Monday, July 20, 2009

Crafty Chocolates

Mmmm...lavender... I just love the calming fragrance of lavender. I have read several recipes in the past using lavender and never tried them, but when I was roaming the aisles at the CostPlus World Market a few days ago looking for some ground coriander (for an Indian salmon dish), I found lavender for cooking in the spice area and decided it was high time I tried something using it. Then, while perusing my cookbooks, I came across a recipe for Dark Chocolate and Lavender Truffles in the Outstanding in the Field cookbook by Jim Denevan.

This is a new cookbook on my shelves that I got after watching an episode of Alter Eco on Planet Green. The premise behind the cookbook and the restaurant is using fresh local ingredients to make better food and to reduce our carbon footprint. It is a very interesting cookbook and one I hope to spend more time reading in the future, but for now I was pleased to just be able to try this wonderful recipe. Here is a link to the book on Amazon for anyone interested in perusing it yourself...

So, this recipe isn't for the "faint of heart" when it comes to mess and time. It does take time and is definitely on the messy side with rolling the chocolate, dipping it and sugaring the lavender, but the end results are beautiful as well as delicious, so I hope you'll attempt it :) Here's the recipe from the book:

The Recipe

Dark Chocolate and Lavender Truffles

  • 26 oz. dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 fresh lavender flower sprigs or 2 tsp dried flower buds
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup superfine granulated sugar
Makes about 40 truffles.

  1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Put 8 ounces of the chopped chocolate in a stainless-steel bowl and put 16 ounces in a second stainless-steel bowl. Set the remaining 2 ounces aside.
  2. Combine the cream and 3 of the fresh lavender flowers or 1 teaspoon of the dried flowers in a small saucepan and heat just until it bubbles. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand to infuse, covered, for 5 minutes.
  3. Return the cream to the heat and bring to a boil. Strain the hot cream mixture over the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate. Let set for 30 seconds and then whisk gently to incorporate and make a smooth ganache. Strain in the remaining cream and mix well. The ganache should be smooth, not grainy. If there are still bits of unmelted chocolate in the mixture, place the bowl over a pot of hot - but not boiling - water and mix constantly until the remaining chocolate has melted. Be careful not to overheat the mixture or let any water get into the bowl of chocolate or you may break the emulsion. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  4. Cut the butter into small pieces. When the chocolate mixture has cooled to warm room temperature, add a few pieces of butter at a time, stirring after each addition, until well incorporated. Cover the ganache with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until firm, 15 to 30 minutes.
  5. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Remove the individual buds from the remaining lavender flowers and stir them or the remaining 1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers into the sugar syrup. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl (reserve the sugar syrup for another use) and dry the buds on a towel. Put the buds in the remaining sugar and stir to coat. Drop the coated lavender flowers into a fine mesh strainer and shake to sift away the excess sugar. Place the candied buds on a plate to dry and harden while you roll the truffles.
  6. Line a large tray or rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the bowl of ganache from the refrigerator. Roll small spoonfuls of the ganache into 3/4 to 1-inch balls with your hands. When all the ganache has been rolled, put the tray in the refrigerator while you temper the chocolate for coating.
  7. Bring a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a boil. Place the bowl of 16 ounces of chocolate over the hot water and melt slowly until the temperature of the chocolate reads 122F to 125F on a thermometer. Be careful not to overheat it and make sure no water gets into the bowl of chocolate or it will not harden properly later. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and cool the chocolate, gently stirring in the remaining 2 ounces chopped chocolate a small pinch at a time until the temperature reaches 85F.
  8. When the temperature reaches 85F, place the bowl back over the saucepan of hot water and gently raise the temperature of the chocolate t between 87F and 88F. This should take 1 to 3 minutes. Check to see the chocolate has been properly tempered by placing a drop on a piece of parchment paper and refrigerating it. The drop should harden evenly and have a nice gloss.
  9. Remove the ganache balls from the refrigerator. Using a fork (one with long fine tines works best), dip the balls one by one into the tempered chocolate to coat. Hold the fork over the bowl briefly to allow any excess chocolate to drip off the truffle. Place the coated truffle back on the tray lined with parchment. Quickly place 2 or 3 of the candied lavender buds on top of each truffle, pressing down gently so they stick. Repeat with all of the remaining balls of ganache. Let the truffles harden at room temperature for about 1 hour.
  10. If the tempered chocolate cools too much and begins to thicken, set the bowl over the saucepan of hot water, stirring occasionally, just until it returns to between 87F and 88F.
  11. When the chocolate coating has set, remove the truffles from the sheet of parchment paper and gently trim off any excess chocolate at the base with a paring knife, if desired. The truffles will keep at room temperature for 2 weeks, stored in an airtight container.

