The Five Days of Truffling: Day 5

I did it! OK- I didn’t make it to my original goal of 600 truffles (somewhere around 450) but that’s plenty plenty, and more than I’ve ever made before (I think).

Here’s my label I made for the boxes- though not all the boxes had all the kinds of truffles in them- actually only a few did because there were only about 20 cherry bourbon truffles.

TruffleCard_2014Why do I do it? Looking back over the last four days it’s definitely a lot of work. Yes, this might be the most ambitious I’ve been but other years have had a similar amount of work involved. This year was about 450 truffles, 67 boxes, each weighing about 0.3 lbs – so I made approximately 25 lbs of truffles (I had a bunch that didn’t go in to boxes) and I very roughly estimate that it took about 24+ hours of work on my part (though a lot of that is kind of ‘waiting’ work).

I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy the creation and the experimentation. I enjoy the craftsmanship in making something that comes out looking and tasting really nice. I enjoy the giving too – it’s fun to be able to give people something that they really can’t get anywhere else. And I do it because of the tradition- my grandmother made candies (cream candy amongst others- a topic for another series) and I’ve now made truffles for well over 20 years. I also get a good deal of satisfaction out of actually creating a product that is “finished”. So much of my work in research involves work that stretches out in a never-ending arc. So it’s nice to be able to have something that I can work on, box it up, put a bow on it and be done, literally. Finally, there’s pride. I enjoy being able to make something that people are surprised that I made and wonder if I’m a professional (sometimes anyway).

I may post a day 6 here and try to capture some of my other recipes that I made this year- it’d be good to do that before time has passed and I forget what I did. Otherwise, until next time, thanks for following along and don’t hesitate to pester me with questions if you want to do it yourself sometime!

Pondering flavors for next year's efforts.

Pondering flavors for next year’s efforts.

 

The Five Days of Truffling: Day 4

Today I finished up the dipping- the last-minute real caramel batch for my kids (other people will benefit) and the black truffle truffles I made as an experiment (very limited batch). I then also packaged up a bunch of boxes and made labels. So not a lot to report.

However, I’ve received some requests for actual recipes so thought I’d share here along with a few notes about each one.

I’ll start with the classics, mocha and mint. These recipes have evolved over the years and these are their current versions. But they are delicious and importantly, reliable.

Mint truffle ganache

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced in half (optional- I think it adds a nice mellow note to the flavor, but it’s probably not necessary for the mint)
  • dash of salt
  • 8 sprigs of fresh mint, loosely chopped
  • Peppermint oil (not extract, though that might work- the oil is highly concentrated)
  • 2 T dark rum
  • 3 T gin
  • 1 T anisette (I’ve used absinthe and pastis in the past- I like the flavor it adds to the mint)
  • About 1 lb of semi-sweet chocolate (I sometimes use left over pure chocolate but have many times used semi-sweet chocolate chips for this)
  • 2 oz unsweetened baker’s chocolate
Making the mint ganache

Making the mint ganache

In a heavy saucepan bring the cream, vanilla bean, mint leaves, and salt slowly to a gentle boil. Adjust the hear so that it’s just boiling for about 2-3 minutes then turn off heat and let cool until it’s very warm but not hot. It will form a ‘skin’ on the top as it cools. While the cream is boiling melt the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave. It’s important that the chocolate be melted all the way through but not overheated because it will cause it to lose emulsion and do weird things.

Straining the cream after it's cooled

Straining the cream after it’s cooled

Strain the cream through a fine metal strainer into a mixing bowl and add melted chocolate. With a whisk slowly mix the two together. At first they won’t mix, then they’ll look like cream with a bunch of chocolate flecks in them, then finally it’ll turn into ganache. The amount of chocolate to add may vary a bit depending on the kind you have. However, the ganache should end up the consistency of a runny pudding. When you drop a spoonful back on the surface you should be able to see the glob on the surface afterward- it’s hard to explain and I can’t really provide a photo of it. If it’s runny like chocolate mill at this point (even thick chocolate milk) you’ll end up with very soft centers and won’t be able to dip them. And if there’s too much chocolate the centers will end up too hard to scoop.

