I’m starting this year’s blogging with a Victorian moral tale. Yes, there is a Rash Person who makes foolish choices. The consequences are severe and immediate. Yet, humbled by her thoughtless hubris, she sees the error of her ways. She does not give up. No. Through hard work and perseverance she is able to overcome the obstacles her actions have placed in her path, even though at first they seemed insurmountable. Our story concludes with our heroine in a Methodist church, basking in the warm cheer of good friends and celebrating her newfound piety. (Okay, maybe the church part didn’t happen.) Our story concludes with our heroine, slightly tipsy, sitting at a dinner table in Camberwell happily watching her friends enjoy her salted chili chocolate truffles. Later there was a bonfire and more champagne.
So here’s the story. I’ve been obsessing, mildly, on chili and chocolate. My favourite confectionery in the world, bar none, is Theo Chocolate’s Ghost Chile Salted Caramels. They are utterly extraordinary: the first taste sensation is the salt crystals against the slightly bitter dark chocolate. Then the smooth soft caramel sort of spreads itself on your tongue, and then, as the fat dissolves, there is a slow hot breath of chili at the back of your throat.
So when I was invited to a New Years Eve party, I decided to make chili chocolate truffles. Truffles are very, very easy to make. Much easier than making a soft butter caramel and enrobing it in perfectly-tempered dark chocolate. Truffles are just a ganache that has been cooled, rolled into balls, and then (traditionally) dusted in cocoa powder so they look like real truffles, i.e., the kind pigs snuffle out in French and Italian woods. A ganache, in its purest form, is simply cream mixed with melted chocolate. But most online recipes for chili chocolate truffles frustrate me. They just don’t have enough heat. Maybe there’s a timid ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, which is mixed into the chocolate ganache and doesn’t do more than gently tickle your tastebuds with the suggestion of heat. So I thought: why not bump up the chili? And then enrobe the truffle in dark chocolate, and sprinkle on more chili and a few grains of salt to throw the flavours into contrast? So far so good.
But then I thought, why do we scald cream for ganache? The chocolate does melt better and more smoothly if you add the hot cream to the chocolate (or the chocolate to the hot cream) rather than melting the chocolate first and then adding the cream. But I had bought Jersey cream. What if scalding it destroyed its lovely buttery flavour? I rapidly did some online research and found a post on scalding milk that said,
Many older recipes called for you to scald milk . . . Scalding served two purposes, to kill potentially harmful bacteria in the milk, and to destroy enzymes that keep the milk from thickening in recipes. Pasteurization, however, accomplishes both of those goals, and since almost all store-bought milk in Western countries is pasteurized these days, scalding is essentially an unnecessary step.
Done. I wouldn’t scald the cream. So I chopped the chocolate and melted it in a double boiler. Then I added the cream, mixing all the while.
I mixed more vigorously, which just made matters worse. This “ganache” was disgusting, and unusable. Understand, I had just melted about a pound of excellent quality dark chocolate. The thought of simply throwing it away pained me. I put the whole bowl in the freezer, then pulled it out and mixed again. Even worse. Back to the internet for more research. A lot of people said if your ganache breaks, you should give up and start over. That answer was NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I continued looking. Then I found a website on how to rescue a broken ganache.
Chocolate tempers at 88-90 degrees Fahrenheit (31-32 degrees Celsius). Essentially, by adding the cool cream to the warm melted chocolate I had wildly destabilized the molecules. I had to restore the equilibrium. This website said I should heat half the ganache to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and cool the other half to 60 degrees, and then slowly combine them. The mixture would return to 90 degrees, and equilibrium would be restored. I followed this advice, grunting and whisking furiously away at my chocolate. Still nothing doing. The temperature wasn’t right, or maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I spread the mixture into a flat dish, put it in the fridge for several minutes, then pulled it out and whisked again. Something miraculous began to happen. The stubborn granules began to get smaller. I continued to whisk, muttering “ah” and “yes.” Then . . . success! I could see the transformation happening, as the fat slowly incorporated into the chocolate and ultimately (with about ten more minutes of vigorous whisking) my ganache was restored to silky smoothness.
400 grams (about a pound) excellent-quality dark chocolate (I used a mixture of Valhrona and Green and Black)
250 grams (about a cup) cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
250 grams couverture chocolate (high-quality cooking chocolate that has a higher percentage of cocoa butter (32-39%) – check the wrapper of the cook’s chocolate that you buy)
Red chili flakes, pounded into bits (or you can use a spice shaker to filter out the large pieces – my method)
Fleur de sel
(You will also need toothpicks or bamboo skewers.)
Finely chop or grate 400 grams of chocolate and transfer to a bowl. Add the two tablespoons caster sugar. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, scald the cream (heat it to just before boiling) and then pour it over the chocolate (or, after you remove the cream from the heat, slowly add the chocolate to the cream), stirring all the while, until chocolate is thoroughly melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cayenne pepper, then pour the lot into a shallow dish, and transfer to your refrigerator to cool for a minimum of one to two hours, or until the ganache is set.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or spoon, scoop out the ganache by about double tablespoonfuls and roll it between your palms into balls. If the ganache gets too soft to work with, simply return it to the refrigerator for a few minutes. Place the balls on the parchment paper and return to the refrigerator to cool for about an hour.
Line another baking sheet or board with parchment paper. Melt the couverture chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water until smooth. Then, using two toothpicks, swirl the truffles in the chocolate until covered and transfer to the parchment lined sheet. (Don’t let them touch one another.) You can use one of the toothpicks to smooth chocolate over the little toothpick hole in the top. Sprinkle each truffle with a few flakes of chili and a few grains of fleur de sel. Allow to cool for at least an hour at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill until the chocolate is hardened.