- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Many people who eat rich and delicious chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day don’t know that there is another type of truffle — the one found in nature. The chocolate truffle we will, hopefully, eat soon, imitates the natural truffle in shape and color.

The natural truffle, Tuber melanosporum, is a fungus that grows underground near the roots of certain trees. Although they are now grown in specially planted truffle fields in many countries, natural black truffles are well known in the Perigord region of southwestern France, and white truffles in the area around Alba in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

Natural truffles are irregular spherical shapes and are, of course, covered with earth when they are dug up, usually by a trained and trusted dog or pig. These truffles are prized for a heady woodsy aroma that imparts a rich and unique flavor to foods.

Black truffles are usually cooked with food. Slipping slices of truffle under the skin of a capon is a well-known way to use them. White truffles generally are served raw, shaved over delicate risottos and pastas.

So what does a chocolate truffle have to do with Tuber melanosporum?

Chocolate truffles are made from a sphere of delicately scented ganache, a preparation of chocolate and cream widely used in desserts and confections. The Swiss are generally credited with inventing ganache in the mid-19th century.

Ganache is whipped slightly to lighten it and then formed into irregular spheres, just like natural truffles. After chilling, a coat of melted chocolate on each truffle is covered with cocoa powder, a symbol of the soil covering found on the underground truffles.

Maybe chocolate truffles will never taste the same when you remember that they are made to imitate a fungus covered with dirt, but the all-purpose recipe that follows will provide many enjoyable truffles to eat, serve and share as gifts this Valentine’s Day.

There is no need to spend a fortune packaging chocolate truffles to be served as Valentine’s Day gifts. I have successfully wrapped them in: cellophane with a red ribbon tie at the top; red wrapping paper; a -pint Mason jar; a custard cup or porcelain ramekin; small paper gift boxes and small tins.

Truffles are usually made from the grade of chocolate designated as “couverture,” which is French for blanket or cover, referring to a type of chocolate that is fluid enough for dipping.

To be fluid, chocolate needs a high percentage of natural cocoa solids — actual roasted, crushed cocoa beans — and extra cocoa butter, the natural fat found in cocoa beans, both of which make for a high-quality chocolate.

Don’t worry about finding it. Couverture chocolate is as close as the candy aisle of your supermarket or specialty food store. Use one that’s between 60 and 70 percent cocoa solids (many high-quality chocolates are so labeled). Any of the following brands will make excellent truffles: Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Callebaut or Lindt.

Best and easiest chocolate truffles

Use any liqueur or liquor you like to flavor these. Or substitute a couple of teaspoons of vanilla and some grated orange or lemon zest.

GANACHE CENTERS:

Water

8 ounces best bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, cut in 1/4-inch pieces

cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon very soft butter

2 tablespoons Cognac or dark rum

CHOCOLATE COVERING:

8 ounces same chocolate as in truffle centers, cut in 1/4-inch pieces

2 cups alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder (see note)

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and turn off heat. Place 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over pan of hot water. Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted.

Remove bowl from pan, dry bottom of the bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, whisk cream and corn syrup to combine, then bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes. Whisk cream mixture into chocolate, then whisk in the butter and Cognac or rum, one at a time. Set aside to cool at room temperature until firm, several hours or overnight.

To form truffles, fit a pastry bag with a -inch plain tube, then line a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or a hand mixer, beat truffle center mixture for about 30 seconds, or until it lightens visibly in color. Scrape mixture into pastry bag and pipe out 3/4-inch spheres, holding end of bag above pan so a small sphere of mixture emerges. Chill one hour.

Make the chocolate covering while centers are chilling, melt remaining 8 ounces chocolate (over hot water as previously explained) and cool it to about 90 degrees. Sift cocoa into a roasting pan.

To coat truffles, dip your right hand in cooled chocolate and pick up a center with your left hand. Place center in palm of your hand and rub chocolate around the center to cover it. Drop center into cocoa and use a fork to push it to other end of pan. Repeat with remaining centers. This is a good 2-person job, with one coating and the other manning the cocoa.

After all centers have been coated, chill them in cocoa for 30 minutes. Carefully lift truffles from cocoa and place a few at a time in a strainer. Roll them around in strainer over pan of cocoa to release excess cocoa from surface of truffles.

Place truffles in paper cases or in layers separated by waxed paper in a tin or other container with a tight-fitting cover.

Store in a cool place and bring to room temperature before serving. Chocolate on outside of truffles will keep centers intact at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage. Makes about 50 small truffles.

Note: Sift cocoa to remove any bits of hardened chocolate. These can be reused for any purpose. Or substitute toasted ground nuts or grated milk, white or dark chocolate for cocoa.

Nick Malgieri is the author of “Perfect Cakes” and “A Baker’s Tour” (HarperCollins) and “Perfect Light Desserts” (Morrow).

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