Sunday, December 23, 2012

'Tis The Season

It is easy I think to become jaded by the commercialism in the holiday season. Yet, when you leave all the clamor and noise that rush of activity behind by turning off the t.v. and radio, staying away from the mall long enough to catch your breath, there is a silence and quiet that I feel located in this time of year.  The earth it going to sleep.  Much of life is slowing down.  Even the animals slow down and sleep more, resting as their summer feasting has lain up stores of fat as the leaner times come.  Snow falls in some parts of the country which muffles sound and brings an even greater quietness.

It is in times like this that I consider why we have had winter festivals, feast days and events that helped to bring light and warmth to a darkening world as  earth moves further from the sun and the days grows shorter.  These events I like.  I don't care for the affiliations involved because I sense the impulse goes beyond a birth or an event in our past.  We all share I think some sense or desire for wanting to cuddle up close to the fire or cocoon a little, drink warm drinks, light candles, and listen to the great emptiness that comes not so much, for me, as a sad thing, but as one of the periods for renewal to come as life will surely burst forth with such vigor as buds gasp the new air and the soil warms to bear all kinds of life from insects emerging from egg sacks to seeds sprouting. Winter is an expression of the seasons that take place in the soul, and we need this expression of the seasons on the outside to help mirror the changing seasons within. For those who have seasonal change, it is a sense of how one energy transmutes into another, how one energy phase assists another, how one slips away trusting another will surely come and do its work.  It is like a dance, and it is little wonder that we like to personify the seasons.  Winter is a Jack Frost type while the Summer is a ripe and child-bearing Goddess whose hair flows out into the roots and rivers and summery spider webs that glisten in the full day sun. Winter, then, is a time for reflection, for going quiet as earth goes quiet.  We tell stories, we look deep within and consider the harvest of excitement that took place in those often too short Spring and Summer months.  So in places like this, we have for many thousands, tens of thousands of years, had festivals, feasts, that took place in the dead of night and in the deep middle of winter.  There is something exciting and very different from a fest night taken on a December night then one taken in least here in the Appalachian mountains where the Blue Ridge meets the Allegheny mountain chain.

It is against such a backdrop that I like to take time and make things.  I stop and make some things for the house and the Christmas tree to make it look even more festive.  One of my children and I made ornaments out of clay; funny little penguins that I think would be a great hit in the gallery once we get them glazed and fired. I took time and made a short series of very elegant ornaments to fill out the tree.  A teapot was made out of raku clay and was fired. The house has been decorated with garlands and it smells of pine and cinnamon.  Candles are placed everywhere to help light the space when electric lights just wont do.

I like fresh food, too.  More than ever. I think that when it comes to food that when we eat in moderation, even things that we might think are somehow too indulgent or not good for us really aren't.  We were told years ago about how bad eggs and fats in meat were, only to learn afer a fed decades of eating margarine that this thinking was all wrong.  I say eat what you want, observe moderation, enjoy what you eat and sometimes, yes, that means eating something with rich creamery butter, cream, and sugar. If you can't be moved, I suggest you skip this little article because the truth is, its all about indulgence, butter, sugar, and cream.

Enter the Cosmic Truffle....

I got into making truffles after my daughter and I picked up some Godiva truffles in a local store about a month ago, and I was saddened to find what poor quality they were from the same ones I had about 18 years ago.  The recipe I am including brings back the wonderful quality I remember dancing on my taste buds (and at a fraction of the price!).  

Chocolate Truffles
 Makes 12 to 30 truffles depending on size

12 oz semisweet morsels (get the best quality you can find; Girhadelli and Lindt are some of the best)
1/2 cup heavy cream, ultrapasteurized
1 tsp pure vanilla

Place morsels in a pan and add the cream and vanilla.  Turn heat on medium to low being careful not to get too hot.  Mix the ingredients slowly as they all melt in together.  If the chocolate bubbles, it is too hot.  A whisk works well in breaking down the chips/morsels quickly.  This will become what is called a ganache, which is a smooth and rich sauce that will have your mind reeling with its possibilities once you take a taste of it warm.  Once mixed evenly, take off the heat and allow to cool on the counter for about thirty minutes. Then refrigerate for up to four hours or until the mix has hardened enough to scoop into balls.

Rolling the truffles

Have a small bowl or plate with enough cocoa sifted into it to roll and coat the truffles once they have been rolled into balls. Have another plate or small tray that can be placed into the refrigerator later once the truffles have been made. You can also use nutmeats for rolling also. These should be ground into small pieces.  Nutmeats often benefit from being roasted in the oven for 5-8 minutes even if they have already been roasted.  You can use peanut, pecan, walnut, macadamia, and any other nut that you find that you like on truffles ( including toasted coconut!).

Bear in mind that the cooler the truffle mix is, the less messy it will be on your hands.  Having said that, your hands will get coated with a fine layer of chocolate anyway.  Some choose to use rubber gloves. If you go sans gloves, make sure your hands are washed well.  Having a helper who can either scoop the ganache and roll the balls or to roll the truffles in nuts or cocoa can be a good way to go about making these confections.

