Chocolate Making 101: Hand-Making Truffles

Sunday, May 3, 2009 Checklist:

  • Run 1/2 Marathon
  • Eat
  • Ice bath
  • Eat
  • Nap
  • Eat
  • Be taught how to make truffles by a former OB/GYN turned pastry chef

Check, check, check, check, check, check...and CHECK!

I probably ate again in there at some point as well.

I definitely learned how to make truffles.  From a former OB/GYN.  Turned pastry chef.  Ok, I'll stop dwelling now.

I am part of a social organization called Things To Do.  This organization is a super fancy, really important group of elite cool people who get together and do really fun things.  I was lying about everything except the doing really fun things part.  Things To Do is a social organization that began as a group for single professionals to meet and start relationships together.

These days, TTD has branched out quite a bit from their original "singles" group.  Not only do they have a Baltimore TTD, but they also have a DC TTD, and they host singles events as well as events for those of us who are not so single.

I joined TTD as a way to meet sexy, single men after I got divorced.  Instead, My Gazelle found me on Myspace.  Go figure.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of TTD Baltimore's events this past Sunday: Chocolate Making 101: Hand-Making Truffles.  I love making things.  I love truffles.  It was perfect.

I wrangled up a few friends, and we set forth with our plan to learn how to make truffles.

The truffle-making class was held at the cutest little pastry shop I've ever seen, called Tenzo Artisan; located in the Federal Hill section of Baltimore, at 1016 South Charles Street.  The neighborhood itself is adorable.  It is filled with row houses- turned-businesses, brick condos, and mature trees.  And yuppies walking their dogs.

It's very cute.

Tenzo Artisan is a small shop, and they specialize in cakes, chocolates, pastries, and gluten-free items.  The owner of the shop and head pastry chef, Janice Shih, left medicine to pursue more creative endeavors. Janice graduated from the Pastry Arts Programme at L'Academie de Cuisine, and apprenticed at Joy America Cafe and Spike & Charlies Restaurant and Wine Bar.

This Janice character is no slouch, folks.

janice

And, she is as sweet as her pastries!

Janice began the class by teaching us about the three types of chocolate.  Well...the two types of chocolate, and the red-headed-stepchild.  Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white "chocolate", which isn't really chocolate at all, since it is just cocoa butter.

We learned about the process of tempering our chocolate, which is bringing chocolate to a temperature of 82 degrees F, and keeping the chocolate at that temperature so that it is able to be worked with.  Keeping the chocolate at the correct temperature lends to its' shiny appearance, and "chocolate bar" texture.

The first step to making truffles is melting together chocolate and cream.  This is what becomes the center of a truffle.  The formula is two parts chocolate to one part cream.

We used standard milk chocolate candy wafers.  Janice had huge boxes of these things all over the kitchen, as well as bowls of them lying all over the place for us to taste-test.  It was like a free for all on chocolate wafers.  It was heavenly.

wafers

Janice had already melted together and allowed our bowls of cream and chocolate to cool.  All we had to do was start scooping small pieces of the semi-soft mixture out of the bowl with a spoon, and forming small truffle balls with the mixture.  This was actually harder than you would think, because the chocolate/cream mixture is melty.  And only SEMI-soft.  At first, things weren't looking too promising for your girl.

truffle-making

I wasn't sure that truffle-making was really my thing.

Then, Janice explained that if we periodically rinsed our hands with cold water, not only would it clean off the melty chocolate, but it would also keep our hands cool and allow us to work with the chocolate much better.  As soon as I started rinsing my hands periodically, everything went smoothly.

Well.  Until I started trying to temper my chocolate for the truffle coating.  But I'll tell you about that in a minute.

This is me and Raythia, discussing the fact that our truffle centers were too large.

More importantly, do you see the box there to my left with the word "milk" written on it?  That means milk chocolate folks.  That was an entire ginormous box of milk chocolate wafers.  At my fingertips.

I basically considered it my own.  But, I didn't taste-test.  I never do.

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So, after we successfully made all of our chocolate/cream truffle centers, it was time to begin tempering our chocolate, which would become the outside coating for the truffle centers.

