last year I had the kind of crazy idea to make chocolate truffles for Christmas after learning how to do it in patisserie class. honestly, it was chocolate hell last year! in class we had only made them a couple times, and that was with 20 students. it was quite a challenge being a one woman chocolate shop for the first time with very little experience. I made all the mistakes last year – one batch of chocolate went out of temper (ruined the whole batch); kitchen was too hot so the chocolate didn’t set; messed up on some of the fillings; smashed lots of chocolates; made a huge mess in the kitchen, etc. etc.
so this year when the holidays were approaching, I was kind of dreading making chocolates again. I couldn’t really give it up though, especially since I bought all the molds last year, plus everyone really liked it last year. to my surprise, it wasn’t hell this year! thankfully, I learned a ton from all my mistakes last year, and I didn’t have any chocolate heartache this year. I actually got a really great yield this year, and the chocolates came out really well. I also didn’t destroy the kitchen. I think a big part of that was I work a lot cleaner and more organized now than I used to (what happens after working full-time in a kitchen for about a year).
I tried to take some pictures so I could write up a bit about the process of making truffles, mainly for my biggest fan, my mom. she likes reading this kind of thing. it is pretty interesting. so, the first thing to know about making chocolates is tempering chocolate. properly tempered chocolate has three qualities:
- smooth taste
it should have all three of these qualities. it shouldn’t be dull or have cocoa butter that has separated (when you see white streaks). it should have a nice snap when you break it. it shouldn’t be gritty, just real smooth. the chocolate we use for this is called couveture chocolate. I use 58% chocolate from the cacao barry brand (what we used in my classes too).
so, how do you temper the chocolate? first, the chocolate has to be melted to 116°-120° F over a double boiler. this is a very specific temperature because that is the temperature where all the crystallization seeds will melt. basically, you need to make sure all the old memories of how to crystallize are melted away.
next, the chocolate needs to be cooled down to 89.9°F. This is a very important number. 90°F doesn’t cut it, your chocolate will not be in temper. it has to hit 89.9°F. that’s why it’s very important to have a good thermometer!
now that you know you hit 89.9°F, you need to make sure the chocolate has a properly tempered seed to make sure it crystallizes correctly. you need to see the seed. if you don’t see anything, you can throw in a small piece of tempered chocolate to act as the seed.
you always want to do a test strip to make sure your chocolate is in temper. you want to make a streak of chocolate with varying thickness. you can wait for it or stick it in the fridge for a minute if you are impatient. if it’s NOT in temper, the thin parts will not solidify, they will stay liquidy.
once the chocolate is in temper, the clock is ticking. that is one of the challenges of chocolate. you have it in the liquid state, but it is on its way towards crystallization. as it cools, it gets thicker and more crystals are forming. the ideal temperature for pouring chocolate in the truffle molds is the high 80’s, like 86-89°F. once you hit 82-84°F, you start to get rapid V-crystal growth, which will make the chocolate hard to pour since it is getting thick. the good news is you can “maintain” the tempered bowl of chocolate by adding a degree or two with some heat, either a torch or a second over the gas burner. you have to make sure you don’t heat it over 89.9°F though, because then it will go out of temper and you have to restart the tempering process.
you quickly pour the chocolate into the mold, making sure to fill all the spaces.
then use a metal scraper to scrape all the excess chocolate off. then you want to bang the mold a bunch of times to try to get any air bubbles to pop so you won’t get little holes in the surface of the chocolate.
you wait a few moments, depending on the internal temperature of the room and how fast the chocolate is crystallizing. you want some of the chocolate to crystallize on the walls of the mold. ideally, the chocolate should be very thin, but not see-through. you don’t want a thick layer because then when you bite the truffle, it will have this thick layer of chocolate. this step is very challenging because it’s not that easy to tell how thick the wall is.
once you think it’s ready, you flip the mold over (different bowl), tap it a little, let the chocolate drain out, then use your metal scraper again while the mold is upside-down to scrape across.
turn the mold right side up again, and let it cool until the chocolate sets.
this brings up the importance of the room temperature in making chocolate. if the room is too cold, the chocolate is going to cool too quickly and you will have to race around like a crazy person trying to work with the chocolate and maintain it. it never really gets cool in Hawaii. I have the opposite issue here. it’s too hot usually! if the room temperature is 85°F, that’s good in a way because your chocolate will stay in temper, but, it’s too hot for it to set! I think the ideal temperature must be around the mid to high 70’s? if I work in the morning, and it is a cooler day, that is perfect. if I start later, I have to turn on the air conditioning or else my chocolate won’t set.
anyway, once you have your molds all set up, you can keep them like that for a little while as long you make sure to wrap them well and keep them in a cool place. once you are ready, you can make the fillings. usually chocolate truffles are filled with cream or butter fillings. most of mine have some cream, corn syrup (in class we used glucose, but I don’t have that), butter, chocolate, and flavoring.
the fillings are also chocolate based, so a lot of the same principles apply. the filling are going to crystallize, so you are working against the clock again. also, it’s important to cool the fillings to 88°F so you don’t melt the chocolate in the molds!
this year’s fillings were coffee, lilikoi, coconut rum, mac nut, pineapple, and green tea. the last two were new this year. I had issues with pineapple since the flavor wasn’t that strong. I am not going to make that one again. I might bring back orange I think.
when the filling is ready, you want to carefully pipe it into the molds. it’s important to try to fill it all in from the bottom so now air bubbles are present. if there are air bubbles, your truffles may go bad. also, you want to make sure no filling touches the top edges or else your truffles won’t seal properly. you also want to fill them the right amount. if it’s too little, you might have a thick layer of chocolate on the bottom. if it’s too much, you will have a hard time sealing it. as you fill, you want to tap the mold so the filling levels.
finally, you need to temper some more chocolate so you can seal the molds. one way to do this is to do the pour method again and scrape. sometimes I don’t fill perfectly though, so then I pipe in the tempered chocolate to seal it.
once your chocolate are all set, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes. what happens is the chocolates will shrink away from the molds, so when you take them out and tap them on the counter, they will pop out! this is kind of a stressful moment because now you will see whether your truffles are any good. everything comes down to this moment! you have to be careful too. make sure not to smash any as you tap. also, this is the only time when it is okay to put your chocolate in the fridge. it is only for a few minutes and just to get them out of the molds. normally you don’t want to put chocolate in the fridge because any water ruins chocolate! condensation will ruin it!
here I have circled some air bubbles you can see on the surface. there’s always room for improvement!
this year’s yield was really good, about 95.3%. it would have been higher too if I didn’t have issues with the pineapple filling. hope everyone enjoyed the chocolates this year!