Intro to layered chocolates: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond ganache

Full disclosure: I meant to write about this months ago. Seriously, I think there was still snow on the ground when I first made these delicious, creamy, double-ganache truffles. But at the time I was frantically trying to complete my chocolatier school coursework and didn’t really have time to pull this post together.

Anyway, enough with the excuses. Here it is (finally).

This was my first attempt at making layered truffles. Back in those early days of my chocolate education, I wasn’t exactly working with professional equipment… basically I owned a whisk, a candy thermometer and a lot of patience. I actually used Tupperware containers as my molds because I hadn’t bought a professional ganache frame yet.

ChocoVision Mini Rev Tempering MachineOh but I did own one very fancy piece of very fancy equipment: a brand new (at the time) ChocoVision Mini Rev tempering machine, which I absolutely LOVE and still use pretty much constantly. If you have any desire whatsoever to make your own chocolates, I highly recommend you invest in one of these bad boys. The 1.5 lb capacity model shown below is by far the cheapest small batch home tempering machine on the market.

But more on the ChocoVision Mini Rev in a later post.

Anyway… for this particular truffle recipe I made a caramelized white chocolate ganache for the bottom layer and a dark salted almond ganache for the top. I poured one over the other, smoothed them out with a spatula and let the layers set up at room temperature overnight.

Letting ganache set for 12-24 hours in a cool room (<68 F) gives it a chance to crystallize, which results in a more stable ganache that has lower water activity. To refresh, the lower the water activity, the less water (from the cream) is available to grow pesky microbes and the longer the truffles will last at room temperature before they mold.

Anyway — by the next morning the ganache was firm enough for me to unmold in one solid piece…

…and cut it into 1″ x 1″ squares with a sharp knife.

Here’s where the fun began (and, yes, the mess…)

After tempering some of Undone Chocolate’s amazing two-ingredient chocolate, I dipped each square (this process is called “enrobing”) in the bowl of tempered chocolate, fished it out with two special enrobing forks (although regular forks will work too) and sprinkled it with kosher salt.

I wasn’t working with professional couverture chocolate here, and as a result you’ll notice my shells turned out a little thick — but really they’re not so bad, especially considering my less-than-ideal tools (Tupperware, anyone?) and general inexperience..

Close-up of hand made chocolate truffles

Ever since I started making my own truffles, I’ve started noticing how many low and mid-range chocolate grands produce bonbons with really thick shells. Seriously — check it out for yourself the next time one of your colleagues leaves an old box of chocolates in the pantry at work. If nothing else, it’ll make you feel better if you’re having trouble achieving those wafer-thin chocolate shells that professional chocolatiers love so much.

My official tasters (aka my husband and stepson — and a rotating group of friends) went wild for these truffles. They got raves, which made me really happy. But personally I preferred the salted almond chocolate truffles (on the left in the picture above) to the fancier layered truffles. I just really loved their strong, undiluted almondy taste. But it’s really a matter of personal taste  — they’re both delicious.

Two layer truffle: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond

 

Homemade salted chocolate truffles

 

 

Recipe: Chocolate Water Mousse (single serving, two ingredients, vegan)

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Untitled
Image: Amber Latner

This two-ingredient mousse tastes like a fluffy, whipped, lightly sweetened, extremely intense chocolate bar. In a bowl. Need I say more?

Traditionally, chocolate mousses are made using cream or egg whites, and their volume and thickness is achieved by whipping air bubbles into them. This chocolate mousse, however, achieves its fluffy texture via an altogether different mechanism: the chemistry of cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature. But if you get the proportions just right, you can create a perfect mousse-like texture by adding just enough water to melted chocolate so it only partially solidifies as it cools, creating a mousse-like texture without the help of air bubbles.

I would actually classify this as a whipped water ganache rather than a mousse, if I were going to get technical about it. If you think of regular chocolate ganache as, say, a cappuccino, then water ganache is black coffee: strong, dairy free, slightly bitter and super stimulating.

Recipe: Two Ingredient Dark Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe for the New York Times

Makes one generous serving

Ingredients:

2 oz  good dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1.6 oz hot water (approx. 3 tbsp + 1 tsp)

Optional variations: I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt to the hot water before melting the chocolate. Alternatively, try flavoring the mixture with a few drops of peppermint oil or vanilla extract, or substituting coffee for the water to get a nice mocha flavor.

Serving recommendations: This would taste great over fresh berries, with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche on top. But it’s pretty great on its own, too.

