Heat, stir, chill, and roll. That’s all it takes to create the divine pleasure of our gorgeous spicy chocolate chili truffles. And with a little more effort, you can add an extra layer of super-luxury — a praline coating.
When something’s this good, it’s hardly surprising that there are a few colorful claims about who actually invented the chocolate truffle.
There’s a popular story from the 1920s that tells how its origins lie in a foolish mistake made in the kitchen of one of the most famous chefs ever — Auguste Escoffier. The tale says that one of the great chef’s apprentices mistakenly mixed hot cream into a bowl of chopped chocolate. Escoffier’s angry reaction was to call the apprentice a ‘ganache’, a sort of French slang for a fool. And, according to this bit of folksy kitchen lore, that’s how a combo of heavy cream and chocolate got tagged in culinary jargon as ganache.
Back to the angry chef. When Escoffier calmed down a bit, he apparently thought the cooling, thick mix could perhaps be happily salvaged by rolling into little balls. Then what? Well, Escoffier decided to roll the rounds in cocoa powder — and to call them what the finished result sort of resembled — truffles.
It’s a cute story, but probably not the true story. I say that because a London chocolate store called Prestat had been making and selling what they insist was their invention — chocolate truffles — since 1902. And they still sell them to this day.
Their claim to fame is that these delights were the brain-child of a pastry chef called Louis Dufour from the city of Chambéry, in the south-east of France. And this story is also based on a bit of an error. In the run-up to Christmas 1895, Louis discovered he had a rather tricky problem. He’s seriously short of chocolate for making his usual festive treats. Oops.
To avoid disappointing his chocaholic customers, he cunningly concocts a mix of custard, cocoa, and vanilla, which he rolls into small balls. He then coats these orbs with melted chocolate — thereby making the most of what little he has — and rolls them in cocoa powder. Voila! Louis’ truffle-looking choccies save the day — and keep the proverbial till ringing.
And it seems the till rang a lot at Louis’ place — possibly enough to prompt his brother, Antoine, to hop over to England and open a chocolate retailer in one of London’s poshest streets. And the place’s piece de resistance? Yep, choccy truffles.
There are bold flavors in our chocolate chili truffles
When it comes to our riff on chocolate truffles, it really doesn’t matter what the true origins may be. That’s because these gorgeous treats are strictly for grown-up tastes. They’re certainly nothing like anything you’ll find in the kiddies’ candy aisle.
I’ve no idea who thought of adding the rich warmth of chili to the flavor-depths of a ganache that’s made with high-class dark chocolate and heavy cream. But I’m glad they did. So, before the cream meets the chocolate to make that luscious ganache, our recipe starts by infusing the gently-heated cream with the fruity, smoky heat of a dried arbol chili.
These two spices have long been known to partner exceptionally well with dark chocolate, acting like spotlights to pinpoint tastes that are simultaneously intense and roundly mellow.
As for the chocolate in our spiced ganache, well, that’s got a cocoa content right up there at 70%. And it’s quite different from what we might call bar-chocolate. Known as couverture, this is premium quality chocolate — both white and dark — that’s made specifically for the sort of really rich, high-gloss coatings and fillings that have to come from the very top-drawer. It’s usually sold in packs of little, easily melted ‘drops’. For couverture, there’s a couple of big-name brands like Valrhona and Callebaut, but I used a variety that I’ve grown to trust from a reputable chain-store.
And then there’s the praline coatings…
Now, no offense to the truffle-creating claimants, but it seems a little dull to coat dark chocolates with cocoa powder. To me, that’s like putting ketchup on tomato soup — why do it?
So, for some contrasting flavors and textures, our balls of lightly spiced ganache are coated with ground praline. That’s an easily made mix of almonds and caster sugar that gets some sugar-melting heat to make a sort of caramelly, nut-brittle.
Ground fairly fine in a pestle and mortar, the praline makes a slightly glittery, slightly crunchy covering for our chocolate chili truffles. I coated half of the truffles with that simple praline, and the other half with a mix of the praline and finely chopped white chocolate — from a pretty good bar of plain, white chocolate.
Richly delicious? Oh, yes. Intensely so. With after-dinner coffee — or even with a good cup mid-morning — you’ll probably find that two of these are all the treat you need.
Spicy Chocolate Chili Truffles
For the spiced ganache
- 1 dried arbol chili finely chopped, seeds and all. The one I used was about 2 inches long. I like the smoky, fruity heat of these chilies, but a dried Thai bird’s eye chili would be just dandy.
- 1 cup heavy cream full-fat
- 13 ounces dark chocolate I used dark couverture drops, with a labelled cocoa content of 70%
- 3 green cardamom pods roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 3-inch stick cinnamon roughly ground in a pestle and mortar
For the two praline coatings
- 3 ½ ounces flaked almonds
- 5 ¼ caster sugar sometimes tagged as super-fine sugar, it’s finely ground, granulated sugar
- 1 ounce white chocolate finely chopped. This gets mixed with a third of the ground praline to create your second type of coating for your truffles.
