Another January arrives; another Christmas now lives on in memory and hearts, only. Christmas time is truly the best time of the year. The weather, though not exactly frigid, is less harshly hot. Houses and lawns sparkle with brightly colored lawn decoration and lights. Selections from Handel’s Messiah flow through the air in random places. My favorite Bible verses from the books of Isaiah and St Luke are highlighted in the liturgical readings of Advent. I can finally watch the original The Bishop’s Wife (1947), the original Christmas in Connecticut (1945), the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Scrooged (1988), A Christmas Story (1983), and Elf (2003) openly without comment from family and friends. Limited edition Christmas products show up on store shelves, and we indulge in delicious, favorite foods we cook, bake, and eat only during this most glorious of seasons.
This year, we added a new treat to our canon of Christmas comestibles: gluten-free cookie coated peppermint truffles. For years I’ve made truffles by hand, but only at Christmas time. I used a fairly easy truffle recipe, rather unsophisticated but easy enough for Jacob, Christopher, and Elizabeth to help with the making and rolling when they were younger. Over the past year, however, I have devoured and re-devoured a used copy of Alice Medrich’s combination memoir and cookbook Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (2003). Inspired by Medrich’s work to create classic ganache truffles, I decided to use her technique and recipe to make some classic truffles for Christmas. Beginning in November, I made a couple of practice batches. I wanted to know what I was doing, come Christmas time. For my first attempt at truffle-making, I made a dark chocolate cognac ganache, which I coated in dark chocolate, then rolled in pumpkin pie spice. These turned out pretty well, actually; the centers were velvety and the flavor combination was scrumptious .
For the second batch, I made another dark chocolate Kahlua ganache filling, which I coated in dark chocolate and then rolled in a mixture of Ceylon cinnamon and natural cacao. On top of each of these cocoa-cinnamon rolled truffles, I pressed a dark chocolate-covered espresso bean. This batch of truffles, although seriously to-die-for delicious, were flawed. The ganache centers were a bit curdled. Since I was experimenting with these first two batches of truffles, I didn’t bother to photograph any of the process; sadly, I cannot include these truffles in this blog post. An image of the problematic ganache centers of my second attempt at true truffle-making would be helpful at this point!
I did some ganache trouble-shooting before I attempted to make the peppermint truffles I had in mind for our traditional Christmas buffet, and figured out my mistake with my cocoa-cinnamon Kahlua truffles. My ganache split (yes, one can split ganache!). I was extra careful before I made my Christmas truffles, and I did more research to be sure I didn’t split the truffle centers again. While gathering more information about the steps to take to ensure perfect ganache, I found that Medrich has updated her recommendation for forming perfect ganache. For these peppermint truffles, I used the food processor method of ganache emulsion. It worked perfectly. The centers were super melt-in-your mouth creamy! The contrasting, yet complementary, textures of the cookie crumb coating, the crisp snap of the dark chocolate coating, and the light, creamy truffle center of these truffles is amazing. It’s the kind of tasting experience that makes one close her eyes to savor the feel and flavor of each bite. No kidding. These truffles are that delectable – yet SO easy to make.
Before I get to the recipe portion of this post, I need to mention something about the quality of chocolate necessary for excellent truffle making. Medrich and other chocolatiers warn against using chocolate chips for making quality truffles. Chocolate chips and chunks are made with less cocoa butter than other chocolates so that they hold their shape when baked into cookies and cakes. This specific purpose makes chips and chunks too thick and hard to handle when melted. Conversely, pastilles, buttons, pistoles, callets, and ribbons are chocolates that are already tempered and made specifically for melting.
Additionally, these quality chocolates come are labeled in percentages, which indicates the total percentage of weight in the chocolate that comes from the cocao bean. Chocolate in the 60% to 70% work well for making hand-dipped chocolates. Percentages labeled on chocolates can be misleading, however, so you will want to be familiar with the chocolate you choose for your truffles, to make sure it is to your liking.