Measuring ingredients for chocolate water ganache
Image: Amber Latner

Instructions:

Mix the chocolate and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. If the water feels hot to the touch and the chocolate is melting easily, you’re done with the microwave. If you still notice chunks of chocolate in the water, microwave the bowl for another 10-20 seconds. Whisk until the chocolate is completely dissolved and no graininess remains (this step is very important for a silky result).

Place the bowl of liquid chocolate in a shallow ice bath.

Melted chocolate water ganache in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Using an electric whisk or egg beaters (an immersion blender would probably work too, although I haven’t tried it), whisk the chocolate as it cools. After a few minutes you should begin to see its texture thickening modestly.

Whisking chocoate ganaceh in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Stop mixing and remove from ice bath once the mousse has reached the thickness of softly beaten egg whites.

single serving chocolate mousse on counter with whisk
Image: Amber Latner

Serve immediately.

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Image: Amber Latner

Btw: If the chocolate mixture cools too much it will develop a texture like that of chocolate frosting (you can see an example of this in the picture below). If you accidentally over-thicken it, try whisking in another teaspoon of hot water.

Water ganache gets thick like chocolate frosting when too cool
This is what happens if you leave the mousse in the ice bath for too long!

 

Using transfer sheets to decorate truffles

Chocolate truffles decorated with transfer sheets

Dark Chocolate Truffles Decorated with Transfer Sheets

Last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon holed up at Union Kitchen with a professional chocolate maker and a former chocolatier*.

The mission: make chocolate truffles out of Undone Chocolate.

The plan: make a ganache out of Undone’s salted 72% chocolate bars, pour into a frame and let it cool in the industrial refrigerator, then cut it into squares and dip it in tempered Undone Chocolate.

The twist: decorate the truffles with chocolate transfer sheets.

Chocolate transfer sheets are like temporary tattoos for truffles: you press them on when the chocolate is in liquid form, and when the chocolate hardens and you peel them off and the pattern of the colored cocoa butter remains on the surface of the truffle as if you’ve used a stencil and spray paint. (Non-toxic spray paint, naturally).

Transfer sheets can also be used with specialty molds. We actually did consider using molds for these truffles but quickly realized it was unworkable — the chocolate was simply too thick for small molds and wouldn’t spread evenly into the corners.

Why is Undone Chocolate so thick? Well, that’s just what happens when you make two-ingredient chocolate. Most chocolate makers add additional cocoa butter to the other ingredients (primarily cocoa mass and sugar) before grinding and refining them. Undone skips this step. The resulting chocolate is potent, thick and intense, and it won’t easily spread into the crevices of molds (this is also a characteristic of “high viscosity” chocolate).

Anyway… we opted for hand dipping the ganache squares in chocolate, and we added some additional cocoa butter to it to make the enrobing process easier. This turned out to be a good call. The extra cocoa butter produced a couverture-like chocolate that tempered well and left our bonbons with nice thin shells.

Using transfer sheets to decorate chocolate truffles

I cut the transfer sheets into squares and pressed one onto each enrobed truffle while the chocolate shell was still wet. Chocolatiers with fancy equipment skip this part — they can cut the entire slab of ganache at once using a guitar cutter**, after which they send the pre-cut ganache squares through an enrobing machine (it’s like a chocolate shower) hooked up to their tempering machine.

In any event, the transfer sheets worked beautifully. I recommend them to home chocolatiers attempting to create professional-looking truffles without colored cocoa butter or fancy molds. I bought these particular transfer sheets from Chef Rubber, but you can buy small quantities of them cheaply on Amazon.

 *Chocolate makers are the people that roast raw cocoa beans and grind them into chocolate. Chocolatiers take a chocolate maker’s product and turn it into confections, like truffles.

Confectionary guitar
Confectionery guitar

 

**Btw… that guitar cutter is a $2000 piece of equipment. And tempering machines with enrobing attachments can cost ten times that. Of all the barriers to entry faced by aspiring chocolatiers, the initial capital investment in equipment is probably the most difficult to surmount. But I digress.

 

Caramelized white chocolate

Caramelized white chocolate

Like many chocolate lovers, I used to be a little snobby about white chocolate. It’s so sweet, I would get a headache just thinking about it. But when I noticed Valrhona was making a caramel-colored white chocolate using toasted milk powder, I was intrigued. Who doesn’t like the nutty flavor of dark caramel? White chocolate seemed like the perfect medium to carry that toasted taste.