Making the spiced ganache
- Set a medium size saucepan on a low-medium heat, and add the heavy cream, chili, cardamom, and cinnamon. Give the pan a good stir, and let it just barely — and I mean just barely — come to the boil. As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low.
- You’re aiming here to slowly bring the cream almost to the boil, then, with the heat on low, for it to just simmer very gently for 5 minutes. You want that simmer to be no more than just visible on the surface of the cream. The watchword here is gentle. Give it too much heat and the cream is liable to ‘split’ as the fat separates. And that must not happen.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 30 minutes. Give the pan a few stirs while it’s standing to encourage the chili, cardamom, and cinnamon to release their flavors into the cream.
- After 30 minutes, strain the cream into a jug through a fine sieve, and discard the spices and chili. Use a sieve that’s fine enough to ensure that only the flavor-infused cream drains into your jug. Time now to start melting the chocolate.
- For this, you’ll need a heat-proof bowl that’s easily big enough to take all the chocolate and all the cream. And you’ll need a saucepan that will hold the bowl so that its base sits about half-way above the bottom of the pan. Good.
- Now fill the pan around one-third full with boiling water — but not so full that the water can touch the bottom of your heat-proof bowl. Set the pan on a low heat that just keeps the water barely bubbling. Now rest the bowl in the pan and add the chocolate. You’ll find that it starts to melt in the bowl almost immediately. Give the chocolate a few stirs until its completely melted — that’ll probably take about two minutes or so.
- Keep the heat on low — so the water is just moving — and stir in the cream. It’ll take a few minutes of slow stirring to completely combine the cream with the chocolate. And slow stirring matters here because you don’t want the mix to fill with air bubbles — so, stir thoroughly but gently. That’s it, you’ve made your ganache. Turn off the heat and set the bowl aside so that the ganache can start cooling.
- After the ganache has cooled for about 15 minutes, set the bowl in your refrigerator for 45 minutes. And now’s a good time to make your praline coatings.
Making the praline coatings
- For this, you’ll need a big, heavy-based skillet. I used a 12-inch one that’s about 2 inches deep. Set the skillet on a low-medium heat and add the flaked almonds. You’re looking to toast the occasionally stirred almonds in the skillet so that they start to take on a pale golden color.
- Take some care with this — those almond flakes will begin to color surprisingly quickly after about 90 seconds on that low-medium heat. If you’re not watchful with your stirring, they’ll burn and be ruined.
- So, the instant the flakes turn a pale gold, sprinkle the caster sugar evenly all over them — but do not stir the skillet. That’s worth repeating — do not stir the sugar into the almonds — just sprinkle it on.
- Keep the heat on low-medium — no stirring — and after maybe 90 seconds or so, you’ll see that the sugar is starting to melt. That’s grand — but still no stirring. Again, you need to be watchful here. As soon as you see that all the sugar has melted into the almonds — and caramelized to a dark, golden color — remove the skillet from the heat.
- Now give the skillet a good stirring, so that the almonds get coated with the still-molten sugar. Pour the lot onto a big dinner plate that’s easily big enough to hold all the contents of the skillet. Praline done. All you need to do now is let it cool and set hard. That’ll take about 40 minutes.
- Once the mix has completely cooled and set, you’ll have a disk of shiny, darkly golden praline that will slip straight from the plate. It’ll be brittle, and ready to be ground, piece-by-piece, to a fine-ish consistency in your pestle and mortar.
- Now divide your ground praline into two bowls — one bowl for about two-thirds of the mix, and another bowl for the remaining third of the mix.
- That two-thirds of the mix is going to be used — as it is — to coat half of your truffles. The other third is going to be mixed with the chopped white chocolate — to coat the second batch of your truffles.
Rolling the truffles and coating them
- Once the ganache has been chilling in your refrigerator for its 45 minutes, you’ll find it has turned pretty firm. That’s grand. Time now to start rolling and coating your truffles.
- For this, I use one hand to form lumps of the ganache into balls about three-quarters the size of a golf ball — roughly 1 ¼ inches in diameter. It’s easy to do this in the palm of one hand, mainly using your thumb and forefinger with a little guiding help from your middle digit.
- Other than forming fairly uniform balls, this hand-rolling warms the surface of the ganache balls, turning it nicely sticky. And a slightly gooey surface is precisely what you want — so the coatings will readily stick to the balls.
- I coat the balls as I form them, using my non-chocolatey hand to roll the balls in the coating.
- Set the coated truffles on a big plate, and once they’re all coated, pop the plate into your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving them.