White chocolate is a little complicated. Most of the icky sweet, flavorless stuff that passes for white chocolate on the grocery aisle is not really white chocolate. Well, technically even white chocolate isn’t really chocolate, at least according to the United States Food and Drug Administration, for it lacks the chocolate liquor – the blend of cocoa butter and dry cocoa solids – necessary for it to be defined as chocolate. The grocery aisle type of “white chocolate,” however, contains undesirable ingredients (such as palm or some other type of vegetable oil), and not enough of what makes white chocolate pass for chocolate (cocoa butter). True white chocolate contains only sugar, cocoa butter, milk, or cream. It’s made by the same manufacturing process as milk chocolate, only without the dry cocoa solids. White chocolate with cocoa butter has a better flavor and consistency for baking and cooking than the products that contain alternate oils.
I use nothing but award-winning El Rey ICOA white chocolate in my baking and cooking. I prefer the pastilles to the bars. The smaller pieces are easier to melt. The largest demand for cocoa butter is from the cosmetic, rather than the food, industry. For this reason, the majority of cocoa butter is deoderized so that it has a neutral aroma, and the majority of white chocolate is made with deoderized cocoa butter. El Rey white chocolate, however, is made with undeoderized cocoa butter. The flavor of the cacao pod is noticeable, which gives the flavor of El Rey’s white chocolate an interesting earthy note.
One can order fine melting chocolates online, or find them in specialty stores. The Central Market locations in Austin and San Antonio carry El Rey and Valhrona pastilles, buttons, bars, etc in the bulk section (how awesome can a store get?).
Some of the Whole Foods locations in both cities carry the Valhrona and El Rey chocolate in bar form. I buy my El Rey chocolates from HEB, since I prefer the pastilles to the bars. As a resident of South Texas, I am p-r-e-t-t-y pleased to have local access to these excellent chocolates. Most of the year, our hot, humid, to scorching, humid weather precludes anyone getting a shipment of chocolates delivered from on online source, unless she wants to add the cost of refrigerated shipping to the cost of the chocolates). Wherever you get your chocolate, make sure it’s not in bloom (the gray color that appears on the surface of chocolate when the cocao fat separates from the rest of the chocolate – it’s still ok to eat, but it will have to be re-tempered with an already-tempered chocolate before it can be used for coating the truffle center).
About melting the chocolate: Medrich says that microwave melting is A-OK! Yippee! No messing with a water bath or a double-boiler (don’t you just LOVE Alice Medrich?)! Although the water bath method (placing a heat-proof bowl of chocolate into a wide skillet to melt over barely simmering water) is Medrich’s method of choice, she says about microwave melting:
It’s clean and dry, so there is no risk of splashing or dripping water. It works perfectly as long as you zap in stages, and [sic] especially important, always stir in between whether the chocolate looks melted or not: Never [sic] try to melt the chocolate all in one zap.
Medrich’s three rules to remember about the successful melting of chocolate are to avoid moisture, which will cause the chocolate to seize; chop the chocolate, which will help the chocolate melt faster over lower heat; and pay attention while frequently stirring the chocolate. Always dip your finger in the chocolate to test it. If the chocolate is hot enough that you have to pull your finger away, you’ve over-heated it.
A couple of notes about this recipe: because I use quality chocolate (El Rey 61% dark chocolate), I use the radical shortcut to tempering I read about in this article on the Fine Cooking website. The purpose of tempering is to maintain the sheen and crisp snap of the chocolate for such things as hand-dipped candies and chocolate decorations. When chocolate is melted and then cooled correctly, it forms the beta crystals that allow the chocolate to harden with a shiny surface and firm texture that snaps when broken (or bitten into). Additionally, I did not use a thermometer to test the temperature of my tempered chocolate. As Medrich stresses to finger-test the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot (though still uses a thermometer), Alexandra Whisnant, chocolatier and owner of chocolate company gâté comme des filles, uses a similar method to test the chocolate temperature without a thermometer.
