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Bittersweet chocolate (Recipe: truffles)


Remember the old days, when take-out coffee came in small, medium and large ... and chocolate came in Hershey bars, Toll House chips, and unsweetened Baker's that you were never, ever supposed to eat but was only for baking?

Bye bye, old days.

High-quality chocolate is everywhere. The small market in my rural Rhode Island village — not exactly a hotbed of nouveau anything — now displays bars of organic bittersweet chocolate next to the cash register, right there with the tabloids, horoscope booklets, beef jerky and breath mints.

Hello, infinite possibilities.

Cocoa grows in tropical regions, primarily in Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, West Africa, and Malaysia. Each cocoa pod contains cocoa butter and chocolate liquor (solids). Bittersweet (also called dark) chocolate is the liquor, to which sweeteners and some cocoa butter have been added. According to US government standards, to be called bittersweet chocolate must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor (in Britain, the minimum is 43%). The best chocolates contain 70% or more chocolate solids; the higher the percentage, the more deep the flavor. 

[Here's a fun way to teach children about chocolate and vanilla: Buy some artisan chocolate truffles or chocolate bars from different countries (easiest to do at a specialty shop, but most high-quality bar chocolate has the country of origin printed on the label). Spread a large world map on your dining table or countertop. Give each child a stickie and one of the chocolates, and ask him or her to place the stickie on the country where the chocolate is grown. Then, do the same with vanilla, using a different color stickie. Have everyone put a finger on the Equator, and look at where the stickies are in relation to the fingers. You'll see that all of the cocoa is grown in bands just a few degrees north or south of the Equator, and that vanilla is grown in bands closer to 20 degrees latitude. You'll definitely have an "aha" moment!]

I'm happy to report that bittersweet chocolate is good for you, too. (I hope my doctor is reading this.) Eating two ounces (50 grams) a day of bittersweet chocolate with a minimum content of 70% chocolate solids may help protect against heart disease and high blood pressure, and provides some iron, calcium and potassium, vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E. Dark chocolate contains a good dose of antioxidants, but at a whopping high calorie price of 531 calories per four-ounce portion.

King Arthur Flour sells several top brands of chocolate, in bars and baking nibs, including Callebaut, Merckens, Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. For the money, though, the best buy has to be Trader Joe's, where a one-pound-plus bar of bittersweet Belgian chocolate sells for just $6.99, less than half the price of the "name" brands. If well-wrapped in aluminum foil, and stored in a cool dry place with good air circulation, bittersweet chocolate will keep for several years — though it would never last that long in my house.

According to The Gourmet Atlas, chocolate has "a more feminine character than coffee, perhaps because when it was first brought to Spain it was often prepared by nuns and drunk by upper-class Spanish ladies." I never thought of it in that way, but it surely explains chocolate's affinity for the presumably more "male" coffee, as in Chocolate Coffee Cake, Mocha Pudding with Espresso Creme, Coffee Buttercream Cupcakes, and truffles.

Chocolate truffles

There's still time to make these elegant treats for the holidays, as the actual working time is less than 15 minutes. A small size quick-release ice cream scoop, called a disher in restaurant kitchens, makes easy work of forming the truffles. Slightly adapted from a recipe in Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris. Makes 20 truffles.


5 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 oz milk chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp prepared coffee
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Optional toppings: cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, chopped walnuts, chopped pistachios


Cut the chocolate into fine pieces (a serrated knife works well for this), and place in a large heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream, and pour it over the chocolate. Stir with a whisk until the chocolate melts and is smooth and glistening. Stir in the coffee and vanilla. (You've just made a ganache!) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour.

Place each desired topping in a small bowl or on a rimmed plate. With a small ice cream scoop, or two spoons, scrape off small blobs of the chilled ganache and form into rounds. They should be somewhat irregular and look like something a pig would sniff out of the ground (which, of course, is how chocolate truffles got their name). Gently roll each blob in one of the toppings, and place on a clean plate lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or longer. Serve slightly chilled.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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I'm a big fan of high-quality chocolate bars especially the 70% ones. It just makes a lot of difference to the outcome of your chocolate baked goods.

Hi Lydia,
I love the Green & Black's one of my favorite it the Maya Gold... yum.

I happend to live right around the corner from Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop. Divine. Today I made a birthday cake for my husband, using Jacques' incredible bittersweet chocolate. (Will post about it tonight.)So glad it's good for us, because it's amazing!

Stephanie, be sure to send the link to your post. You are sooooo lucky to live near the chocolate shop of such an amazing artist.

Veron, I agree. 70% is the kind I like best; my husband likes it even darker, as much as 90%. Isn't it nice that we can get this great chocolate everywhere now?

Buying (cooking) chocolate always makes me a bit bonkers – it's easy to get specific instructions and explanations of the different kinds and their qualities, but then the labeling in the store rarely follows any clear pattern. A bit frustrating....

Paul, I agree. I think having chocolate marked with the percentage of cocoa liquor actually helps, rather than having to rely on "dark" or "bittersweet". Unfortunately, most recipe writers aren't yet that specific, but with the availability of chocolate by percentage, perhaps the recipe-writing community will catch on.

Having these chocolate bars available does open a new world as far as cooking goes. What a difference in the taste for baking.The fact that the bittersweet is good for us doesn't help my hips! I love chocolate!

I have never attempted to work with chocolate before...other than to melt and add to baked goods. This recipe encourages me to give it a try. Thank you!
I love the thought that the bar of bittersweet chocolate in my cupboard is a palimpsest of nuns and Spanish ladies!!!

Incidentally, the Museu de Xocalatl in Barcelona (Catalan for 'Chocolate Museum') has pretty good chocolates on sale, but the most amazing chocolate liqueurs I've ever seen. Unlike those Austrian 'Mozart' liqueurs, or others on the market, it's not just chocolate-flavored - it's actually a sort of pouring chocolate that's alcoholic (I have no idea how they keep it liquid). Amazing stuff, in three flavors (a dark, a white chocolate, and I've forgotten the other one) - you can't drink much at a time, but oh my - next time I'm there I'm bringing back a bottle of each.

Lydia, you must be psychic! I am preparing a chocolate post as I write this. I will link to yours.

BTW, I made some truffles very similar to yours the other day, after I made the ones I posted about last week. I gave them away, but ate rather too many while rolling and dipping.

Jann, the chocolate seems to stick to my hips, too, but every now and then, it's worth it!

Marcia, try these truffles. The kids in my Family Cooking Group made them, with great success.

Paul, I love the notion of chocolate liquers. I'd not heard of this museum, but it sounds like a must-do for any visit to Barcelona. Thank you for telling us about it.

Mimi, I love reading about memories of your family (especially your chef-dad) and food. Here's the link, fellow Pantry lovers:


Thank you, Lydia. I will try your truffles tomorrow, I think, amidst all the other things to do! I am gonna be in the kitchen for the better part — and I do mean better part — of the next two days.

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