Pour in the melted chocolate

Pour in the melted chocolate

Add the peppermint oil to taste. I like to add a few drops, mix, then taste and add more if needed. The peppermint oil will give the fresh minty flavor that will complement the fresh mint flavor. Finally, add the alcohol and slowly mix in. It will take a minute for it to mix but it should be completely smooth. Cover tightly with saran wrap or put into a covered container and freeze overnight.

Whisk together

Whisk together

After a night in the freezer the ganache should be firm but slightly resilient to the touch. It should not be sticky at all when you push your finger on the top

with some force, but it shouldn’t feel like a rock either. If it’s too hard you can move it to a warmer freezer (if you have one) or leave it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and see if that helps. If it’s too soft there may be no helping it- it makes a delicious ice cream topping, coffee flavoring, or pancake syrup when remelted, but you won’t be able to thaw it, add chocolate, and refreeze it. That doesn’t work when I’ve tried it.

Tempering chocolate and dipping

To dip the truffles you have to have a bunch of tempered chocolate, My method is to chop up dark chocolate (about 3-4 lbs), put it in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on low power (2 out of 10) for about 8 minutes. Stir if you can then microwave on 3 for 4 minutes. Stir and let sit for 15 minutes until all the chocolate pieces are soft then another 3 minutes on low power. At this point you need a chocolate thermometer. Microwave in short bursts DSC_714630-45 seconds, at low power, then stir and read the temperature. For dark chocolate the temperature should reach 115° F but NOT go above 120° F or it’ll cook and won’t be good anymore. Once that temperature has been reached I drop in a fair-sized chunk of unmelted chocolate (just one chunk- don’t chop it up) and stir with a rubber spatula occasionally until the temperature drops to 88° F. This will take about an hour.

An important point to remember here is that water and chocolate D

The melted chocolate before it's been tempered.

The melted chocolate before it’s been tempered.

ON’T mix. Getting more than a drop or two of water in your chocolate can ruin it so be careful around sinks, etc.

Tempered chocolate is thick, but will still not cling to a fork if you tap it a few times.

Tempered chocolate is thick, but will still not cling to a fork if you tap it a few times.

At this point the chocolate should be tempered and ready to be used to dip. Line a flat baking sheet with wax paper and take your ganache out of the freezer. Using a tiny ice cream scoop or melon baller make a small ball of ganache and drop it in the chocolate. Using a ford with wide tines quickly lift the ball out, scrape excess chocolate on the side of the bowl, and carefully drop on to the cookie sheet. I use a swirl motion when taking the fork away to try to make sure that the truffle is well covered. When the chocolate cools it will become a bit sludgy and make it very hard to dip. Put it back in the microwave for about 10 seconds at a time on low power and monitor the temperature. If the temperature of the chocolate gets above about 91° F things will get a lot easier for you, but the chocolate will have lost temper and you’ll need to start all over again. Don’t do it!

First truffles of 2014!

First truffles of 2014!

The truffles should be ready in about 15 minutes, and can last for a week or longer at room temperature (or slightly below- but don’t put them in the fridge since it’ll ruin the chocolate).

 Mocha ganache

  • 2 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced in half (optional- I think it adds a nice mellow note to the flavor, but it’s probably not necessary for the mint)
  • dash of salt
  • 1 cup fresh ground dark coffee- medium grind
  • 4 T dark rum
  • 4 T Kahlua or other coffee liquor
  • About 1 lb of semi-sweet chocolate (I sometimes use left over pure chocolate but have many times used semi-sweet chocolate chips for this)

Follow the general procedure for the mint truffles above but with the following modifications:

Bring the cream, vanilla bean, salt, and ground coffee to a gentle boil. Watch this carefully because it will boil over easily. Boil for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat and let cool 15-20 minutes. Strain through a metal strainer- but the coffee grounds will make this

Mocha ganache

Mocha ganache

somewhat difficult. I use a large metal strainer and spend some time letting the cream drain into the bowl. You can use a spoon to mix up the sludge in the strainer and help things along too.

