Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Treats

You don’t have to have a Sweetheart to enjoy chocolate for Valentine’s Day. In fact, you don’t even need a Valentine’s Day to enjoy chocolate. Our world seems to demand an excuse for even our minor indulgences, however, so as long as the calendar is willing to oblige, I’ll make some truffles.

Bittersweet chocolate-almond-amaretto truffles, that is. 60% cacao chocolate (I used Ghirardelli brand) melted with heavy cream and a pat of butter, laced with amaretto liqueur and coated with toasted almonds. I’m rarely speechless, even when drooling, but it’s really not necessary to say more anyway.

Well, I suppose I should say some more, because truffles are really pretty easy to make yourself. They have relatively few ingredients, and do not require any fancy-schmancy techniques. Just warm some cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, stir it up, add some butter and liqueur and let it chill until it’s scoopable. Rolling the ganache (the milk and cream mixture) into balls and coating them can get a bit tedious, which is why I adapted this recipe for a smaller batch.

I don’t know if I don’t warm the cream enough, don’t chop the chocolate finely enough, or just have a kitchen that is much colder than test kitchens tend to be, but when I make truffles, the warm cream is never enough to melt all the chocolate as the recipes tell me it will. When this happens, I use the microwave to give the mixture a boost, which is fine as long as it is just a short boost (about 15 seconds or so at a time). The instructions in the recipe below include this re-warming step if you find it necessary.

Since there are so few ingredients, it is important to use those of high quality, or at least what you really like. I went pretty intense with the bittersweet chocolate, but you could use something milder, or even milk chocolate if you prefer. I used bar chocolate, but the recipe (from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein) from which I borrowed lists chocolate chips as an alternative ingredient. You could also use a different liqueur, or, if you prefer not to use liqueur, you can replace it with about 1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract. You could also coat the truffles in a different chopped nut, or roll them in cocoa powder (their resulting grubby appearance is what inspired them to be named after the greatly prized fungus truffle). I also like them dipped in more melted chocolate.

Whatever your excuse for enjoying and sharing truffles, it is best to keep them in the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature. I’ve heard tell that much of chocolate’s sensual nature is due to its melting at or near human body temperature. These truffles are no exception. Use them with discretion and share with extreme caution. And if Valentine’s Day (which is Sunday, by the way) is not your “thing,” please try not to be more bitter than the 60% cacao.

Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles
modified from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao), chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (such as Disaronno)
¾ cup finely chopped almonds (You could start with whole, sliced or slivered almonds. I used whole almonds.)

1. Place the chocolate into a medium-size microwave-safe bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until it begins to bubble. The cream under the surface may appear to be moving or bubbling. Do not allow to come to a full boil.

2. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand about 30 seconds. Stir the chocolate and cream together until the all the chocolate has melted. If the chocolate will not completely melt, microwave on HIGH for 10 to 15 seconds. Continue to stir until the chocolate melts. Microwave another 10 seconds if needed. Make sure the mixture is warm before proceeding to the next step.

3. Add the butter and amaretto and stir until the butter is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until the mixture (ganache) has become firm enough to scoop and roll into balls (at least 1 hour).

4. While the ganache is chilling, place the almonds in a large skillet. Heat over medium-low heat until they are beginning to brown and become fragrant, stirring or tossing often. Transfer to a plate or bowl and cool completely.

5. When the ganache has chilled, scoop out by heaping teaspoons and roll into approximately 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the toasted almonds, pressing lightly to make the almonds stick.* If the ganache becomes too soft to roll into balls, put it back in the refrigerator until it is sufficiently firm. Serve at room temperature. Store extras in the refrigerator in layers separated by wax paper in a sealed container. They can last at least a week in the refrigerator if you don’t eat them all right away.

Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch truffles.

*You may have leftover toasted almonds, but you can use them on ice cream, in oatmeal, whatever you like. Keep them in the refrigerator or freezer.

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