Scoop up enough of the chocolate and roll in your hands to make a ball.  The key to consistently sized truffles is in the scooping. Some say using a melon baller helps with portioning in a more exact way.

Once the truffles have been prepared, place them in the refrigerator to cool and keep.  I like to place the truffles in the super small paper baking cups used for miniature cupcakes which are often found in the baking section of the store.  These make them easier to handle post-rolling and makes it easier to place into small gift boxes for packaging.

Truffles will stay good using this recipe for approximately two weeks....IF they last that long!

Additions and Modifications

Truffles dipped in chocolate candy shell then drizzled with a vanilla shell

There is a lot that you can do to dress up a truffle.  I think they are perfect roled in cocoa, but there are all kinds of things that you can roll a truffle in to dress it up and to add to its flavor which include a range of different nuts and candy shells.  I think that when it comes to presentation, these varieties help to dress things up some and add excitement to the eye.

 If you want to use coconut, I recommend roasting it in the oven for a few minutes, long enough to give it a browned look.  If you can get unsweetened coconut flake, this will brown more evenly since sugar will burn quickly.  Watch the coconut in either case to observe its roasting.  Every oven is different and coconut can go from perfect to singed in a matter of seconds!  I am going to try a coconut powder I found in my Asian market that I think might be very interesting both as a coating as well as a mixture in with the truffles for texture.

I will add that I think that for my taste, coconut works very well for white chocolate truffles which are made the same way that the chocolate truffles are except white chocolate is used instead of the semisweet chocolate.  They also add a different color that stands out amongst a the sea of brown.

 You can add the zest of orange to your cream and vanilla mix to add a nice compliment to the truffles.  Add the orange before adding the chocolate.  Some strain out the zest while some like to keep it in for added flavor and texture. Use at least one orange, but two will give a richer flavor.  Allow this to simmer for several minutes on low in order to get a good infusion of flavor.  Bear in mind that this may also reduce the cream which can make the truffles stiffer to handle and eat.  Either add several tablespoons more cream or work the truffles in the rolling stage at a warmer temperature.  Reduced cream truffles will have a longer shelf life (up to a month for stiff truffles).

A note on using orange:  I like to use organic oranges since oranges get sprayed with a lot of chemicals to protect them from fungal infection.

A very nice addition is two teaspoons of instant coffee into the cream.  These make a rich mocha truffle that might well be even better then straight truffles.  I recommend this addition!  You can use the cheapest instant coffee available in this case.   

Cinnamon is a nice addition to truffles and can be added in small amounts to add extra richness or flavor.   Use less than half a teaspoon, and three pinches might even be just enough for a subtle addition of flavor when you don't want to overwhelm the truffles with cinnamon. 

Rum and  flavored liqueurs can be used for adding different hints of flavor.   Almond extract can also be a nice addition as well. Amaretto is very nice and works really well with coffee.   Extracts are strong, so add small amounts and test for your own taste with half a teaspoon as a starting point (now taste and adjust as necessary!).  Two teaspoons of flavored liqueurs is a good place to start.

You can also try adding cayenne pepper if you like a hot kick.  How much is enough?  This will be up to you since tastes vary.   I recommend using a solid piece of cayenne pepper if you can get it in order to infuse the heat into your truffles.  This way, you can remove the cayenne from the mix.  In the case of infusing any addition to the truffle recipe, add the infusion TO the cream without adding the morsels if you want to remove the remnants of the infuser. 

One final addition to consider:  the truffle can be frozen and then dipped in a chocolate candy shell which is a nice way to present the truffle while also making it cleaner to handle once dipped. Freezing the already rolled truffle will be necessary for this step since the chocolate shell must be heated for dipping.  This gives the truffle a mix of chocolate with the semi-sweet richness in a very pleasing way.  These shells can be found in the baking section of your grocery and most often come in a brick or tiled brick pattern for breaking into smaller pieces.  Most often they come in chocolate and vanilla.  You can take some of the warm vanilla and press through a decorating bag or press to give your truffles dipped in the chocolate shell a refined look.  Or you can take the warmed shell and drizzle it with your finger or off the side of a knife like I have done in the pictures you see here.

It is true that truffles ascend into mystic levels of wonder and delight.....

Whatever you choose or don't choose to add to the recipe, a truffle in its primal state is a glory to behold and even more glorious to eat!

I think that presentation is important.  I think we eat with our eyes as much as we do with our mouths, so I go to places like Dollar Tree and I find boxes that are perfect for placing the truffles in them and giving them as gifts.  I think it helps to show the level of care and time taken.  The truffle might only last a few moments when eating it, but the gesture lasts like a warm glow in the hearts who receive such a gift.  The boxes I found were in both red and gold foil and were just deep enough for the truffles to rest in.  You could also buy Chinese take-out boxes, line them with tissue paper to separate the layers (use several layers to act as a cushion and separator) and pack in a lions share of cocoa covered, nut covered, and candy-coated truffles for a glorious buffet of rich sweet delight!

So I hope that this helps to get the wheels turning in your heart and head about fun things that you could make, or ways to make your holiday season a little more special and fun.  And if you are wrung out from all of the hurdy-gurdy of the season, consider this idea as a great Valentine primer when February rolls around!


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