Mix with the chocolate and alcohol as described above.

 

 

And voila! It's JUST THAT EASY!

And voila! It’s JUST THAT EASY!

The Five Days of Truffling: Day 3

My plan was to dip another three batches of truffles last night (day 3), and it worked- kinda. I ran in to problems because the three white chocolate ganaches I made were way too soft. That makes them very difficult to dip because they don’t hold their shape, are gooey and sticky, and melt in the chocolate creating problems like leaky truffles. So I did a couple of things. First I picked up a block of dry ice and used that to try to super cool the problematic ganaches. That worked but I didn’t have enough time to let it work fully and the places where it worked it turned them into a solid and unworkable layer. The second was that I double-dipped. The white chocolate couverture that I was using melts easily and is very liquid- I don’t use ‘pure’ white chocolate (not that there’s anything like that- white chocolate is just a candy made out of sugar and milk really- not chocolate at all). So for one set of truffles- the blue cheese and pear- I dipped once in white chocolate, let them set, and then dipped again. This makes a thicker truffle, but one that has a nice shape and doesn’t leak. The other set of truffles- orange cream- I dipped first in white chocolate then in dark chocolate. They should be interesting. I started dipping one other batch- a cherry bourbon- but that one was too soft too. Sigh. Some days just don’t work out so well.

Anyway- here’s a photo of the blue cheese and pear truffles that I topped with a candied pecan. They really are delicious.

DSC_7168The other wrench is that the kids didn’t like the caramel scotch truffles I made- they really are pretty scotch-y (and yummy). So this morning I made another batch of ganache that is straight-up caramel and I’ll dip those tonight.

The other thing I did last night was to take all the truffles off of their original trays and trim off the excess chocolate (if necessary). The step after this is to put them in paper candy cups (like little cupcake wrappers) and box them up! As of this morning the truffle count is right around 400, with five different kinds (six if you count the cherry bourbon, but there’s only about 20 of those).

For tomorrow’s post I’ll actually write down some of the recipes I’ve made so you could try it yourselves- if you were so brave.

Previous posts in this series are here and here.

 

The Five Days of Truffling: Day 2

Yesterday I made the truffle ganaches – the blend of cream and chocolate that go in the center of the truffles. Two of the ganaches I made don’t look like they’re going to work out- both are white chocolate centers. I remember from previous versions that using white chocolate (which isn’t really chocolate anyway) does weird things with the cream and seems to take a lot more chocolate to make solid centers. Anyway- I’ll have to remake these and use even more white chocolate to get solid centers. An alternative I’m toying with is to buy some dry ice and freeze them down good- then see if I can get them to the right temperature/consistency for dipping. This is necessary so that I can make small scoops of ganache that I can actually dip in chocolate successfully.

So- no secret, this stage is really my least favorite. Tempering chocolate is a royal pain in the butt. Tempering is the process of heating, cooling, then heating again chocolate (first to a higher temperature, second to a lower temperature) to make it suitable for dipping. Tempered chocolate is liquid enough that you can (fairly) easily dip things in it and it will harden into a smooth and unblemished chocolate surface that looks nice and has a nice ‘snap’ when bitten. Poorly tempered chocolate will look OK when you first dip things in it, but will slowly or quickly develop a grayish look and will be crumbly when you bite it- not very tasty or appealing. You can take shortcuts by adding things to the chocolate (like clarified butter) or using commercially available ‘dipping’ chocolate that has additives, but these won’t last as long as pure tempered chocolate and won’t look or taste as nice.

So the deal with tempering is that you melt the chocolate to a temperature around 115° F (but don’t go too far over or you’ll scorch your chocolate and make it pretty much useless)- then cooling down to below about 84° F, at this point it’ll be pretty thick so you need to raise the temperature CAREFULLY back to around 88° F. If it goes above ~91° F the chocolate will fall out of temper and you’ll have to start all over again. It requires a sensitive thermometer (I have one that’s for tempering), patience, and time since large-ish amounts of chocolate (3-4 lbs) doesn’t change temperature very quickly. Chocolate is also very complicated chemically and goes through some phase transitions, which means that the temperature can remain relatively stable while you’re heating then all the sudden shoot up quite quickly. It’s happened to me a whole bunch of times. I lose my temper.