I used gluten-free Mi-Del Peppermint Cremes to coat these truffles, given that I made them for Christmas, but other types of gluten-free chocolate cookies would work, as well as any other flavor extract than peppermint.
One more shout out to Alice Medrich, whose book Flavor Flours is a must-have for anyone who bakes and cooks gluten-free, as well as for any foodie in general. With the recipes in this book, Medrich draws upon the unique characteristics of eight gluten-free flours to enhance the recipes in which they appear. She gives detailed information about the properties of each flour, as well as instruction in the best way to use these flours. I am working my way through the recipes in Flavor Flours, and I’m sure at least one or two of them will appear in a blog post on this site sometime this year.
Gluten-Free Cookie Coated Peppermint Truffles
12 oz of El Rey ICOA white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 to 1 tsp pure peppermint extract, according to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream (without additives, such as Mill-King or Kalona SuperNatural)
1 1/4 lbs El Rey or Valhrona dark chocolate for coating
1 9 oz box – Gluten-Free Mi-Del Candy Cane Cremes, crushed to fine crumbs in a food processor
For the Ganache:
-Line a shallow baking pan with plastic wrap with pieces long enough to hang over the edge of the pan.
-In a food processor, pulse the white chocolate until crumb-like.
-In a small sauce pan, bring the cream to just barely boiling, being careful not to
over-cook and scorch.
-Remove the cream from the heat and add the peppermint extract.
-With the food processor on, slowly pour the hot cream through the feed tube, onto
the white chocolate crumbs.
-Process the cream and white chocolate until the mixture is thoroughly smooth.
-Scrape the ganache into the prepared pan. Let cool to room temperature, without
-When the ganache has cooled, fold the over-hanging plastic wrap ends over the
-Leave the plastic-wrap covered ganache at room temperature for several hours, or
overnight,until it’s firm enough to be scooped.
*According to Alice Medrich, if you need to hurry the setting of the ganache, you can refrigerate it, but the texture of the truffles will not be as silken. Once the ganache has set at room temperature, however, putting it in the fridge won’t hurt it. It can be refrigerated for a couple of days, or be frozen for up to two months. If the ganache has been refrigerated or frozen, it needs to warm at room temperature until it’s consistency is pliable enough to be scooped or piped.
Shaping the Truffles
-Use a miniature ice cream scoop or a melon-baller to form 1/2 to 1 inch balls of
-If necessary, use your thumbs or fingers to smooth the ganache into a ball as you
release it from the scoop.
-Place the ganache centers on a shallow pan lined with wax or parchment paper,
leaving a little space between each center.
-Let the centers stand at room temperature until their surface is dry and crusty; a
minimum of two hours (I let my centers sit over-night).
Dipping and Rolling the Truffles
-When the centers are set (dry and crusty), melt and temper the dark chocolate for
-Place the chocolate in a microwave safe dish.
-Zap the chocolate only 20 seconds at a time, stirring the chocolate well after
each zap, even when the chocolate doesn’t seem to be melting at first.
-Continue to zap in 20 second increments until about about 2/3 of the chocolate is
-As you stir between zaps, finger-test the chocolate to make sure it’s not getting
too hot to the touch.
-Remove from the microwave and stir until the last third of the chocolate is melted
and all the chocolate is smooth. The warmth from the 2/3 melted chocolate will
melt the lasts third.
To Dip the Truffles:
-Spread the Mi-Del cookie crumbs in a shallow pan or pie plate.
-Using a dipping fork, dip each center into the tempered chocolate, tapping the
dipping fork on the bowl to remove excess chocolate before rolling the truffle in
the cookie crumbs.
-If the dark chocolate begins to cool and thicken, making dipping difficult, repeat
the microwave tempering process.
-As you dip each truffle in the chocolate, roll the truffle in the cookie crumbs,
-Place the finished tuffles on a wax or parchment paper-lined pan.