Bittersweet chocolate (Recipe: truffles)
In my kitchen, it's Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation time, when friends and family stop by to decorate beautiful sugar cookies for distribution to shelters and food pantries around Rhode Island. While I'm up to my elbows in dough for a few days, please enjoy this updated post, and a great seasonal recipe, from The Perfect Pantry archives.
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.
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. Inspired by 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 several hours, until firm.
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.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Chocolate refrigerator cake
Ice cream chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate outrageous pie
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Lydia, a beautiful and informative post as always. And you know what, I have the same chocolate brand in the photo waiting for me to do something with it! Truffles are definitely on my list..
Lydia, truffles are indeed a magnificent gift. I made some last Christmas to give as a gift and people loved them!
I was just nibbling on a 72% superdark chocolate from Trader Joes (Trader Joes brand?). Took it along with me from California to Taiwan. Hahha! You can see my love for chocolates.
I love your idea of how to teach children about chocolate! Great thinking.
I always see that brand of chocolate everywhere. I always want to buy it but never do...thanks for giving me a reason to! :)
Anh, I love that I can find this chocolate in my regular grocery store. It's so rich!
Patricia, I always intend to make them for gifts...but then somehow they don't last that long in my house. I was amazed to learn how easy truffles are to make.
Tigerfish, doesn't Trader Joe's have the best deals on chocolate? I'm amazed at their prices. The nearest TJ's is more than an hour from my house; wish there was one closer (that's a hint, in case anyone from Trader Joe's is reading this)!
Kristen, it's really a fun way to learn about chocolate. And also a bit scary to see how poor the kids' knowledge of geography is.
Hillary, do buy, do try. I confess that I like the milk chocolate, too. My husband likes the dark chocolate and ginger variety; it does have a nice little kick to it. Oooh, and that would make good truffles....
Have fun decorating the cookies!
Chocolate truffles go! ;-) Perfect timing Lydia!
I think the drop in and bake cookies is such a great idea. I don't know of anything similar in NZ. We usually donate canned or packaged food to a collection at the supermarket for distribution via a community organisation.
That is a really neat trick with the map, chocolate and vanilla! Happy cookie baking.
Sounds simple and delicious. I might have to try this and roll them around in either some praline or chopped hazelnuts... *drool*
Paz, thanks -- we will!
Bea, my goal is to have my truffles look half as beautiful as the ones you posted about earlier this week.
Barbara, thank you. Next year, how about a Drop In & Decorate party in NZ?!
MyKitchen, the first time I did the map lesson was in a kids' cooking class. It was so informative -- not just where the chocolate and vanilla come from, but how long it took these kids (and some of their parents, I'm sad to say) to find Tahiti or Madagascar or Venezuela....
Mike, I'm all about the simple desserts. This one is perfect for people like me who do not bake. Either of those nut coatings would be delicious.
green and backs is the best, love it. i bet truffles made with it are so creamy. ohhhhh yum!
happy holidays, snowy xmas this year in ri?
I was just about to tuck into a bar of Green & Blacks (but their milk chocolate version). Still good with a great cocoa flavour.
I feel like I should make truffles and share though!
Definitely a staple in my pantry. I do not know what I'd do without chocolate. And with the health benefits...who can resist!
I'm feeling a little green and black right now, actually. Happy baking!
Aria, I'm absolutely addicted to Green and Black! We had snow tonight, on my first night of Drop In & Decorate -- so it seems that winter has arrived.
Amanda, that milk chocolate bar is sinfully good, isn't it? If you make truffles, I'll share them with you.
Veron, when I told my doctor that chocolate was full of antioxidants, she laughed. And I thought I was making a good case for having chocolate in my diet!
Susan, thanks -- despite tonight's snow, we decorated our first 200 cookies. Two more days to go....
Nice to see Drop in & Decorate going so well, the Xmas spirit lives on. Wish it were a bit cooler for chocolate truffles, they would just be a sad, melted mess here at the moment. Interesting about the different growing places for chocolate & vanilla.
Upscale chocolates made their first appearance in my little town in 2006 and now they are everywhere. I am always looking for truffle recipes, Lydia, and this one sounds wonderful. You've inspired me!
Neil, we've got snow on the ground, so it's perfect truffle weather! The chocolate/vanilla map exercise is an eye-opener.
Mimi, my little town has upscale chocolate bars at the store, too, and I'm glad to see them.