By Stephen J. Kotz
With all due respect to America’s largest chocolate maker, a bowlful of Hershey’s Kisses placed on the table, however elegantly, after a special dinner with close friends probably isn’t going to make much of a splash.
But a plate, bearing a small, artfully arranged selection of homemade chocolate truffles, covered with a light dusting of cocoa powder or confectioner’s sugar, can go a long way toward helping one earn credibility as a talented chef.
Best of all, they are relatively easy to make, as the select few who signed up for a workshop to be led by garden manager Rick Bogusch at the Peconic Land Trust’s Bridge Gardens this Saturday, will find out.
Mr. Bogusch, a landscape architect by profession, but a cook by avocation, typically focuses on garden-to-table dishes when he offers a workshop. But, with a nod to the snow covered grounds outside the center’s kitchen, he points out with a laugh that mid-February is not the best of times to try to forage for garden delectables.
For this workshop, Mr. Bogusch, who allowed a reporter to sit in as he prepared a test batch ahead of time, was working from a recipe he had downloaded from the America’s Test Kitchens website, although he tends to use a stove, while the recipe calls for using a microwave. He was eager to try out the new recipe, he said, because it promised “to remove the dryness and graininess that you sometimes get with homemade truffles.”
Bittersweet chocolate and cream. There’s really not much more to it than that, other than a little corn syrup, a bit of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and some cocoa and confectioner’s sugar. Even so, Mr. Bogusch said, “I usually keep it much more simple.”
Mr. Bogusch said he prefers to use either Ghirardelli or Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, as he slowly melted two cups of the main ingredient in a double oven on his stovetop. He was quick to point out, as he checked on the heavy cream that he was warming on the stove, that since chocolate comes from the cacao tree, a workshop on chocolate truffles qualifies as one offering a “a plant-based dish,” although it seems unlikely that any of the participants would cry foul if it didn’t.
The cacao tree is a tropical plant native to the Americas, although most cocoa now comes from Africa, Mr. Bogusch said. The Latin name for the cacao tree is theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods,” he said. The name refers to the belief of South and Central American Indians that the tree had divine origins. In fact, he said, the Aztec emperor Montezuma served the Spanish conquistador Cortez a chocolate drink upon first meeting him because he mistakenly took him for a god.
Mr. Bogusch stirred corn syrup (it helps introduce a silkiness to the truffle, according to the recipe) and added vanilla extract to the warm cream before pouring the mixture over the melted chocolate and slowly stirring in the butter and pouring the mixture into a pan and allowing it to set. A bit of spice or liquor can also be added to the mixture, to give the truffle a special flavor, although this test run focused on simplicity.
It turns out that the Spanish liked the Aztecs’ chocolate almost as much as they liked their gold. They brought it back to Europe, where it soon caught on in all manner of drinks and foods. Chocolate was already well established as a favorite sweet when a Frenchman, N. Petruccelli, in 1895 made the first chocolate truffle, so named, because of its remarkable similarity to the prized fungus.
Although chocolate truffles soon became a hit across Europe, they took their sweet time, so to speak, crossing the Atlantic. Alice Medrich, who tasted them on a trip to France and began selling her own version from her store in Berkley, California, in 1973, is credited with first bringing them to this country.
While today, we like to think of chocolate, and especially something as rich as truffles as a decadent treat, as Mr. Bogusch rolled the ganache into balls and coated them with cocoa, he pointed out that chocolate, the bittersweet variety, at least, has medicinal qualities and has even been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Not that anyone is going to be that concerned.
The Chocolate Truffle Workshop will be held at Bridge Gardens on Mitchells Lane in Bridgehampton on Saturday, February 15 from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, or to make a reservation email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 283-3195.
Chocolate Truffles (courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)
2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
For the Coating:
1 cup Dutch processed cocoa
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
- For the ganache: Lightly coat 8-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Make parchment sling by folding two long sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as baking pan. Lay sheets of parchment in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over the edges of pan. Push parchment into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing flush to pan.
- Microwave chocolate in medium bowl at 50-percent power, stirring occasionally, until mostly melted and few small chocolate pieces remain, 2 to 3 minutes; set aside. Microwave cream in measuring cup until warm to touch, about 30 seconds. Stir corn syrup, vanilla, and salt into cream and pour mixture over chocolate. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 3 minutes, and then stir with wooden spoon to combine. Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Using rubber spatula, transfer ganache to prepared pan and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours. Cover pan and transfer to refrigerator; chill for at least 2 hours.
- For the coating: Sift cocoa and sugar through fine mesh strainer into large bowl. Sift again into large cake pan and set aside.
- Gripping overhanging parchment, lift ganache from pan. Cut ganache into 64 1-inch squares (8 rows by 8 rows). (If ganache cracks during slicing, let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes and then proceed.) Dust hands lightly with cocoa mixture to prevent ganache from sticking and roll each square into ball. Transfer balls to cake pan with cocoa mixture and roll to evenly coat. Lightly shake truffles in hand over pan to remove excess coating. Transfer coated truffles to airtight container and repeat until all ganache squares are rolled and coated. Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.