There are many videos on youtube that will show you the exact process of tempering chocolate, but it's pretty straightforward.  You need two things:

  1. A stainless steel bowl filled with a couple handfuls of chocolate wafers.
  2. A large pot of boiling water over which to place the stainless steel bowl.

The idea is to place the stainless steel bowl with the chocolate wafers over top of the boiling (steaming) pot of water, and the  transfer of heat from the steam will melt the chocolate inside of the stainless steel bowl, without imparting water into the chocolate.

Water + chocolate = seized chocolate

Seized chocolate = bad

You'll know that the chocolate has been melted for long enough when it runs off the spoon like water.

Here I am, tempering away.

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This is what our "double boiler" type situation looked like.  The steam did nothing for my hair.

It was also very hot in the kitchen, by the way.  And it's a cute little small kitchen.  I'm not complaining.  I loved it.  I'm just pointing it out.  In case you wondered why I look so hot and frizzy.  This is all of us, nestled in the kitchen.  Cozily.

truffle-making-10

So, essentially, I'm blaming my frizzy hair on the kitchen.  You can live with that, right?

It turns out that after you initially melt chocolate during the tempering process, you then have to bring the temperature back down so that when the chocolate ultimately cools, it will have that lovely chocolate "crunch" that we all love so much, and a shiny appearance.  Otherwise, it's just a big  ball of dull, chocolate mush.

The idea is that once the temperature of the chocolate comes back down to 82 degrees F, you want it to stay there so that it doesn't harden.  If it hardens, you have to go back to the boiling water for a few seconds and begin the cool down process again.

And again.

And again.

Why do I know this?

Because I did it like 34,298 times before I finally realized the magic formula.  But I learned a valuable lesson about chocolate tempering:

Stir, stir, stir.

If you don't stir your chocolate fairly constantly as it's cooling down, it will get lumpy and you will need to start over with the boiling water again.  There is a very delicate point at the end, when you're almost at the 82 degree mark, and the chocolate wants to stop cooperating.

You must be diligent.  Don't let it win.

You don't need a candy thermometer, you can really just eyeball the chocolate as it cools.

When our chocolate reached the "magic" point, Janice gave us a regular old heating pad to put under our bowl in order to keep the chocolate at the correct temperature.

Then, the fun began.

But first, this is me, mesmerized by Janice's genius cheffery.

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I admire Janice.  I'm sure that it has been a lot of hard work for her to build her business, but the idea of quitting my job and opening a pastry shop seems like a dream come true.  P.s...Janice: if your assistant quits, let me know.  I promise not to taste test.

So, here I am, eye on the prize.  I have visions of coconut-covered truffles dancing through my brain, and there is no stopping me.  Focus is my middle name.  I don't even think I was this on-point during mile #10 of my 1/2 marathon.  I need to bottle my "truffle-focus" and drink it during races from now on.  Geez.

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This part of the truffle-making process involves tossing the chocolate/cream formations that were made in the first part into the 82 degree F tempered chocolate, completely coating, then carefully digging them out and tossing them in a topping of your choice.

You toss the chocolate-covered ball of chocolate and cream into the topping, spoon the topping over the creation, then let it chill for a minute until the chocolate is fairly well-set.  Taking the truffle out of the topping too soon can lead to oddly misshapen truffles.

Nobody wants oddly misshapen truffles.  Nobody I say.

I was really intent on coconut-dipping.  And avoiding misshapen truffles.

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Here we are...my truffle-making friends and I.

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You can completely make truffles at home.  The process is very simple.  Much more simple than I anticipated, actually.

Some of the fruits of our labor...

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If you are ever in the Baltimore area, I highly suggest that you go visit Janice's pastry shop, Tenzo Artisan.  Also, if you live in the DC/Baltimore area, and you're not involved with Things To Do, you must check them out.  Their outings don't just stop at truffle-making.

No, no!  Think: Brazilian Carnival.  That's where I will be going next year with TDD.  I will probably make some truffles to bring along with me.

siggy