Another Year, Another Truffle

Happy New Year!

When I wrote of Life in Black and White, I made it sound as if there were only two types of truffles. But there is a third - with many variations - that is actually somewhat better known to the general public. The chocolate truffle.

The chocolate truffle was invented in Chambery, France, in 1895 by a man named Dufour. They were so named because of their resemblance to the tuberous truffle - a delicious fungus discussed in two previous postings - Life in Black and White and The Sequel. These days, most chocolate truffles we see in shops and confectionery boutiques bear no resemblance whatsoever to Dufour's original, which was hand molded and then rolled in cocoa powder, truly looking like the little black tubers from the PĂ©rigord region of France.

In learning a bit about truffles, I discovered that, for all the years I have been making them, I have been making Swiss truffles. Who knew? Sometime back in the late 1980s, in Albany, New York, there was a "truffle-off" between me and Marie-Lise, a friend from Grenoble, France, who swore that her truffles were better than mine. We discovered that our methods and ingredients were very different - hers with cocoa powder, sugar and cream (the ingredients for French truffles), and mine with bittersweet chocolate, butter and cream (the Swiss ingredients). More than 30 friends tasted our truffles at a New Year's brunch. It was a tie until one final person tried, tasted and tipped the scales in ML's favor. I was crushed. But, if (almost) half the room liked my version, I had to believe that my recipe was a success as well. And, in the end, isn't it really just a matter of personal taste?

Here is my recipe for these delightful little Swiss nuggets.  I note in the recipe that they should be refrigerated until just before serving.  Chilling them is crucial, as they get way too soft if you leave them out too long.  I made these with orange emulsion rather than orange extract or Grand Marnier, as I find the flavor is fuller, rounder and stronger.  I have also made them with peppermint extract and vanilla extract with great success.  One thing I did discover in the process - do NOT dust the truffles with confectioner's sugar.  I tried that when taking photos for this post to imitate the white Italian truffles.  They quickly became a sticky mess (the moisture in the truffle reacting with the sugar) and it also made them too sweet.

Swiss truffles are really nothing more than ganache that has been chilled and then molded into truffle form. They are incredibly simple and very delicious - and can be flavored in any number of ways to meet your personal taste, keeping in mind that you want to use concentrated flavors for the best results. While flavoring with Grand Marnier has its appeal, the flavor just cannot hold up to the chocolate. Extracts, emulsions and concentrates are your best bet. Some flavors merely enhance the chocolate (pomegranate, for instance) while others provide a friendly counterpart.  And, while we are discussing ingredients, only use the highest quality chocolate, butter and cream when making these. You will be able to discern the difference, both in taste and texture.

So now we forge onward to the New Year's festivities, truffles neatly bagged for host and hostess gifts as we head from party to party. This is unusual for us. We are not the reveling types - more the sit-by-the-fire-with-a-book-and-good-music types. When we lived in Maine, we celebrated the New Year at 6:00pm - midnight in Paris - to avoid staying up late. Now that we have moved West, we try to make it to midnight East Coast time. With any luck this year, we will be home and snoring by 10:15pm...

As Julia Child said, "Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, and one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal." Doreen and I hope that you have a happy and healthy New Year - one that is full of wonder and meals shared with friends and family.

- David

Chocolate Truffles

16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used best-quality chips)
1 2/3 cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons orange emulsion, to taste
cocoa powder for finishing

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and butter to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it has reached a boil and butter has completely melted, pour this mixture over the chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture begins to thicken and cool. Add orange emulsion (or other flavoring) and mix well. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. To form truffles, scoop out by the teaspoonful and then mold by hand into small egg-like shapes. Roll them in cocoa powder to coat, and place on a plate. Cover the truffles and place them in the refrigerator. To serve, remove the truffles from the refrigerator 10-15 minutes before serving. Leftover truffles (????) can be re-chilled.


  1. David--
    These look great, and my usual recipe is very similar... Have you made, though, the Julia Child recipe made with pulverized gingersnaps? The ginger adds a lovely subtle heat behind the chocolate. Worth a run just as a variation...

  2. Wow, Jim, that sounds great. Chocolate and ginger have always been one of my favorite combinations. I will check all my JC cookbooks - if I cannot find it, I will be knocking on your door!


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