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Thank you chocolate experts

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I just want to say thank you, to so many of you. Not for any specific advice, but for making me aware, slowly, of just what I have been doing wrong for so many years.

It's about truffles. You see, years ago (20 years ago) when I was 15 or so, I came across a recipe for chocolate truffles made with chocolate and cream in Anne Willan's French Regional Cooking. Now, and for all you experts, this is obvious. It's what (give or take) truffles are made of, right. Ganache. Dipped. Rolled in cocoa. Classic.

But those were dark days for truffles in England. Home-made (and even "shop bought" truffles), except in very fancy places I suppose, were odd things. Often made of a mixture of stale cake crumbs and cheap chocolate, with plenty of rum. Rolled in chocolate flavoured vermicelli. Really, that's how we made them. And my mother used to drive over to a baker/confectioner's nearby to buy "special ones". The shop was opposite a cemetery, I think, in a part of town which seemed reserved by the Victorian planners as a sort of necropolis for South London. It was an apt location. For I remember how special those truffles were. And I'm quite sure they were made of cake crumbs, cocoa and vegetable oil. Like very sweet chocolate putty. The rum was really the only thing that saved them.

So when my 15-year-old self read this recipe for truffles made of just chocolate and cream they seemed so decadent I had to try making them.

What a hassle. I had great trouble getting my ganache thick enough to pipe (and as a result whipped in much too much air, supposing that this might thicken it). My piping technique was--still is, dammit--hardly precise. So I ended up with various lengths of sausage, which then had to be squashed into balls. Now of course it was too soft to do that, so I chilled it down first. Too much. Which made it harder still to produce anything that did not resemble a ganache croquette. Except when they nearly melted completely, which they often did.

Then the dipping. Back-in-the-day I had never heard of tempering chocolate, or rather I had but I imagined it was some esoteric process, and had no idea why it mattered. The book said nothing about it, just melt the chocolate. In fairness to its accomplished author, I'm sure that was not because she didn't understand about it, but rather because it seemed too impossible for the home cook. Now in my innocence I imagined that the trick was to get the chocolate really hot and flowing, so that it wouldn't be too thick. So I kept it constantly over a pan of simmering water, hot as hades.

Into this lava, I tried to dip my croquettes, well-chilled from the fridge. I would dump them in, roll them round a bit with a couple of forks, and try to fish them out. You could see the ganache melting into the chocolate, which would get thicker and thicker as it got hotter and hotter. Then, covered with a positive overcoat of hot chocolate, slithering off slightly as the ganache melted, I would dump them into cocoa. Then wait for them to set, which usually took a few hours. I seem to remember that only a profound and prolonged chilling really did anything at all.

I can say two things about those truffles. First, they were the best I had (then) ever tasted. When you have been eating strange concoctions of stale madeira cake and chocolate-flavour cake coating for 13 years, a ganache truffle, even an incompetent ganache truffle, is a revelation. Secondly, they certainly resembled the original fungus. They were lumpy, organic, a thick layer of cocoa clinging to all sorts of bumps. Very trufflesome.

But, so good. So good that it became a sort of Christmas tradition to make them. Christmas is really the only time we make any sort of confectionery ... well Christmas and charity bazaars, for (both of) which my mother makes fudge. Over the years quite a bit of it has been really rather nasty. There was a time when "peppermint creams" (really thick icing with peppermint flavouring), coconut ice (thick icing with dessicated coconut), stuffed dates (dates stuffed with marzipan and almonds) were de rigeur. I suppose it was a hang over from the war years, along probably with those cake-crumb truffles. Not much has survived. We have waved a nauseated goodbye to the peppermint icing and the coconut icing and the stuffed dates. Only my mothers fudge and these truffles survive as remnants of the mend-and-make-do age. And both of them survive because they are essentially rather good.