When I did a little research, I learned that you don’t have to be a chocolate maker to make toasted white chocolate. You can caramelize white chocolate in under 30 minutes in your home oven! The only thing I find more amazing than this is how few people know about it. Which is why I’m trying to spread the word.

White chocolate caramelizes so beautifully for the same reason many people don’t like it: it contains a massive amount of sugar. If you stick a tray of chopped-up white chocolate in the oven at 250 Fahrenheit for 20 – 40 minutes (it will depend on your oven, just keep an eye on it), stirring every 10 minutes, it will go from this…

White Chocolate Couverture

To this….

White Chocolate Melting in Oven

And finally, to this…

White Chocolate Caramelizing in Oven

It’ll look a little grainy, but it turns into a beautiful ganache if you add cream and blend it with a hand mixer (it will be too thick for a whisk). I eyeballed my proportions, but I probably used about a 3:1 ratio of white chocolate to cream. Try to heat the cream to the same temperature as the melted chocolate, and add it a little at a time — the chocolate might look like it’s seizing at first, but keep adding more cream and it will eventually smooth out again into a beautiful, silky ganache. It’ll have the texture and taste of caramel, but with less stickiness and sweetness.

When your ganache is silky, pour it into a frame (I used a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper) and let it set. Use it as the filling for bonbons. Or melt it and pour it over vanilla ice cream. Or eat it with a spoon. The possibilities are endless.

Caramelized White Chocolate Ganache

You can even temper it to make bars and bonbon shells. I haven’t tried this yet, but here’s a drool-worthy pic of successfully tempered caramelized white chocolate bars from Celia’s lovely Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog.

Tempered Caramelized White Chocolate

Happy caramelizing!

First attempt: ganache-filled chocolates

Molded dark chocolate truffles

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Over the weekend I tried my hand at making molded chocolates for the first time. I was dying to use my new chocolate tempering machine (more on that in another post), so when I found myself with a whole free Sunday and a sweet tooth, I decided to go for it.

I whipped up some lemon ganache, poured it into a piping bag, tempered a pound of deZaan 64% dark couverture chocolate, and got to work (for full instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post).

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Here’s what I learned:

  1. One pound of chocolate is NOT a lot to work with when making bonbons. I barely had enough chocolate for one mold sheet.
  2. It’s very challenging to get the chocolate out of the tempering machine and into a piping bag without letting the chocolate get too cold (and therefore thick and hard to work with). I’m still figuring out the best way to do this — suggestions are welcome.
  3. Make sure you have a good (wide) spatula or scraper on hand, as well as some kind of wide receptacle to catch the chocolate runoff (a clean sheet pan might be perfect for this). If you try to pour chocolate from your mold tray into a 12″ mixing bowl, you’ll leave half of it on the floor (um, yes, that happened).
  4. Put down some newspaper! Or a tarp! And wear an apron, for the love of god. Or a hazmat suit. You will get dirty.
  5. Work fast so your chocolate stays close to 90 degrees. If you let the chocolate cool too much, you’ll end up with very thick chocolate shells and less room for ganache.
  6. Clear plastic molds (rather than opaque silicon trays) have the advantage of allowing you to see when the chocolates are ready to come out of the fridge. To check them, take a peak at the bottom of the mold. When the chocolate has hardened, it will visibly pull away from the plastic (this is one of the many useful things I learned while helping out at Undone Chocolate).
  7. Don’t be like me and forget to tap the air bubbles out of the molds (whoops).

    Making molded dark chocolate bonbons
    What a mess!
  8. Don’t be like me and wait too long to scrape the excess chocolate off the top of the mold tray. If you let it harden on the tray, it will be a lot harder to remove the chocolates. Trust me on this one.

Instructions for making molded chocolates:

  1. Fill a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off) with tempered chocolate and pipe it into the molds (fill them completely).  Then flip the mold tray upside down, letting the excess chocolate drip into a large, clean bin or tray (you can remelt it later).
  2. Scrape the front of the tray clean with a spatula, leaving a thin coating of chocolate inside each mold. Tap the tray (right-side up) on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Flip it upside down and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.
  3. Once the chocolate shell has hardened, pipe ganache into the molds. Leave a few millimeters at the top — it’s better to under fill than overfill.
  4. Seal the molds with a thin layer of chocolate (you may need to gently reheat your chocolate at this point, or temper a new batch if you’ve run out).
  5. Repeat step 2.
  6. Gently flip your tray upside down onto a dry surface. The chocolates should drop right out. Wearing latex gloves for this step will prevent finger prints (if you care). If necessary, trim the edges with a sharp knife.
  7. Try one! Or, um… four, if you’re like me. But who’s counting.