A fairly simple method for tempering is here, but they neglect to mention a few key things like that the chunk of chocolate that you put in to cool things down to 90° F has to be in temper itself or it won’t work, and that you CAN’T reheat the chocolate to above 91° F or you’ll break temper and have to start all over again. And that, speaking from multiple experiences, is a time-wasting pain.

Here’s the first step- chopping up the chocolate so that it melts evenly.

DSC_7146Next I melt the chocolate. I’m doing this in the microwave this time, though I’ve done it in a double-boiler as well- microwave is much faster and more even though it’s tricky not to overshoot the temperature. I do it in short low-temp rounds of microwaving (the first couple of rounds are longer to start melting) – low-temp being 30% power. As the temperature gets closer I do shorter times and stir and monitor after each round. The temperature will not rise quickly until it reaches the very end, around 108 or so, and then it can shoot up quickly- so CAUTION.

My protege making his own creations- and innovating with it too!

My protege making his own creations- and innovating with it too!

The melted chocolate before it's been tempered.

The melted chocolate before it’s been tempered.

Tempered chocolate is thick, but will still not cling to a fork if you tap it a few times.

Tempered chocolate is thick, but will still not cling to a fork if you tap it a few times.

Smear to test the temper of the chocolate.

Smear to test the temper of the chocolate.

First truffles of 2014!

First truffles of 2014!

Here are a few more.

Here are a few more.

So I’ve completed two batches so far- mocha and mint, about 200 truffles total. This took about 5 lbs of tempered chocolate. I still have one more batch to go. However, I’ve figured out a way to do some rolling tempering of the chocolate in batches, which seems to work pretty well. Essentially I use the cool tempered chocolate left over from the last batch to lower the temperature of the next tempering batch.

So my job for the rest of tonight (after I finish dipping these batches) is to make at least two more batches of ganache for dipping tomorrow night- and checking to see if I’ve got enough chocolate for tomorrow. Then tomorrow I’ll dip the remainder of the truffles- probably another 300. Whew. See you then.

 

 

The Five Days of Truffling: Day 1

Every Christmas for the last 25 years or so (with a couple of exceptions) I’ve made chocolates for my friends and family. These started out as molded chocolates (filled chocolates using molds to shape them) then I graduated to truffles. I’ve been meaning to post about it for the last few years but somehow never get around to it after I’m done. So this year I’m going to blog the five days of truffling!

I’m guessing it’ll take about five days to complete since I have to be done by that day (which coincidentally is my birthday). This year I’ve estimated that I need to make over 600 truffles to fill demand between family, friends, work, schools, and some others. Here’s (some) of my starting materials- including about 15 lbs of chocolate- most of that will be used for tempering and dipping.

DSCN3126

 

The Ganache

The first step is to make the ganache, the mixture of chocolate, cream, and flavorings that will be the creamy center of the truffle after it’s dipped. This is the kinda fun part which can involve thinking up new flavors and new ways to add flavor and it’s really not that fussy- except that you really need to get the balance of cream and chocolate right otherwise the centers will end up too solid to make into balls or too soft to hold their shape. I’m starting with mint and coffee ganaches since these are the standards that I always make every year and I’m pretty confident about making them.

Making the mint ganache

Making the mint ganache

Mocha ganache

Mocha ganache

Adding melted chocolate to the cream (which has boiled and cooled and been strained) is the next step.

DSC_7135

 

 

Next we add the chocolate to the strained cream and whisk together (carefully at first).

Straining the cream after it's cooled

Straining the cream after it’s cooled

Pour in the melted chocolate

Pour in the melted chocolate

Whisk together

Whisk together

 

Now the fun part!

"Flavorings". Yum!

