Few pleasures in life are as exquisite as a well-made chocolate truffle. So named because of their resemblance to noble truffle mushrooms, chocolate truffles are bite-sized confections made from a mixture of heavy cream and fine chocolate, called ganache, which is either hand formed or poured into molds before it is coated with a layer of cocoa powder or crushed nuts. Many chocolate filled sweets are referred to as truffles, but a true truffle consists only of the ganache and its coating. Any other filled chocolate candy is a bonbon–literally, “good good” in French. While a truffle is indeed a type of bonbon, not all bonbons are actually truffles.
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Origins and Varieties
Chocolate truffles originated in France, but the story of how they came to be varies. One version credits French chocolatier N. Petruccelli with their creation in 1895. Another states that they were created by accident when an apprentice to a French chef mistakenly poured hot cream into a bowl of chopped chocolate rather than one containing sugared eggs. Making the best of the situation, he mixed the cream and chocolate, rolled the solidifying mixture into little balls, and dipped the confections in cocoa powder. Noting their similarity in appearance to the gourmet mushrooms, he decided to call his creations truffles. Today, chocolate truffles come in three main types: American, European, and Swiss. American truffles are generally domed–resembling half an egg–and are created from a mix of dark and milk chocolates, butterfat, and an oil, such as hardened coconut oil. The European variety utilizes syrup along with a base of cocoa powder, milk powder, and fats, while Swiss truffles are made with fresh dairy cream, butter, and melted chocolate. Swiss truffles have a much shorter shelf life due to their fresh cream content and therefore must be consumed quickly.
Making Ganache and Couverture
Velvety ganache is the heart of the chocolate truffle. It is made by slowly heating heavy cream and then pouring it into a base of fine chocolate that has been chopped into peanut-sized pieces. In general, one should use twice as much cream as chocolate. As the hot cream gradually melts the chocolate, the mixture is stirred, outward from the center, until thoroughly combined. After the ganache cools, it can be poured into molds or rolled into balls. At this point, the chocolate spheres are coated with bittersweet cocoa powder, as in the Swiss varieties, or dipped into a prepared couverture. Couverture is a French term for covering; it hardens into a chocolate shell, housing the creamy ganache within. Couverture is made from professional grade chocolate that contains a higher amount of butterfat than that found in most commercial chocolate bars. It is tempered through a process of heating, cooling, and reheating to a consistent temperature, which stabilizes the chocolate and gives it a satiny smooth texture that will snap apart rather than crumble when broken. The balls of ganache are dipped in the chocolate glaze and may additionally be rolled in a variety of coatings.
While genuine truffles contain a filling of ganache alone, they are produced in many varieties and flavors. The ganache itself can be flavored with champagne, wine, cognac, and tea or infused with herbs such as mint, rose, and lavender. Cocoa powder is a traditional final coating, but other options include sea salt, peppercorns, cayenne pepper, hazelnuts, and even chopped bacon. Kept refrigerated, chocolate truffles should retain their quality for one to two weeks. They are best served at room temperature as a wonderful accompaniment to fresh fruit and wine or as a creamy compliment to a good cup of coffee.