Anyway — I hope you have a great time making your own chocolates. Please let me know how it goes!

Intro to Ganache: getting started

Dark chocolate ganache

Last night I made these chocolate chip peanut butter bars from Chocolate Covered Katie for my stepson. Then I thought, why not also whip up some chocolate ganache to spread over the top, like frosting? Because, chocolate.

I used the ganache recipe I’ve always known and loved: equal parts heavy cream and chopped-up 70% dark chocolate (I used half a cup of each). Heat the cream until it starts to steam, pour over the chopped-up chocolate, DON’T STIR, cover and wait for 5 minutes. Then uncover, whisk up a storm, and voila — beautiful chocolate sauce that will set up to a super-thick frosting consistency after 30 minutes in the fridge.

Spoonful of chocolate ganache

Let’s just say my stepson was very, very psyched about dessert last night.

Enrobed chocolate bonbon

I love ganache. I’ve been making it a lot recently. It’s a great way to use up the leftover chocolate I bought for my tempering experiments. Mostly I end up stirring all this ganache into whipped cream (I have a half-pint whipped cream dispenser, which changed my life) to make lazy-woman’s chocolate mousse. But lately I’ve been thinking about using ganache as the filling for my first attempt at dipped chocolate truffles.

I know the ganache used to fill truffles is thicker than the stuff I make for frosting desserts (truffles are typically filled with a 2:1 chocolate-to-cream ratio ganache). But I’m really confused about one thing. Even a thick ganache still has a good amount of cream in it. Cream needs to be refrigerated. Why don’t truffles filled with ganache need to be refrigerated too?

I did a little digging and found some very helpful information on the Paul Bradford Sugarcraft School website, which I’ve summarized below. But please check out the school’s website for a more thorough explanation.

Why does ganache spoil?

Ganache goes bad because moisture in the cream promotes microbial growth. A typical ganache lasts about two weeks in the fridge, or two days on the counter. However, while all ganaches contain some water from the cream, most of that water is chemically unavailable because it’s bound up with other ingredients.  It’s the amount of unbound water in a ganache (also known as its water activity or available water) that has the biggest effect on the rate of microbial growth. Measuring water activity is how scientists predict the expected shelf life of food products.

As a side note, cocoa mass is actually ANTI-microbial, so pure chocolate (even without preservatives) has a long shelf life — most of the bars I’ve bought recently have an expiration date 1.5 years from their production date.

How can I make my ganache last longer?

First, for obvious reasons, your ganache will stay fresh longer if you scald the cream before pouring it over the chocolate, since the heat will kill a lot of microbes. Scalding cream repeatedly also helps condense the cream somewhat by evaporating a small amount of the water. Less water = lower water activity = less microbial growth.

I’ve never been lucky enough to make ganache in the UK, but they have something there called double cream, which contains 48% dairy fat — it must do wonders for the shelf life of British ganache. In the US, the heavy cream I find at most supermarkets only contains about 36% dairy fat, so evaporating some of that extra water by repeatedly scalding the cream would likely produce longer-lasting ganache. Though, I wonder if scalding the cream affects its taste? If anyone knows, please share.

All that aside, it’s actually the type of sugar that has the biggest impact on the shelf life of ganache-filled truffles. When professional chocolatiers make ganache, they typically add invert sugar (or even honey, a natural invert sugar) to hot cream at a ratio of 5-8 grams of invert sugar to 100 grams of cream. Invert sugar binds with water, dramatically reducing water activity.

Long story short: a ganache-filled chocolate truffle made with invert sugar should be shelf-stable at room temperature for 6-8 weeks — which is why, to go back to my original question, professionally made ganache-filled chocolate truffles can sit out on the counter for weeks without going bad.

What if I don’t like the idea of cooking with an ingredient my grandma wouldn’t recognize?

I hear you. I’m kind of bummed about the idea of putting chemically altered sugar in my truffles too. It just sounds so…. processed. But when all is said and done, invert sugar really isn’t so bad. You can actually make your own by adding cream of tartar or citric acid to sugar and water and reducing them into a simple syrup.

Plus, your grandma probably ate plenty of invert sugar in her time. It’s ubiquitous in candy.

Plate of chocolate bonbons

In any event, I’m ordering some invert sugar on Amazon this week for use in my continuing ganache experiments. I’ll keep you posted.