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Tuesday 31 January 2012

Great Scott! Did I Just Make Truffles?!

Some years ago, I worked in a certain trendy part of west London (you know the one - it was the title of a movie starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts). Down one road right near the office was a shop specialising in high-quality and hand-made foods. One of their specialities was the little boxes of the most awesome chocolate truffles I've ever tried. If ever there was a special occasion in the office, I'd head down and pick up some truffles to share out (or several small boxes to hand out to my team before Christmas).

This little experiment (because I surely cannot claim I expected it to go well) came about because I was pretty sure that cream was not an ingredient of truffles, but the recipe I had to hand - not to mention many, many more I found online - all listed varying proportions of double cream or whipping cream as the major component. Now, conceivably, this is because proper chocolate - of the kind I've used below - is both very rich and very bitter. Cream will smooth that out, but if you go looking for traditional truffle recipes, cream is among the many things you will not find.

  • 180g Dark Chocolate (I used Willie's Supreme Cacao Venezuelan Black, Caranero Superior - 100% Pure Cacao!)
  • 80g Unsalted Butter (cubed, and at room temperature, not straight from the fridge!)
  • 60ml Runny Honey (I used 'Light & Mild' Acacia honey from Sainsbury's)
  • 2 Large Egg Yolks
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Icing Sugar (optional, but recommended with this dark chocolate!)
Preparation Time: About 10 minutes mixing, 1-2hrs refrigeration, then about 10-20 minutes to make the individual truffles.

Tools Required:
  • Large Kitchen Knife (to break up the chocolate)
  • Microwave
  • Microwave-Safe Bowl
  • Jar Scraper or similar (for stirring)
  • Measuring Implements (cups, scales, etc.)
  • 2 Small Cups/Glasses (for separating the eggs)
  • Small Bowl (for coating truffles in cocoa)
  • Cling Film
  • Small Ice-Cream Scoop or Tablespoon
The Process:
There are two ways to melt chocolate - putting it in a bowl over a pan of boiling water... or putting it in a bowl and blasting it in the microwave. Either way, it has to be broken up and, when working with bricks of Willie's chocolate, the best way seems to be to just get all Norman Bates on it. Stick the brick into a bowl, and channel your inner Mr. Stabby with a large kitchen knife. Ideally, the chunks should be of a reasonably consistent size but, until Willie's get their act together and start making their chocolate into bars that are easily breakable into more-or-less identical chunks, like everybody else, you'll just have to live with random fragments and little splinters.

Heating the chocolate is a very delicate matter. Set the microwave to medium power, and heat the fragmented chocolate for 30 seconds at a time, stirring with a jar scraper each time, because it won't be immediately obvious how well it's melting. Once the whole lot is in a liquid state (should take about 5 minutes, overall), add in the butter a few cubes at a time, and stir till it's completely incorporated. Depending on how soft the butter is, you may need to put the mixture back in the microwave for another 30 seconds to ensure its warm enough to mix in the whole lot. Alternatively, warm the butter separately in the microwave beforehand.

Once the butter is all in, add the honey and stir thoroughly. Finally, add the egg yolks and - you guessed it - stir thoroughly. At this final stage, the mixture will thicken dramatically, almost becoming like dough. When it seems consistent (though, I found, rather grainy-looking), set it aside to cool for a while, then cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for an hour or two.

An interesting aside at this point is that some recipes you'll find online will refer to this mixture as a 'ganache'. This is inaccurate. A ganache is the result of pouring hot cream over chocolate, then stirring till smooth. You will notice the absence of cream in the above recipe. Also not to be confused with Ganesh, who is a Hindu deity.

Once the mixture has cooled, grab it out of the fridge. Pour some of the cocoa powder into a small bowl, then mix in some icing sugar to sweeten it up. Scoop out some of the truffle mixture and mold into as regular a ball as you can be bothered with, then drop it into the bowl and shake around to get an even coating.

Finished truffles should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container, and should last about a week.

The Results:
When I saw what happened to the mixture when the egg went in, I thought I had a disaster on my hands. I'd done a fair bit of research on truffle recipes (the trick, unless you're going for the cream-based, ganache type, is to search for 'traditional truffle recipe', or just go the whole hog and add 'egg yolk' into the search terms) and most of them refer to the mixture being smooth... but only up to the point where the egg goes in... then the descriptions are conspicuous by their absence.

I did find that the mixture was tougher around the edges of the bowl when it came out of the fridge (big surprise - mixture hardens when cold... edges are coldest. Duh.) and I couldn't keep the size of each scoop consistent to save my life but, hey, "cock-eyed" is just another way of saying "lovingly hand-made" in my books.

Or something.

In retrospect, I think I should have added more honey to the mix. The finished truffles were rather bitter. That said, I actually forgot to mix the icing sugar in with my cocoa, so the coating was pure cocoa until I decided - as a last resort patch-job - to sprinkle some icing sugar over the top of the finished truffles. Alternatively, it's quite common to add some kind of additional flavouring - anything from liqueurs to chilli.

Texture-wise, they turned out far smoother than I'd expected from the dough-like final mixture, but I will concede that cream would make them smoother still, and reduce the bitterness of 100% cocoa chocolate. The quantities listed should give you at least 30 good-sized truffles, so this would be a great thing to try over a weekend, so that any leftovers ("enjoy responsibly" as the ad goes) can be taken to work on Monday and shared around.

Go on, you know you want to.
Also, 'lovingly hand-made' truffles make the perfect Valentine's gift, gentlemen. You're welcome.


  1. can you make it with milk chocolate? or a semisweet chocolate? for not such a bitter or honey sweetened one? ... maybe add some chile >_>

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Semisweet chocolate would definitely be worth a try but, while I wouldn't dismiss milk chocolate without trying it myself, it tends to be not so much 'chocolate' as 'chocolate flavoured sugary yuck'. Anything made by the 'big names' in confectionery should probably be avoided, but a quality milk chocolate would be worthy of experimentation.

      Honey doesn't make a noticeable difference to the flavour but plain sugar can be used if you prefer, as long as it's reasonably fine.

      Funny you should mention chilli, though... what I neglected to mention above is that I'd intended to put some ground chilli in this mixture. I've got a couple, dried, on my windowsill for just such a purpose, but I completely forgot about preparing them beforehand.