A selection of the stuff I use for chocolate experiments: Monin syrups, drinking chocolates, Van Wees esprits, liqueurs, whisky, dried lavender flowers and a candied violet
In my previous post I promised you some more information on making nice water based chocolate truffles.
I go about this in much the same way as most of us would pick fabrics and colors for a quilt. The focus flavor is always chocolate! I am not going to make anything like filled chocolates where chocolate is only used as a handy casing for whatever. And whatever is mostly sweet and has very little to do with chocolate flavor.
My truffles are nothing like what you know from shops. Even if you are familiar with excellent plain chocolate ganache, it is probably dairy or caramel based! Water ganache has a much lighter mouth feel. It also has very limited shelf life, so it is much less suited to shops than the familiar types of chocolates.
So, when you read about the flavor combinations I made, you must keep in mind that it is only a fairly subtle layer in the chocolate flavor.
Think of the chocolate flavor as the blue main color in a quilt. Think of any added flavor as a bright yellow. I am not trying to create a patchwork that reminds us of an IKEA logo! Nor do I want to end up with an all green quilt, with the blue and yellow unrecognizable.
In this quilt, the yellow is just an accent, or maybe just a drop mixed in with the blue to make the blue a bit more cheerful.
So the main flavor is always chocolate. I audition my ingredients just like I would audition fabrics.
Maybe I will start with a particular chocolate bar. I taste a little crumb by letting it melt in my mouth. And while focusing on the chocolate flavor, I start to think about what it is lacking, or what could perhaps go nicely with it. If the chocolate tastes a bit bitter now, I know that water ganache will only bring that forward. Would I like it sweeter, creamier, or both? In the latter cases I usually mix in some milk chocolate or white chocolate, rather than add a creamy fluid.
I will mix together any ingredients that come to mind as complimentary to the chocolate flavor, in very small amounts. Perhaps I will mix a couple of drops in a teaspoon. And I taste that. I want the added ingredients to taste nice and harmonious together, separate from the chocolate. I taste, add and mix until I like it. Compare this to folding a pile of fabrics into narrower pieces, to audition them next to each other. Some colors or prints work next to one fabric, but not next to another. Or only in a narrower strip.
An example of ingredients I mixed and tested is whisky with honey and salty salmiak powder. When I am happy with my mixture of ingredients, I taste them together with a crumb of the focus chocolate melting in my mouth. Does it work? Do I need to change proportions? Do I add something else, or leave something out?
Sometimes the ‘focus fabric’ I start with is not chocolate, but a particular added flavor, like violet syrup. In that case, I will try crumbs of several types of chocolate with the violet syrup, and see which chocolate works best. The results can be just as surprising as auditioning colored fabrics together! Like colors, flavors mingling influence each other.
For finishing my truffles, I taste combinations again. A small slice of the set ganache, dipped in a little grated chocolate, or cocoa powder. Sometimes one of the flavors just seems to disappear. Some combinations are just not pleasant. I can never predict what will work. It really is just like picking fabrics for a quilt, pulling as many fabrics as you can, laying them out and really looking at what happens.
And just like with quilting, this part is really fun, too! Having a finished quilt (truffle) is great, but I think picking colors and prints and learning about how they work together is more exciting!
Just last week I made some spectacularly delicious chocolate truffles perfumed with violet-yuzu-lemon and a little sea salt caramel fudge. I started with a 75% single origin Tanzania chocolate bar that we just could not love like it deserved. It was a happy experiment with leftovers and other stuff I just had in my pantry.
Over time I bought several ingredients specifically for experimenting with truffles, that come in very handy now. Apart from pretty standard items, like dried spices and several types of tea, I have:
- Monin gourmet flavored syrups, which are usually used in coffee or cocktails;
- Van Wees ‘esprits’. These spirits are alcohol based herb, nut or fruit essences;
- Several types of port wine and saké (including aged saké and Japanese plum wine);
- Mini bottles and samples of several types of good rum, whisky and liqueur;
- A very good, thick and sweet aged balsamic vinegar;
- Vanilla extract we made at home, of pure wodka and good quality vanilla pods.
Other things I use are several types of sweetener, including melted or dissolved candy.
And for finishing my precious truffles in style:
- Several brands of cocoa powder (among which Marou and To’ak);
- Excellent grated drinking chocolates (by Pump Street);
- Candied whole violet flowerheads! (I bought a rather big box of beautiful candied violets as a Sinterklaas gift for my other half over two years ago! They look and taste wonderful, but we saved most of them for ‘something special’ like a pretty cake or something. It just never happened…They are well past their ‘best before’ date now, but they are still in perfect condition.)
