Yummy Bazaar is continuing the article series about the most frequently asked questions about gourmet foods and traditional ingredients.
In this article, we’ll be answering questions about a chocolate truffle, a sweet treat often associated with luxury and indulgence, and a go-to choice for Valentine’s Day gifts.
What is a Chocolate Truffle?
A chocolate truffle is a type of small chocolate confectionery (some call them candies, while others contest the classification, but we’ll table that debate for now).
Chocolate truffles are made with ganache: a thick and rich cream made by mixing melted chocolate, dairy cream, and butter to create a smooth, thick, and heavy paste. Once molded into various forms, the ganache is covered with other ingredients. Dusting the confectionery with cocoa powder is considered the most traditional option, but chopped nuts, espresso powder, melted chocolate, etc. With the rise of handmade luxury chocolate, more unique flavors, like chocolate truffles dusted with matcha, candied ginger, cinnamon sugar, and even cookie crumbs, have started to pop up.
Each chocolate truffle is most often shaped like a bite-sized ball. There’s no universal guideline as to what size or shape a truffle should be, but most manufacturers adhere to the unwritten rule of keeping each truffle about three-quarters of an inch to an inch in diameter. Typical truffle shapes, aside from balls, include domes, cones, squares, and rectangles. While possible, more complex shapes (ex., stars, hearts, flowers, etc.) are uncommon, especially among industrial manufacturers.
What is a Truffle vs. Chocolate Truffle?
A truffle is an edible fungus, highly prized in the world of fine dining for its distinct earthy, savory, and musky flavor with a bit of pungency. Truffle fungi grow underground and are challenging to cultivate, harvest, and transport. They’re rare, hard to find (must be hunted by specially trained dogs or pigs), and have a short shelf life, which makes the entire process of getting them from the ground to the table time-consuming and labor-intensive. All of this has led to the demand for truffles quickly outpacing the supply and has led to their high cost, as well as their association with luxury and decadence.
A chocolate truffle has nothing to do with truffle the fungus. They’re not connected in any way aside from the proposed visual resemblance. Interestingly, chocolate truffles are sometimes called “chocolate mushrooms” due to their association with truffle fungi, but that’s their only connection.
Why are Chocolate Truffles Called Truffles?
The origin of the name “chocolate truffle” for the confectionery is not definitively known, and it’s unclear whether the creator named them after the truffle fungus or if a particularly sharp-tongued customer coined the term.
The most popular theory claims that the name was chosen due to the candies’ resemblance to the fungus. Chocolate truffles were initially typically shaped into rounds or ovals and had a rough, irregular surface due to the cocoa dusting. The appearance, along with their rich, buttery texture, apparently resembled the earth-covered truffle fungus so strongly that the name stuck without much contest.
It certainly helped that truffles, considered gourmet or luxury chocolate items, are highly prized for their rich, complex flavors and cost, on average, more expensive than regular chocolate candy (similar to truffle fungus).
How is a Chocolate Truffle Made?
To make a chocolate truffle, first, the chocolatier needs to create a ganache. The basic ganache is created with just chopped chocolate (typically baking or semi-sweet chocolate) and heavy cream combined at a 1:1 ratio. The cream is first warmed to a simmer (not boil!) and then poured over the chocolate. Once the heat softens the chocolate, the mixture is whipped until smooth.
Ganache for chocolate truffles typically contains other ingredients as well, most commonly butter. Butter acts both as a stabilizer, preventing the ganache from separating, and as a preservative, extending the ganache’s shelf life. Its addition also tends to result in a richer, creamier flavor. Various spirits like rum and brandy or flavored liqueurs like Amaretto and Cointreau are sometimes added to add complexity to the ganache.
Once the ganache has been prepared, it’s left to set in a refrigerator. Once set, the ganache is rolled into small balls (or ovals, or just cut into squares and rectangles). The truffles are then coated in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, etc., or dipped into melted chocolate for a thicker, sturdier coating.
What Makes a Chocolate Candy a Truffle? Are Truffles Just Ganache?
No, while the chocolate ganache is the primary ingredient in a chocolate truffle, the truffle is not just ganache. In fact, ganache can be used to make a variety of chocolate confectioneries, not just truffles.
A confectionery can be considered a truffle if it meets specific criteria primarily related to its texture and ingredients. The ganache needs to be allowed to harden to a certain degree (firm but moldable), shaped into a bite-sized (about an inch in diameter) candy, and then covered with another ingredient from the outside. Whether that ingredient is powdered (like cocoa, espresso, or matcha), crunchy (like chopped nuts, coconut flakes, or sprinkles), or solid (like melted chocolate) is secondary, but the ganache center must have a cover layer for the confectionery to be considered a proper truffle.
What Does a Chocolate Truffle Taste Like?
Chocolate truffles are supposed to have a very rich and creamy taste with a smooth and velvety texture. They’re often associated with luxury chocolate and are supposed to be made with high-grade ingredients, resulting in a very deep and intense flavor. Preferably, the chocolate flavor in a truffle should be complex with distinctly earthy and nutty notes, with floral and fruity undertones. This complexity is often augmented by mixing other flavoring ingredients like spirits, liqueurs, chopped nuts, etc., into the ganache before forming the truffle and choosing an intensely flavorful outer cover layer like dutch cocoa powder and Arabica espresso.
Who Invented Chocolate Truffles?
The exact origins of chocolate truffles are unknown. Their invention is most commonly ascribed to two French chefs that operated at the beginning of the 20th century: Auguste Escoffier and Louis Dufour. But there’s no solid evidence that either of them was the first to make the iconic candy, so the stories are considered apocryphal.