“Flavorings”. Yum!

A little for the ganache- a little for me.

And finally I put it in a container and freeze it at least overnight. Tomorrow it’ll be ready to be scooped out and dipped in tempered chocolate. All told tonight I made 5 batches of ganache and I’m hoping that each batch yields about 100 centers- but it’ll probably be a bit less than that. The other flavors are orange cream (white chocolate), caramel scotch, and an experimental one, pear and blue cheese (white chocolate). I’ll probably add one more tomorrow night too.

Ready for the freezer.

Ready for the freezer.

To be continued…

 

The Mad Scientist Confectioner’s Club

Boxed truffles I made a couple of years ago.

Boxed truffles I made a couple of years ago.

So some of you might be wondering why my blog is named The Mad Scientist Confectioner’s Club since I mostly post about science-y and academic subjects. Well I also make candy. Mostly I make truffles every Christmas for friends and family and I’ve been doing that for nearly 30 years now- hopefully this year I’ll actually get around to posting recipes and procedures I use for those. I also like to make other kinds of candy and bake and cook (here’s a link to the recipes I’ve made up and posted).

I titled my blog (and my Twitter handle too, @BioDataGanache) this way because I see parallels in confectionary willy_wonka_1and science. Blending ideas, using simple ingredients in complex ways, working and reworking recipes, and producing something cool and sweet in the end (hopefully).

or this post I’ve collected a whole list of amazing and science-related candy from around the WonderWebs, channeling up a little bit of the old Willy Wonka. Enjoy!

Holo-frickin-graphic CHOCOLATE!

Holo-frickin-graphic CHOCOLATE!

Holographic chocolate

This is really the recent news item that inspired this post in the first place. This is from a Swiss company that uses specially-developed chocolate molds (like, something that you shape with, not the fungus) to etch microstructures on the surface of the chocolate. These microstructures reflect light in a certain way to give the colorful 3D pattern. Very cool science.

The color-changing flavor, Xamaleon. (Credit: Manual Linares, Cocinatis)

The color-changing flavor, Xamaleon. (Credit: Manual Linares, Cocinatis)

Ice cream that changes colors

OK- so not a candy, but I’ll make an exception for this really cool (cold) confection. A physicist developed this ice cream that changes colors in response to changes in temperatures and pH (acidity) – which means that it changes colors when you lick it! I guess that the trick of how this is done is something he’s not revealing, so hopefully it’s not toxic or anything.

 

poprocksPop rocks

No, eating these candies while drinking a coke won’t blow your head off (at least I don’t THINK it will)- but these, now vintage candies are still pretty interesting. According to this post they are made by allowing the sugar to crystallize under high-pressure CO2. This causes pockets of the harmless gas to be trapped inside the candy. So when it starts melting in your mouth it makes a popping sound as the gas is released.

Syrah ice cream in mid-mix

Syrah ice cream in mid-mix

Wine-flavored ice cream with no alcohol

A winemaker near Portland Oregon used some enological magic to create a wine ice cream with no alcohol and no sugar. I’m not sure how this is accomplished, and I actually like the alcohol in my wine-flavored ice cream, though it did make the freezing process a bit more difficult. Here’s a link to my attempts at making a Syrah ice cream along with my recipe.

 

3D printed confections!

So the idea of a 3D printer is that a print head is controlled by a computer and extrudes some kind of substance that is liquid in the machine and then turns solid after it leaves. For the standard 3D printers this is generally some kind of special plastic, but why not food? In fact MIT students have created a 3D printer that actually prints ice cream! I’ve linked to the video here:

I like the diagram of their contraption to do this too- it really looks like something we would have put together in lab, but ours wouldn’t have produced tasty things. At all.

ice-cream-printer-MIT

Of course you can do this with chocolate as well- which might be a perfect medium for 3D printing because of the ability of tempered chocolate to be liquid one minute and semi-crystalline solid the next, with a small change in temperature. This has actually been done enough that there are a couple of companies Choc Edge and Moving Brands that offer 3D chocolate printing services.