My Results:

First the complaints: The recipe results were fantastic, HOWEVER, the directions were a little off... Using a 1 inch disher, I was able to make about 20 truffles, not the 40 it says it makes. Also, in step 3 it says to strain the cream into the chocolate and then says to strain the remaining cream...what remaining cream? So disregard that unless you want to strain only part of the cream in and then the remainder later. It also says "cool to room temperature" and then in the next step says "warm room temperature", so go with your best guess here. I cooled the mixture until it was cool, enough not to melt the butter but still warm enough to incorporate it well. Step 4 says that the balls take 15 to 30 minutes to firm up in the fridge. Mine took closer to 2 hours to get to a consistency where they could be rolled.

Now for my ingredients:

You'll see that I chose to use Guittard's extra dark chocolate chips (63% cacao mass) which were a new product at our grocery. Basically any dark chocolate with a cacao % of 60-70 should work fine. I chose the chips to avoid having to chop the chocolate and it worked very well. Heating the cream with the lavender flowers worked just fine and smelled divine. After waiting the 30 seconds, I whisked the chocolate until smooth. Here it is just before refrigeration:

See that it is glossy and smooth. Makes you just want to dive into it :) After chilling for about 2 hours, it was ready to roll. While it was chilling I went ahead with making the candied lavender buds. After steeping the lavender in the sugar syrup and straining, I poured them out onto a paper towel to dry. I think a tea towel would be a better choice in this instance since the little buds kind of fell into the cracks and dips of the paper towel and made them a little difficult to remove. Here they are on the paper towel:

I poured about 1/4 of a cup of the superfine sugar into a shallow walled plate and dumped the buds on top, then shook them around to coat. I sifted them with another fine strainer and reserved the sugar for later use, since it was now lavender flavored as well, then dumped the candied buds onto a plate to dry out. The lavender sugar syrup makes a great addition to iced tea, by the way, which was a nice little side venture to cool off while waiting on the chocolate to chill.

Once the chocolate had chilled enough to handle, I donned a pair of latex (non powdered please!) gloves and began the process of making the balls. Using a 1" cookie scoop, I scraped the chocolate into balls and then gently rolls them between my palms to round them out before dropping them onto the parchment. Remember that truffles are supposed to look like clods of dirt, so a little irregularity is just fine! Here are my truffle centers, ready for refrigeration:

Now, tempering the chocolate is a pain in the rear...I'll warn you of that in advance. If you don't have a good candy thermometer, you can just forget it and roll the centers in cocoa powder or in powdered sugar, but if you have a good candy thermometer and a little patience, the resulting hard candy shell on the truffles IS worth the effort. *(Side note: Alton Brown of the Food Network uses a hot pad for tempering his chocolate... might have to try it sometime to see if works because it would be SO much easier!)* I had some trouble with my candy thermometer, but still managed to temper the chocolate pretty well. Here are the truffles all ready for setting aside to harden:

Now, just a note, my kitchen was pretty hot and after waiting an hour and having the chocolate still be a little sticky, I stuck them into the fridge to finish hardening. Worked just fine and gave me the hard shell I was looking for. So if you find your chocolate isn't setting up for you, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes and see if that fixes it. Now, because there was quite a bit of leftover tempered chocolate in the bowl, and never wanting to be wasteful, I made a little side trip into fun land to use up the chocolate. Anyone ever had muddy buddies? Or "monkey munch"? Usually it's made with Chex cereal and peanut butter and chocolate, but I didn't want to go to that trouble and also didn't have any Chex on hand, so I grabbed the Cheerios instead (have baby, have Cheerios!). I dumped about 2 cups of Cheerios into the bowl with the chocolate and gave them a turn with the spatula, then poured some powdered sugar in a ziptop bag and dumped it all in. Shake it up and you have some great dark chocolate covered Cheerios to snack on!

Now, on to the fun part...looking at these little beauties, I began thinking of how nice these would be as special party favors or treats and tried to think of a presentation which would be fitting of them. Not having any little jewel boxes around, but having a bit of origami paper, I thought of making little candy boxes out of origami paper. Following the directions here and using some regular origami paper, I made three little candy boxes to put my beautiful truffles in. They were just the perfect size for these truffles (and for the Cheerios mentioned above!) and would make a wonderful party favor for a tea party or something. Here's the finished product:

And a picture of the chocolate dipped Cheerios snack:

Cute don't ya think? Anyway, I had a great time making these and they turned out not only delicious, but beautiful as well. They have a slightly flowery taste, but not overwhelmingly so and are definitely something I would make again for a special occasion. Hope you enjoy and try them yourself... Make sure to let me know if you do! And check back tomorrow for another adventure in cookbook land!

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