dry as well. If you get your hands chocolate-y and wash them, dry them completely afterward.
One Final Note
Temperature is all-important when tempering. Invest in a reliable probe thermometer (They don’t have to be expensive; I got mine at a high end kitchen store for $8.99) and watch it carefully when you’re tempering. Shut off your phone. Remove all distractions. Feed the dog and fill the bird feeder ahead of time. If you learn nothing else from me on this, learn that!
2 cups (340 g) couverture chocolate (any amount will do, but small amounts are much harder to work with temperature-wise).
Finely chop the chocolate and place four-fifths (80%) of it in the top of a bain marie (double boiler) without letting the chocolate bowl touch the water. Set the other fifth (20%) of the chocolate aside. In the bottom pot of the bain marie, put about an inch of water and turn your burner to simmer. You’re going for a gentle heat here. Stir every few minutes until fully melted.
Put your probe thermometer in the chocolate bowl. When the temperature reaches 46°C/115°F, lift the pot off the heat, wipe the bottom of the pot with a dishtowel and place it on a folded dishtowel or potholder on the counter. Doing this will help it not cool too quickly when it comes in contact with a cold counter.
Pour half of the remaining 20% “seed” chocolate into the melted chocolate. Stir it until it melts and then add the chocolate, continuing to stir until completely melted. Continuous agitation is just as important to this process as the temperatures. Insert your probe thermometer and watch for it to hit 32°C/90°. (This usually takes between 2-10 minutes). These temperatures are important, so make sure you follow them exactly. This method of tempering is called the “seed method.”
Once the chocolate temperature reaches the sweet spot of 32°/90°, it’s time to pour the melted chocolate into your mold.
Hold the mold in one hand and ladle the chocolate quickly into the mold. Use a bench scraper to sluff the extra chocolate back into the pot.
Still holding the filled mold in one hand, move it over your prepared sheet pan and turn it upside down. Keep the mold level and perpendicular to the sheet pan. Use the edge of the bench scraper to tap on every side of the mold to help the chocolate drip out of the mold, and run the scraper over the top (the mold is still upside down). Tap it again and repeat the scraping.
Leave the mold to set upside down on a rack on top of a sheet pan or on a piece of parchment, around 10 minutes.
Check the temperature on the remaining chocolate. If it has only dropped a few degrees (no lower than 29°C/84°F), you can put it on the bain marie to bring it back up to 32°C/90°F and then use it to pour into a second mold.
If the temperature is below 29°C/84°F, you’ll need to put the chocolate back on the bain marie, bring the temperature back up to 46°C/115°F and seed it again with additional chocolate until it returns to 32°C/90°F. Once the temperature is back to 32°C/90°F, pour the chocolate into the second mold and repeat the same scraping/dripping procedure.
[I’ve found that if I “pour and scrape” quickly, I can usually get both molds filled without having to retemper the chocolate]. Also, larger batches of chocolate tend to hold the temperature longer.
After 10 minutes, turn the molds right side up, cover them lightly with plastic wrap and leave in a cool room (ideally around 65°F) overnight. To speed the process, you can also refrigerate at this point, but for no more than 15 minutes (you want to avoid moisture condensation).
Dark Chocolate Ganache for the Center
7-1/2 oz (220 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped fine (it doesn’t have to be couverture, but who can argue with the taste and texture of a good couverture chocolate?)
3/4 cup + 3 T (220 g) heavy cream
3 T (45 g) whole milk
(45 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
Flavoring of your choice*
*WAYS TO FLAVOR YOUR GANACHE
Since chocolate is such a dominant flavor, the key is to match it with intense flavors! There are three main ways to do this: infusing the cream, adding a fruit puree (before adding the cream), or adding a liquor, liqueur or extract after adding the cream.
1. Infusing the Cream
Fresh herbs: basil, mint, culinary-grade lavender, rose geranium, thyme
Spices: cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla bean, chili peppers, sea salt
Teas: jasmine, licorice spice, green teas, Earl Grey, black teas, spice teas
Coffees: espresso beans, cocoa nibs
Citrus zests: lemon, orange, grapefruit, blood orange
Misc.: Toasted coconut, toasted nuts/seeds
Quantities and Infusion Times
Experiment with hot versus cold infusion for different ingredients, and experiment with quantities and infusion times. Keep in mind that a too-strong infusion can always be diluted with more cream and that ganache needs an extra strong or double-strength infusion since it will be mixed with chocolate.
8-10 hours ahead, add spices or herbs to the cream mixture. Once the solids are strained out of the cream, you can heat a cold infusion to make a ganache (see below) or ice cream base, etc., without losing the fresh, bright flavor obtained from the cold infusion.
Combine the flavor ingredient with the cream and heat until scalded. Remove from heat and cover, letting steep for 5-30 minutes, to your taste. Strain and discard the flavor ingredients.
2. Add a Fruit Puree to the Chocolate
Adding fruit puree will make your ganache a bit looser, but it can be a tasty way to add sweetness and tang. Choose fruits with strong flavors like raspberry, strawberry, cherry or passion fruit. You’ll want to add it to the chocolate BEFORE adding the warm cream.
3. Spike Your Ganache with Liqueurs or Extracts
Stir in a potent flavored liquor or liqueur while the ganache is still warm. Whisk until fully combined and let cool completely.
OK, ONTO MAKING THE GANACHE!
Chop the chocolate into fine pieces and set aside in a small bowl.
Choose your flavoring method and prepare accordingly. (See descriptions above).
In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream/milk mixture to scalding and immediately turn off the heat. Pour the heavy cream over the top of the chocolate and let it sit for a few moments before stirring. Once the chocolate has melted and been stirred, add the room temperature butter and blend the ganache (immersion blenders are great for this, but a hand mixer will do as well).
Pour the ganache into a piping bag and insert a probe thermometer. It’s important that you wait to pipe it until the temperature has cooled to around 29°C/84°F.
Pipe the chocolate ganache into the tempered chocolate molds, leaving a 1/8″ space from the top. Once piped, cover the molds with plastic wrap and set it in a cool room (ideally around 65°F) overnight or refrigerate for an hour (don’t leave in fridge or it will collect moisture).
Sealing the Truffle
To seal, make another batch of tempered chocolate and ladle it on top of the molds to seal the truffle. Scrape the top with a bench scraper and let the truffles set, right side up, for around an hour or so.
To remove the truffles from the molds, lay a piece of parchment paper down on the counter and turning the mold upside down, tap one horizontal edge firmly on the counter. Repeat as necessary until all the truffles have released. If the truffles don’t release, they are not finished setting. Give them more time and they will come out beautifully when ready.
Fun Tip for Leftover Ganache:
Set the ganache in the fridge and once set, roll balls with a scoop or spoon. Use the palms of your hands to round them out and then dip them in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, peppermint bits, finely ground chocolate, ground up cookies…whatever you like! (See photo on top of page).
Many congratulations: you’ve done it!! Time to settle back and enjoy!!
Many thanks to August Escoffier Culinary School, Dominique Ansel and King Arthur Flour for the pro tips!