We get lots of questions at this time every year from home truffle makers.
Judging from the queries we get in the shop, I think a lot of people at home try and make things a bit more complicated than they need to be. If you like to experiment, then great (I do!), but the best truffles are really simple things and if you’re looking for something to give as a gift or to serve after dinner then my advice is really to keep things very pure, very classic and concentrate on the best ingredients and the simplest of methods…ie no dipping forks or moulds!
I’m going to start with ingredients in this post and then in my next post I’ll talk about method.
The first thing you need to do is get hold of some good quality couverture. Couverture is processed chocolate ready for you to temper or otherwise work with at home.
Please don’t try supermarket chocolate bars….it will cost you a fortune and the quality is very variable (supermarket fine chocolate works on the principle of buzzwords and margin…not taste.). Certainly I wouldn’t advise ‘mixing and matching’ with different chocolates. Getting the right blend is a lifetime’s skill. It certainly isn’t a case (as I’ve had proposed to me by more than one home truffle maker this year already) of buying a cheap or low cocoa chocolate and ‘cutting it’ with some higher quality stuff to get something acceptable…it’s a bit more complicated than that and this approach is no more sensible than mixing a chablis with liebfraumilch and expecting to get something drinkable.
The other reason not to try and work with supermarket bars is that there’s a difference between couverture and chocolate bars…couverture is usually sold in small pieces so it’s easy to temper and its also more fluid (more cocoa butter, you see) …. If you get really stuck Green and Black’s do a 72% with extra cocoa butter for fluidity but that really is the only I’d consider.
My best tip as always is to try and befriend your local chocolatier or pastry chef . Ask if they would consider selling you some couverture. That way you can get a brilliant couverture for probably one quarter of the price at what you’ll pay at the supermarket. Ask for Valrhona or a single origin product. Ask nicely… chocolatiers put a lot of thought into selecting their couverture. Alternatively, if you’re working in slightly larger quantities (or if your local chocolatier is stressed to heck at this time of year and won’t sell you any couverture), try www.keylink.org.uk/ or http://www.vantagehouse.com/ both of whom have loads of equipment and ingredients for the home chocolatier, not to mention friendly and helpful staff.
OK…so that’s the chocolate sorted.
Next….cream. I use double…you want to keep the water content low and you want a rich, thick filling, so for me it’s got to be double. Some people use whipping cream. You should use almost as much cream as chocolate (by volume) to give you a truffle that melts really quickly and is beautifully soft and smooth. So selecting a tasty cream is as important as the chocolate. Taste your cream at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge as you’ll get more of its flavour then.
Now my favourite truffles would stop right there….great chocolate, great thick double cream (jersey really does seem to make a difference not just to the taste but to the texture).
But if you are flavouring alcohol is great really because it gives a warming effect to your truffle…the lips and tongue and throat are gently warmed by a creeping heat from the brandy or whatever you are using, which adds to the whole sensuality of the truffle (and that’s what truffles are about…sensation and texture is at least as important as taste. A good truffle is like a kiss…a lingering, deep kiss. That's why truffles are really a gift to a loved one. Altogether too provocative to give to a stranger!)
I would stick to champagne, armagnac, cointreau or similar (ie not a single malt whisky or a burgundy…chocolate plus other lovely but very distinctive taste tends actually NOT to make a third lovely tasting thing. It tends to taste awful). Chocolatiers use alcohol concentrates because keeping the water content low is really key to a great truffle. You can buy these from the suppliers listed above. You can’t buy these (legally) from a chocolatier. If you only have the normal kind, make sure you knock the bubbles out of the champagne and remember that the more alcohol you add, the more water you add, and too much water will lead to a grainy truffle. Plus if you've used a great couverture then you don't want to overpower it with too much booze.
The only other ingredient you might want is cocoa…Green and Blacks organic cocoa is good for truffle making (nice taste but not too distinctive).
You certainly don’t want any nuts or anything like that to roll your truffles in….as I’ve said above, a truffle should be like a soft and slow kiss…so why the heck would you want to coat it in a load of crunchy nuts?????
OK. Next post will be about method and again it’s about keeping it really simple.