Chocolate Brains! Braaaainnnnsss!

This DIY recipe tells you how you can take an MRI scan of a brain- it could be your own brain- print a 3D latex mold, and make up some chocolate brains that are anatomically correct (at least from the outside). Cool and creepy.

Chocolate zoetrope

A chocolate company in Australia made this incredible chocolate cake that has an animated scene when it spins. I’m betting that some of the parts of the cake might be good to eat, but others might be mostly for show- any cake that is capable of withstanding the g-forces necessary to spin it at high speed may not be that great to eat.

Magic Shell

The ice cream topping is indeed pretty magical. If you’re not familiar with it it’s a syrup that comes in several flavors. Shortly after you drizzle it over ice cream it hardens up forming a crunchy chocolate (or other flavor) shell on the top. According to Chow, the secret of the magic probably lies in the coconut oil in it. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fats, and these will be liquid at room temperature but a solid at lower temperatures. Probably the magic is in how this transition point is tuned with other ingredients in the bottle- normally coconut oil is a solid at 70° F, which might be warmer than some households.

Chocolate itself

Chocolate itself is pretty amazingly complicated. The chemistry of chocolate is complicated; it contains many different compounds including an alkaloid called theobromine, that is a stimulant and a vasodilator, meaning that it increases your heart rate and dilates your blood vessels. In humans theobromine is actually somewhat toxic- you could, in principle, die from an overdose of chocolate. I think that would be pretty unlikely since the LD50 (the dose of a compound that is lethal in 50% of patients) is about 1000 mg/kg – so if I (at ~95 kg) ate dark chocolate (~400 mg theobromine/oz) I would have to eat about 237 oz (the equivalent of about 155 Hershey’s bars- if they were made of dark chocolate) before I would be in the LD50 range. On Amazon I could buy 99% dark chocolate for $4.50 for 3.2 oz- making it about $350 to buy enough chocolate to possibly kill me. Of course, eating all that chocolate would be really difficult. If I were a dog (and about 30 kg) it would take a lot less since the LD50 is 300 mg/kg- so about 9000 mg or about 20 oz of dark chocolate- still a lot, but if the dog is determined (or much smaller and determined) it could be an issue.

It’s history is complicated as well. There was no chocolate as we know it today until about around 1847. The process of making powdered chocolate by removing half the fat and adding alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste was developed by a Dutch chemist in 1828. This produced what is known as Dutch cocao. Soon after, in 1847, Joseph Fry found that he could make chocolate paste by introducing the cacao butter (the removed fat), back in to the chocolate. This has some interesting effects in terms of what you can do with the chocolate.

Tempering chocolate is the process of melting the chocolate to a temperature that breaks the cacao crystals (yes, crystals) then cool the chocolate back down to allow the proper form of crystal to form. It’s a nitpick process that has caused me hours and hours of frustration. However, if you do it right you can then dip your centers (like the truffle ganache) in the pure, tempered chocolate and it will form a hard coating that has a characteristic glossy look to the outside and has a ‘snap’ on the teeth. If you mess up, even by a couple of degrees when you’re reheating the chocolate for dipping you’ll end up with untempered chocolate in your truffles. These will dip great (even easier than tempered chocolate- maybe too easy actually) and will cool to look fine, but then hours to a day later they’ll form streaky grayish lines on the surface and the consistency will be bad- kind of powdery and grainy. The weird thing about it is that the cacao butter in the chocolate (which is some kind of particulate suspension is my guess) can take on about six different types of crystal form (I’m pretty sure they’re using the term ‘crystal’ loosely here). And each of these has different properties for appearance and texture. Amazing. The photo I use for the header of my page is one I took of tempering chocolate.

Light-up lollipops

And here’s one more for the DIYers. You can make your own light-up lollipops. Sounds like tasty fun!

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So thanks for hanging out with me and exploring the intersection of two of my favorite things, candy making and SCIENCE! (OK, so some of it is actually engineering and not really science at all, but still) If you’ve got suggestions for additions let me know in the comments.