Anyway, fast forward. I haven't made the truffles for a few years; my mother has been doing them. But this year she wanted me to do them. And thanks to people on this board--thanks really to the process of osmosis through which, idly reading threads in which one is not directly concerned, one notices things--I knew a bit more than I did then. So this time my ganache was properly emulsified. My truffles are (more or less) balls. My chocolate was (sort-of) tempered, as in first-attempt-better-than-nothing tempered. It set in a minute or two, not an hour or two. It dried somewhat glossy, somewhat snappy; snappier, anyway, than shortening which is what my previous efforts used to resemble. I discovered, in the process, thanks to a themometer, that tempered chocolate is not too-hot-to-put-your-finger-in, but rather cool; that it doesn't melt the ganache like an ice-cube in a cup of coffee; that hands are rather good dipping devices.

You people would be positively ashamed of my truffles. You would be horrified that they are only more or less the same size. You would be shocked by the fact that they are only approximately spherical. You would be unimpressed, I know, by their crackle. If they were not covered in cocoa, you would be disgusted by the dullness of their sheen. You would notice some cracks, I fear. I know perfectly well that my truffles would not survive a minute in your kitchens. You would have them melted down in seconds, consigned to reincarnation in some humble and out-of-sight role such as filling a cheap cake, if they were lucky. They still too much like fungi to pass muster in polite company.

But for me, they are a great leap forward. Of course, they are a completely unnecessary great leap forward, since there are any number of wonderful people in London making truffles much better, in every way, than mine. The days of the cake-crumb-"truffle" are gone. I doubt I could find them if I wanted them, but I could easily lay my hands on the real thing. And if truth be told, of course, that's what I should do, saving my talents (such as they are) for something that earns the money to pay the person who knows how to make the chocolate to do his or her job. And of course I do that, too. But Christmas tradition requires to be appeased, and has been. And I simply want to say, thank you, for teaching me so much.

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Well I say "Bravo" to you, Sir!

I think it's wonderful that you're out there making chocolates and having fun!

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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That was lovely!

But I feel I must say a word in defense of dates stuffed with marzipan, or preferably, almond paste. I love these. If you keep a tube of Odense almond paste in your fridge, you can make them one or two at a time when the mood strikes, as a perfect little accompaniment to black tea. If you refer to them as "sweetmeats" they taste even better. I might even prefer them to truffles!

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A truely wonderful story!

I have learned an extraordinary amount from this forum as well. Some specific techniques, some good books to read, and a couple good classes to attend, but probably the most important thing is that anyone who really wants to can learn to make top notch truffles and bon-bons.

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I read this post and laughed out loud! What a great post and what a great family tradition. I'm picturing you dipping your hands in the 'molten' hot chocolate, trying not to let the ganache centers melt...

There are so many people on this thread who have inspired me. They call themselves amateurs, but they are really pros. So much fun to watch them improve over time and for all of us to learn from each others' mistakes and experiences.

So thanks Paul Stanley for reminding us to appreciate the forum and its members for all that it offers us.

p.s. you were never a member of KISS were you?! :wink:

edited to add: rum balls are still a way to get rid of cake scraps. along with that, what do you think bear claw filling is made of?! makin' money from nothin'

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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Aaah as someone with a mother who is also a product of the post war years i have many times had (typewritten) recipes for cake and/or biscuit crumb truffles thrust in my direction when i have mentioned the word "truffle" too loud. Although my solitary contribution so far to the world of truffles has been my so-called "man-truffles" (dark dark chocolate with black pepper and cinnamon - a rather good combination if I do say so) which also resembled the fungus, in a manly way, I have learnt many worthy things from idley browsing the pages of this forum.

"Alternatively, marry a good man or woman, have plenty of children, and train them to do it while you drink a glass of wine and grow a moustache." -Moby Pomerance

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Very charming! It is quite amazing that a 15 year old boy (esp back then)would attempt Truffle making!! I don't think I ever knew the word at that age!! You must have some hidden chocolatier blood in you! With a bit more effort I am sure you can make a truffle that would embarrass no one! Enjoy your holidays!

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