- A chocolate flaker (Boska), to grind a piece of chocolate;
- A good, fine grater (Microplane).
I can use the latter two when I want to use flakes or gratings from a specific bar to finish a truffle with.
I can give you the recipe for the violet truffles, because who knows, you just might have all the ingredients at hand too :-)! Or you could make something pretty close to it.
Violet and chocolate is a very good combination. The violet syrup reminds me of a sweet raspberry lemonade or something, without any tartness. That’s why I added some lemon juice and yuzu esprit. Just creamy sweetness often falls flat for me. What I used:
For the ganache
- 43 grams of a 75% dark chocolate from Tanzania (without vanilla), in small pieces. I used a chocolate for matching with violet that could do with some added smoothness in my opinion. It was a tiny bit astringent and bitter. It was all that was left from the bar, no need to be very exact about this weight.
- 29 grams of a dark milk chocolate (55%) without vanilla, in small pieces. I used Original Beans Femmes de Virunga. (If 29 grams seems an odd amount to you… An Original Beans 70 gram bar is divided in 12 pieces. I used 5 pieces :-).)
- 15 grams (2 pieces) of Copper Pot Caramel and Sea salt fudge, in fine crumbles.
- 4 teaspoons of lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons of yuzu esprit (60% alcohol volume)
- 2 teaspoons of violet syrup
- Pinch of sea salt
For coating and decoration: Grated dark drinking chocolate 75% Jamaica (Pump Street) + small pieces of candied violet petals
Prepare a small mold to pour your ganache in, like I showed in this post.
Mix all the ingredients for the ganache (listed above) in a small bowl which can be used in the microwave. Heat everything for about 10 – 15 seconds in the microwave on high. Stir and flatten lumps as much as possible. (Some caramel crumbs will remain).
Repeat once if necessary, make sure the chocolate is soft. NOTE: It is very easy to accidentally burn your chocolate at this stage!! Use the microwave for maximum 10 seconds each time. Stir, let the heat spread evenly, and repeat heating if necessary.
Because you will add just a little bit of water, you have to make sure your chocolate is soft and warm enough to completely melt until smooth in the water. The small amount of water will cool off too quickly when added to a cold bowl of chocolate.
Add 16 grams of hot (boiled) water and stir until you have a glossy and mostly smooth mixture (except for the fudge crumbs), about the thickness of yoghurt.
Pour into your mold and let set for at least two hours in the fridge.
Cut into pieces and finish by pushing each cube into the grated chocolate. Coated, you can keep them for a couple of days. Only put the little piece of candied violet (like 2 x 3 millimeters or something, a whole petal would be way too sweet!) on top of your truffle just before serving, so it remains crunchy.
These truffles were delicious without the candied violet. But getting a bite of that too really added something! The flavors in the ganache came to life, and we became much more aware of the yuzu and the salt than without the contrasting sweet candied violet.
Other experiments which turned out excitingly delicious (in our opinion, anyway):
- Dark chocolate with saké and lavender;
- Dark chocolate with mezcal, cardamom, black pepper and sea salt;
- Dark milk chocolate with passionfruit, balsamic vinegar and basil;
- Dark chocolate mixed with dark milk chocolate, with plum wine and honey;
Not every combination works at the first try. But you can always remelt and change something.
In the picture at the top of this post, you see my latest failure, in the yellow espresso cup. I was trying to make rum truffles, with 4 teaspoons of rum and some vanilla syrup. The set ganache just did not taste of rum at all! Aargh.
So I added 4 more teaspoons of rum and worked it into the set ganache with a small fork. (I did not remelt). Still no rum flavor. I repeated this several times, with increasingly larger spoons. At some point, it was just chocolate mousse which could probably double as an anti-virus hand rub. I knew if I added chocolate to restore the proportions for a ganache that would set, the rum flavor would be muted again.
So, I just cut my losses and served it up as very boozy chocolate mousse (chocolate mooze ;-))
That is one thing that I tend to struggle with in water ganache, alcohol based ingredients. Very often, the alcohol overpowers before I get enough of the actual rum or whisky (or whatever) flavor. Heating in the microwave to get rid of some of the alcohol helps, but it can also ruin the harmony and complexity of the liquor.
But rest assured, you really don’t need special or exotic ingredients. It is just to give you an idea of things to try beyond coffee, cinnamon, hazelnut, caramel, etc. Even if you just have very good quality chocolate, a pinch of salt and plain water, you could make delicious truffles!
One last tip: I have found that the flavor of my truffles develops over a couple of days. It is nice to follow the development, by having one truffle each day. My truffles usually taste their best when the water ganache is two days old.
Cheers! XXX Annika