Auguste Escoffier is the more well-known name out of the two. Escoffier is an influential figure in French haute cuisine, having simplified and modernized the old elaborate, ornate cooking style and having codified the recipes for the five mother sauces. Escoffier was referred to as the King of Chefs and Chef of Kings at the height of his career.
According to the story, he invented the chocolate truffle sometime around the 1920s in an accident. The story goes that either Escoffier himself or his student accidentally poured hot cream into the bowl of chopped chocolate. In an attempt not to waste the precious ingredients, the chef formed the mass into balls, dusted them with cocoa, and named them after the prized fungi.
Another version attributes their creation to Louis Dufour. Dufour came from a well-known patisserie family that owned a famous shop in Chambray, France. On the fateful Christmas Day of 1895, Louis Dufour sold out his entire reserves earlier than expected. Not to let his customers go home empty-handed, he needed something that could be made quickly, in a large batch, and with simple ingredients, any patissier would have on hand. Those ingredients were chocolate and cream. He mixed them together, let the ganache firm up, and then rolled it out in bite-sized balls, covering them with more chocolate. And so the chocolate truffles were born.
Why are Chocolate Truffles Expensive?
Chocolate truffles can be expensive for several reasons, including the cost of base ingredients, the production process, and their reputation.
Firstly, even when produced on an industrial level, gourmet truffles require high-quality chocolate, cream, and butter, all of which can be expensive by themselves.
Secondly, truffles are often labor-intensive to make, even in large batches at an industrial level, due to the need to pay attention to fine details like ingredient quality control and ratio, specific temperature both at the production and storage facilities, and intricate timing of the process.
Handmade truffles are even more strenuous and time-consuming to make, driving up the cost.
And last but not least, the reputation of the truffles as luxury chocolate confectionery often contributes to their high price, as consumers tend to be willing to splurge for products they consider premium-grade.
How Can You Tell a Good Quality Chocolate Truffle?
A high-quality chocolate truffle must have a firm, but smooth and creamy texture, without any lumps or graininess. The truffle should be able to hold its shape if squeezing it with your fingers (at max, it should slightly flatten, responding to the pressure), but easily melt in your mouth.
As for the flavor, it should be rich and intense, but well-balanced and not too sweet (excessive sweetness can diminish the depth and complexity). Chocolate should be the primary driver of the flavor, but it should have undertones with nutty, earthy, or floral aspects. Additional flavoring ingredients added to the ganache should augment the chocolate and not overpower it.
What’s the Difference Between Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate Bonbons?
A chocolate bonbon is not as well-known a term as a chocolate truffle, which often leads to the former being mistakenly referred to as the latter.
Indeed, they often look the same: as small, bite-sized balls decorated with other ingredients. But in essence, they’re very different. Bonbons are molded chocolates with soft, often non-chocolate centers, like caramel, fruit puree, praline, etc. While bonbons are most often either round or dome-shaped, as they’re made via molding, it’s not uncommon to give them more intricate shapes like hearts, flowers, seashells, etc.
Truffles, in contrast, are made entirely out of soft chocolate cream and most often covered in a non-sturdy coating.
Is Ferrero Roche a Chocolate Truffle?
No, though Ferrero Roche has a creamy chocolate filling, it isn’t made with chocolate ganache, so it cannot be classified as a chocolate truffle. If anything, Ferrero Roche is a type of chocolate bonbon, though it’s seldom referred to as such.
How are You Supposed to Eat a Chocolate Truffle?
Chocolate truffles should be enjoyed slowly, preferably as a dessert after a meal, when you have the time to fully indulge in the experience, and not as a quick snack.
You should eat the truffle in one or two bites, but let the chocolate rest in your mouth until it melts. Chewing the chocolate simply doesn’t allow for the full complexity of the flavor profile to flourish, and the most alluring part of the truffle - the combination of intense taste with a delicate and creamy texture - will not be adequately demonstrated.
What Do You Pair with a Chocolate Truffle?
Chocolate truffles are most commonly eaten on their own, typically paired with only a cup of intense and unsweetened espresso, with the bitter coffee flavor to balance out the sweetness of the truffle and bring out the chocolate’s rich, creamy taste.
But if you prefer your coffee on the sweeter side, you can pair it with a cup of cappuccino or even unsweetened black tea. In this case, it would be preferable not to add other ingredients to the coffee (like flavored syrups) and skip the flavored teas, as the truffle flavor may become overwhelmed.
Another typical pairing would be a sweet red wine, with the sweetness of the wine balancing out the bitterness of the chocolate and the tannins enhancing the rich, creamy texture.
Chocolate truffles can be paired with tart fruits that typically go well with dark chocolate, like oranges, raspberries, and cherries.
Last but not least, while it’s not particularly common, you can use chocolate truffles to enhance other desserts with less complex flavor profiles: ex., topping ice cream scoops with them.
How Long Do Chocolate Truffles Last?
The shelf life of packaged chocolate truffles will depend on several factors, including the ingredients used in the truffles, the storage conditions, and the temperature. However, on average, packaged chocolate truffles last for several months (the exact shelf life differs among the manufacturers, so always check the label).
Fresh chocolate truffles have a relatively short shelf life compared to packaged truffles, as they’re made with perishable ingredients, such as heavy cream and fresh butter. Fresh truffles can last, on average, 5 to 7 days if properly stored.
How Do You Store Chocolate Truffles?
Chocolate truffles should be kept in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources, as high temperatures can cause the chocolate to melt and spoil. The truffles should preferably be stored in an air-tight container, as oxygen exposure can accelerate their flavor and texture quality decline.
Freezing chocolate truffles is not recommended, as extreme temperatures can cause the texture to become grainy and the flavor to change. Additionally, the moisture that can build up in a freezer can cause the chocolate to bloom, which will cause the surface of the truffles to become dull and mottled.