Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Amaretto Truffles For A New Season

I’m very happy that the new concert season has finally swung into full tilt. After a quiet summer, it’s been a treat to reconnect and make music again with so many friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since May. What cracks me up is how many times I’ve been asked the same three questions in rapid succession: “How was your summer? How’s CocoaRoar? When will you make more truffles?!” I guess I’m not the only person who often has chocolate on the brain!

Since chocolate is highly temperature-sensitive which makes it too difficult to work with in warm weather, I take an extended break from chocolate-making in the summers, but I think it’s time for me to spend some consistent time in the CocoaRoar kitchen again. (Okay, you all know I don’t have a separate kitchen for my little chocolate truffle side business, but a girl can dream, right?) Granted, I only make truffles around specific holidays—partly in order to avoid burn-out and also because I need time to be a violinist—but CocoaRoar has been on hiatus ever since February and I’ve missed it. 

Last year I did rounds of truffles for various spring holidays, including a Spring Collection of all botanical-inspired flavors and a Mother’s Day round for which I let my mom choose the flavors that would be offered. But this year my energy was totally devoted to preparing for a Beethoven Triple Concerto performance that landed smack in between Easter and Mother’s Day, and I think it’s fair to say that making chocolate plummeted to the bottom of my priority list this spring! However, I made some delectable amaretto truffles the other night, and it felt really good to get back into my truffle groove again.


My friends Jorge and Adrienne gave a wonderful violin&piano recital last night in Weill Hall, also known as Little Carnegie Hall. It was a celebratory night for all and I was extremely proud of them. They played a beautiful program, one that included several pieces by Spanish composers they’d recorded for a CD to be released soon. In addition to being one of my closest friends who makes me laugh harder than almost anyone, Jorge is a big-hearted musician of great warmth and generosity. When he plays for you, he makes you feel like he’s welcoming you to a fabulous party that he’s hosting. Since I hate showing up for any party empty-handed, I brought amaretto truffles. Both Jorge and Adrienne love a good box of CocoaRoar delights, and I thought that their giving a Weill Hall recital definitely warranted them some homemade truffles!

I featured this flavor during last year’s Halloween assortment, and while it was an extremely popular addition to the CocoaRoar menu, I kept underestimating the amount of chopped slivered almonds I’d need for rolling each batch of finished truffles. My kitchen was a disastrous wreck as I tried to even out those quantities, with melted chocolate splattering and chopped nuts flying everywhere! I vowed not to make them on a large scale during CocoaRoar season, but I’m happy to make these as gifts for special occasions, for I absolutely love seeing my friends devour them with great gusto. These chocolate-almond bonbons are actually quite simple, especially if you make them in small batches and you chop a generous amount of almonds before you start dipping the truffles. I hope that you’ll try your hand at this recipe so that you can experience these amaretto truffles for yourself.

These were some of the first truffles in my chocolate repertoire years ago, and they’ve always been a big hit. I love experiencing the almond flavor in octaves throughout the truffle. The silky amaretto-laced chocolate ganache center contrasts nicely with the crunchy toasted almonds on the outside.

I use a bittersweet chocolate containing anywhere between 52% and 66% cocoa for these truffles, for I think it lets the flavor of the amaretto shine through without overpowering it. I’m partial to Valrhona, though I also like the taste of Scharffenberger chocolate. I usually use Lindt 70% Extra-Bittersweet to dip the finished truffles in before rolling them in chopped nuts. This may sound high-maintenance to fuss about percentages of cocoa like this, but after making 10,000 truffles over the course of 15 months, one becomes highly sensitized to which kinds of chocolate compliment certain flavors the best! Just use the best-tasting chocolate that suits both your palate and your wallet.

¾ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons amaretto
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3.5 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate (70%), for dipping
1-½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Heat the cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. When the cream starts to boil, immediately remove pan from heat. Stir in the amaretto and set aside to cool slightly.

Fill a skillet with an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Place the chopped chocolate in a large mixing bowl and set it in the skillet of simmering water. Stir gently with a heatproof spatula as the chocolate melts. When most of the chocolate has melted, remove the mixing bowl from the skillet and continue to stir till all the chocolate has melted.

Pour the warm cream onto the melted chocolate. With a large balloon whisk, VERY GENTLY begin to whisk the cream into the chocolate, starting in the middle of the bowl and going in small concentric circles. When the texture of the chocolate and cream in the middle of the bowl begins to resemble a thick mayonnaise, gradually work your way around the bowl, whisking in small circles. (You don’t want to whip a lot of air into the ganache, as it will keep the texture from being silky smooth.)

When the chocolate and cream have been thoroughly incorporated, gently pour the ganache into a shallow pie plate or similar dish, scraping the bowl clean with a spatula. (Make sure to save at least a big spoonful of this warm chocolate decadence for yourself!) Let the ganache set in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.

When the ganache is firm yet still pliable, scoop the chocolate up with a teaspoon and shape into 1-inch balls. Place on a large baking tray lined with waxed paper and let these set in the fridge while you prepare the dipping chocolate.

Melt the extra bittersweet chocolate in a large mixing bowl set in a skillet of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the skillet and let it cool slightly. (Alternately, you can melt the chopped chocolate in a microwave in 15-second increments, stirring after every time.)

Spread the chopped toasted almonds on a large plate. Line another baking tray with waxed paper. Set up an assembly line on the counter, lining up the melted chocolate, the chopped almonds and prepared baking tray all in a row.

Working quickly, dip each truffle in melted chocolate and work it around in your hand for two seconds to make sure it’s thoroughly coated in a thin layer of melted chocolate. Immediately roll in the chopped almonds and transfer to the clean baking tray. Dip all the truffles in this fashion.

These taste best at room temperature as the flavors are in full bloom, but otherwise store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes anywhere between 30-40 truffles, depending on how big you scoop them and how many you eat before they make it into completed truffle form!

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