Friday, October 24, 2008

Truffle Masterclass: Bittersweet Caramel Sea Salt Truffles

Starbucks came out with a salted caramel hot chocolate this fall. I’ve heard some people puzzling over this combination, but it sounds delicious to me. I’ve ALMOST been tempted to go into one of the four Starbucks stores within ten blocks of my apartment (!) and try a cup for myself, even though I don’t like to patronize the ubiquitous ultra-corporate coffee chain. I also have a mental block with Starbucks because I never manage to phrase my order to their liking, and I hate being corrected when all I usually want is a double espresso. (I once encountered a snippy-but-hilarious barrista who corrected my request for a large cappuccino. “Uh, we don’t have ‘Large’ here,” he said, making quotation marks with his fingers in the air. “Our three sizes are ‘Huge’, ‘Ridiculous’, and ‘Oh my God!’”)

Since I’m not about to darken the door of a Starbucks anytime soon, yet the salted caramel hot chocolate sounds so appealing, I’ve come up with a much more interesting solution to the dilemma. It would be my extreme pleasure to introduce you to my Caramel Bittersweet Truffles With Sea Salt this evening.

In a word, they’re lovely. Oh so very lovely indeed. In fact, they’re much more than lovely. They’re downright divine. The bittersweet chocolate ganache is deepened with luscious caramel notes. As if that weren’t enough to make the chocolate sing, the sea salt adds another layer, keeping your taste buds interested and ensuring that you are not lulled into sweet complacency. This truffle is one decadent and delicious ménage a trois of flavors.

Since I’m gearing up to do a Halloween/Scorpio birthday round of CocoaRoar Truffles, I received a large shipment of Valrhona chocolate today, thanks to Chocosphere. How could it possibly be a bad day when nearly 30 pounds of the finest bittersweet chocolate (in varying percentages of cocoa and intensity) arrived on my doorstep?!

Here are a few tips for working with chocolate:

• Whenever you have to melt chocolate, most recipes will ask you to chop the chocolate into small pieces first. I buy my Valrhona chocolate in “feves” form (small discs), which totally eliminates the need for chopping. This is a godsend when I’m trying to crank out multiple batches of truffles in a day, as I’m grateful for anything that saves me prep time! Whole Foods sells small containers of these Valrhona feves, and Callebaut chocolate often comes in little discs as well. But if these are not available, a serrated knife is the best option for cutting large hunks of chocolate into manageable shards.

• If you’re making a recipe which asks you to melt the chocolate, you NEVER want to melt it over a direct flame. Direct heat is too intense and will cause the chocolate to scorch and burn, rendering it unusable. (That is a fate too sad for me to contemplate.) Most recipes will specify melting the chopped chocolate in a double boiler, but what if you don’t have a double boiler? I prefer to melt the chocolate pieces in a large stainless steel mixing bowl placed in a skillet filled with an inch of barely simmering water. Stir the chocolate with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula as it melts, and you now have beautifully melted chocolate. (This foolproof method will most likely mean one less dish for you to wash, since you can add ingredients directly to the melted chocolate in the mixing bowl. Another bonus!)

• When melting chocolate, be careful not to let any water droplets come in contact with it. This will cause the chocolate to seize, instantly changing it from a satiny-smooth consistency into something hardened and clumpy. (This is also a very sad fate for any beautiful bar of chocolate.)

Caramel is made simply by cooking sugar and water together. It starts out as an unremarkable opaque sludge, but a little time and heat transform these two basic ingredients into something altogether magnificent. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir till dissolved, then cook undisturbed, occasionally swirling the pan on the burner and brushing down the sides with a wet pastry brush. After about 4 minutes, the syrup will start to become golden brown and will quickly turn deep amber. (Keep an eye on it because it can quickly go from deep amber to burnt!)

It’s fun adding the cream to the caramel syrup because it bubbles furiously. When it finally calms down, you can stir it gently over low heat to thoroughly blend the liquids.


I use my favorite large balloon whisk to gently but thoroughly incorporate the the warm caramel-cream into the melted chocolate. This gorgeous mixture is typically referred to as a ‘ganache’.

Fine sea salt is added to this caramel-chocolate ganache. Use the best sea salt you have for this truffle. I have a whole collection of exotic salts, and I debated between using fleur de sel, a greyish sea salt from the coasts of Brittany, and powdery fine pink salt from the Himalayas. Either would have been grand, but I opted for the pink salt, simply because pink salt is fun!

The ganache has to set in the fridge for a few hours, but when it is firm it can be scooped and rolled into truffles. The truffles are then dipped in more melted chocolate and sprinkled with additional sea salt.

Most of the truffles I do for CocoaRoar are my own original recipes, developed over years of trial and error. However, this salted caramel truffle recipe is adapted from a recipe in the January 2004 issue of Bon Appétit. I have adjusted it a bit, altering the chocolate-to-cream ratio because I like a slightly firmer truffle than what the original recipe produces.

Honestly, who needs Starbucks salted caramel hot chocolate when you can have a truffle like THIS? I’m just saying….

Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles With Fleur De Sel
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit, January 2004

I used 12 ounces of Valrhona 66% Carribe for the ganache center and an extra-bittersweet 70% chocolate for coating the truffles.

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon fleur de sel, or other fine sea salt, plus additional salt for garnishing

Melt the 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a large metal bowl placed in a skillet filled with an inch of barely simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Increase the heat and boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, occasionally swirling the pan. Carefully pour in cream (mixture will bubble). Stir over very low heat until caramel is smooth. Pour the caramel-cream and ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel into the melted chocolate, and gently blend ingredients with a large whisk. Chill until truffle filling is firm, at least 3 hours.

Line a large baking tray with foil or waxed paper. When the filling is firm, use a teaspoon to scoop into rough balls. Working quickly, roll each truffle lightly between your two hands to form a little round ball.

Place the remaining 10 ounces of extra-bittersweet chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set the bowl in a skillet filled with barely simmering water; stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth and a thermometer inserted into chocolate registers 115°. Remove bowl from the skillet.

Working quickly, submerge truffle in melted chocolate. Using a fork, lift out the truffle and tap the fork against the side of bowl to allow the excess coating to drip off. Transfer the dipped truffle to the prepared baking tray. Repeat with remaining truffles. Sprinkle truffles lightly with a pinch of additional fleur de sel. Let stand until coating sets, at least 1 hour. (These can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Makes about 40 truffles.

A Valrhona feve is just big enough to cover my lips for a brief moment. Mmmm....

1 comment:

Lez Be Informed said...

They sound divine and I'm going to try out the recipe tomorrow but the US measurements are confusing me a little!