Welcoming the new year with truffles


Chocolate. Lots of chocolate. That's the perfect way to ring in the new year.

So after the ball drops on New Year's Eve, you can bet I will be celebrating with chocolate truffles - dark-chocolate truffles, raspberry-swirled white-chocolate truffles and hazelnut-and-milk-chocolate truffles.

The only choice is whether to blow the entire evening's budget on a tiny boutique box of truffles or to make truffles by the dozen that will cost a few cents each and can be made in about the time that it takes to get in the car and drive to the candy shop. It is a no-contest choice for me.

Chocolate, cream and butter make up the very short truffle ingredient list. For the chocolate, be sure to splurge on the best quality. Good chocolate is easy to find in your local supermarket, especially during the holiday season when displays of premium chocolate suddenly pop up in the aisles.

If you need to check the quality, try this dependable taste test. Buy a sample bar and eat it. If the chocolate tastes good to you, it will make a delicious truffle.

Look for heavy whipping cream rather than light cream or half-and-half. Heavy cream has a high butterfat content that will make a smooth, velvety truffle mixture and will become firm enough to hold its shape. Adding a small amount of butter enriches the taste and also helps the candies to firm up.

One word describes truffle preparation: easy. A saucepan to warm the cream and butter, a mixing bowl and a pretty plate to hold the finished candies take care of equipment requirements.

After heating the cream and butter together, stir in the chocolate (chopped so it melts evenly) and continue stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth. That is it.

You do not even have to melt the chocolate ahead of time; the hot cream does that job. One caution is to try to keep the cream and butter from coming to a boil because that might produce a skin on top, which could cause lumps in the truffle. If this does happen, repair it by using a spoon to carefully lift off the skin and discard it.

If flavorings are to be added, stir them into the warm truffle mixture, then refrigerate the truffle until it is firm enough to roll into balls. Vanilla extract is always a good addition, but other flavoring ideas include almond extract, spices, dissolved instant coffee granules, grated orange or lemon zest, fruit purees, rum, brandy or liqueurs.

Try making an assortment of flavors from one batch by dividing the warm mixture among several bowls and mixing a different flavor into each bowl. It usually takes about 4 hours for the truffle mixture to firm to the proper consistency, but overnight refrigeration is even better.

The proportion of cream to chocolate varies with the type of chocolate. Milk and white chocolate are softer chocolates than dark chocolate. They already contain some milk, and will call for a larger proportion of chocolate to cream than dark chocolate does.

When adding liquids to milk- or white-chocolate truffles, be sparing or the candy might not firm properly.

To form truffles, simply roll them between the palms of your hands. Their sizes can vary. The name originates from the roughly shaped fungi that are used to flavor savory dishes.

Because these fungi have irregular shapes, your truffles will look more like their namesakes if they are not perfect rounds and not perfectly smooth on the outside, which just adds to the ease of shaping them. My size preference is for an elegant, two-bite size that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and uses a level tablespoon of the cold truffle to make each one.

Finishing touches can vary from a simple dusting of cocoa powder to rolling in ground nuts, crushed toffee or shredded coconut, or adding a coating of melted chocolate and even drizzling additional melted chocolate over the chocolate coating.

Drizzles of white chocolate over dark coating or dark chocolate over white make a nice contrast.

Mini-muffin papers make a pretty and practical holder for truffles. Party stores sell gold and silver foil versions that add a festive touch. The truffles in their papers can be sealed in a tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Store different flavors in separate containers so one variety does not take on the taste of another. For the most intense chocolate flavor, let the truffles come to room temperature for at least one hour before serving them.

Elinor Klivans' newest book is "Big Fat Cookies" (Chronicle Books, 2004, $17.95).

Dark-Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 30 truffles

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

11 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped finely

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon brandy, rum or coffee-flavored liqueur (optional)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted, for coating the truffles

Have ready 30 mini-muffin papers.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the cream and butter until the cream is hot and the butter melts. The hot cream mixture will form tiny bubbles around the edge and measure about 170 degrees if measured with a food thermometer. Do not let the mixture boil.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the chopped chocolates and let them sit in the hot cream mixture for about 30 seconds to soften and begin to melt. Add the vanilla and the liquor, if desired, and whisk slowly until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the warm truffle into a medium bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the truffle mixture and poke a few holes in the plastic wrap with the tip of a knife to let any steam escape. Refrigerate until the mixture is firm, 4 hours or overnight.

Put the cocoa powder in a small shallow bowl. Use a spoon to scoop out tablespoon-sized portions of chocolate truffle and roll them quickly in your hands to form roughly shaped balls.

Roll in the cocoa powder and put each truffle in a mini-muffin paper. Arrange on a platter and serve at room temperature. (The truffles can be covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

Per serving: 84 calories; 1 gram protein; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 7 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 10 milligrams cholesterol; 4 milligrams sodium

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