Every year I make elaborate plans for all the biscuits, cakes and other food presents I will make for friends and family at Christmas. And every year, my ambition exceeds the time available, after I’ve accounted for time to buy presents, go to parties and travel to see family. I usually end up with some sort of cooking marathon or a couple of evenings where I’m in the kitchen until midnight, wrapping caramels or dipping orangettes or whatever I decided was a good idea this year.
For 2010, I made brownies (obviously), chocolate balsamic vinegar (which not everyone was wild about, but was worth it just for me), mini chocolate walnut cookies and … homemade chocolates. I made raspberry truffles, described below, but I also made Azelia’s caramel truffles, which were amazing and easier to work with (I increased the proportion of chocolate to make the centres a little easier to dip). I definitely recommend trying that recipe, and as a great side effect, you get to make Dulce de Leche.
As I noted in my 2010 review, this was something of a year of chocolate. I went to demos, tried tempering again, and generally immersed myself in the world of UK fine chocolate.
Probably the most surprising chocolate recipe I came across was the raspberry ganache recipe I made at Divertimenti with William Curley. It is made only of raspberry puree and melted chocolate, but tastes creamy, and yet with such pure fruit flavour. It’s also so easy and impressive to make for other people.
Ganache is usually described as an emulsion of chocolate and cream. This is used to make chocolate truffles, but also often used as a simple, sophisticated chocolate icing for cakes, a filling for a chocolate tart or a starting point for chocolate caramels.
However, a ganache can also be made with water or something water-based like a fruit puree (after all, cream is mostly water, even if the rest is fat).
The simplest way to make a truffle that I know is to heat cream, pour it over finely chopped chocolate, stir until you get a smooth ganache, and then pour into a foil-lined square tin. Leave until set, preferably overnight, refrigerate (or freeze if it’s a very soft mixture) and then cut into 1 inch squares.
I saw this simple method demonstrated by Alice Medrich, and it was a revelation. She made mint chocolates, by infusing the cold cream overnight in the fridge with a bunch of chopped fresh mint, straining it out, then heating the cream. It avoids the need to scoop or roll little balls, and if you’re eating them fairly quickly, you can just set out the squares on a plate and hand them around.
I made some of the raspberry ganache this way in the summer, and just coated the squares lightly in cocoa, and then kept them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Tempering chocolate is a tricky enterprise and always, always ends up with you, the kitchen, and a range of utensils coated in a layer of chocolate. But it is what gives you that lovely shiny, snap on chocolate, that crisp crack as you bite into it.
Chocolate is a really complicated material. It consists of cocoa butter, cocoa solids (the cocoa powder) and sugar (or at least the good stuff does). But cocoa butter is a very complicated fat, having seven different types of crystals it can form. I’m not going to go into huge detail about the mechanism for tempering here, as Katie has done a much better job over on her blog, so go look there. She also has a great primer on truffles. And you can buy her lovely tea-flavoured chocolates here.
The short version of tempering is to heat the chocolate to melt all the fat crystals thoroughly, melting it quite hot, then cool it in a controlled way to the temperature where the ‘good’ fat crystals form, which is below body temperature, and when the chocolate is quite thick. FInally you heat it very slightly again, so it’s thin enough to work with, but not so hot that the crystals all melt out again.
Recipe: Raspberry truffles
- 320g raspberry puree
- 320g chocolate
- 50g softened butter
- 1 tbsp vodka
This makes a huge amount, enough to pour into an 8 inch square pan or even larger. You can certainly make half this quantity or even less. And this also gives you less work to do when dipping them.
I made the raspberry puree at the end of the summer, with fresh raspberries that were on special offer at the supermarket, close to their expiration date. It doesn’t matter if they are a bit soft and bruised, but they shouldn’t be mouldy. I heaped them in a pan with a tablespoon or two of water, and heated it with a lid on to break down the berries and release the juice a little bit, but didn’t bring it quite to the boil. I then pureed with a hand blender and passed it through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. I then froze the puree until Christmas.
To make the ganache, heat the raspberry puree until warm but not boiling. Taste it, and if it is very acidic, sweeten it a little with some icing sugar. You want the bright, fresh fruit flavour, but too much acid combined with the bitter of the chocolate may be too astringent. It’s up to you how much you sweeten it.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave, in short bursts, until it’s barely melted. Stir to melt the remaining pieces until it’s just smooth. Add the raspberry puree and stir until it is completely smooth.
Stir in the softened butter, and the vodka if using, until completely combined. The vodka is optional, but helps to preserve the ganache a little longer.
Pour and scrape the ganache into a 7 inch or so square tin, lined with foil or baking parchment. Tap on the kitchen counter quite firmly to make sure that any air bubbles are expelled. Leave at room temperature to set, then put into the freezer. This is a very soft ganache, so you will need to freeze it in order to cut it easily. Alternatively, you can add more chocolate to the recipe to make it firmer and easier to handle.
Once you have cut the ganache into one inch squares, it is a good idea to leave them to cure for a while in the fridge. This seems to set the outside of the truffles, making them firmer and easier to dip.
You then need to take them one by one, dip them quickly in the tempered chocolate, and then tap to remove excess chocolate before putting onto parchment. As this is a very soft ganache, you need to do this fast, so that the ganache doesn’t start to melt into the chocolate or stick to your fingers too much.
Once the truffles are set, you should store them in a cool place in a sealed container. Storing them in the fridge will make them last longer, but you need to make sure they don’t get wet from the condensation, and allow them to come to room temperature before eating them. You can also wrap them in individual squares of foil, to make them look like Quality Street (as my sister described them)! I ordered mine from the Cakes Cookies & Crafts Shop.