After I graduated college, I set off, with a friend in tow, to backpack through as much of France as five weeks allowed us. I was armed with a few changes of clothes, a Lonely Planet guide, a little cash, a mighty credit card (and it was all worth it!) and an appetite that was determined to fit as many foodstuffs into my stomach as possible. Whereas my friend might have been on a cultural expedition, I was on a gastronomical one. Foie gras, baguettes, unpasteurized cheese, wine, raw seafood and sausisson sec – all these were to be consumed in massive quantities, not to mention other things like pain au chocolat, cassoulet, boudin noir and the famous Marseille soupe de poissons.
It never occurred to me to include chocolate in the mix. I was always a spotty chocolate eater. Whenever I was home, I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Same went for any Hershey’s or Nestlé’s around. I thought Godiva’s are quite nice, but haven’t had enough to develop my palette, and I always seemed to be picking out the dark chocolate ones, leaving the milk and the white chocolates without much attention.
Something, for me, was missing in chocolate. Some necessary hue of flavor. And I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, it now makes perfect sense.
I think it was somewhere in Nantes or La Rochelle that my friend and I wandered around a farmer’s market. In France, these things are so prevalent that were I to reside there, I’d never shop for produce in a store. Along the fruit and vegetable vendors, we spied a little chocolate stand. Among the bon bons and the patisserie were sheets of dark chocolate with bright red swirls – it was chocolate with cayenne pepper, something I’ve never tasted nor heard of.
Naturally, it was the thing we bought and tried. And then my chocolate world flipped on itself and was never to be the same. I instantly realized what was missing from chocolate for me, was a flavor that was going to intensify the complexity of chocolate itself. In this case, the cayenne pepper gave the bitterness more depth and, in a strange way, added a little sweetness all the while warming up my throat. It was so good, in fact, that I ate an entire sheet we bought, licking my fingers afterwards. In my broken French, I chatted with the vendor hailing the cayenne as the greatest thing to happen to chocolate. He agreed. We parted with him gifting me and my friend more of the spice-filled goodness.
After I moved to New York and got my bearings, I quickly figured out the artisanal chocolatiers, making sure to sample each one’s work, and without fail, try the spicy versions of their creations. Among the mix were Katrina Markoff’s Vosges chocolates – a store so pretty it made me want to have everything in aubergine. And I’ve stayed a loyal fan through the years, sampling all her whimsical creations. So when I spied her truffle recipe in Bon Appetit this month, I was on a mission – to make cayenne spiced truffles.
Ah, but I’m waxing poetic and lengthy with this post. It’s just that this is chocolate, people! And good quality too. Yes, I know, the cost might sound prohibitive, but the high end chocolate makes all the difference in making the proper ganache. Also, what if you hate cayenne? Can’t you then, try something else? Well, absolutely – create new flavors, see what suits you best. I think my next flavors will be lime-basil, earl grey tea, and vanilla-black sesame. Just be sure to use good quality chocolate, like Scharffen Berger, or Vosges. You’ll thank me later.
The truffles are not difficult to make, but it’s a very time consuming process. Make the ganache, then chill it. Roll the truffles, then chill those too. Then you have an option of dipping in melted chocolate (chilling that too) before rolling in anything from unsweetened cocoa powder (my pick) or chopped nuts, seeds, and so on. And then putting them back in the fridge. Finding those little cups for the truffles was not an easy feat. Luckily, my boyfriend spied some in his pantry and kindly shared.
Some recipes call for piping the ganache through, some ask for latex gloves for rolling. I didn’t have either at my reach, so I did everything by hand, periodically dipping my hands into a bowl of iced water (it’s not pleasant, I warn you) to keep them cold and prevent from making the chocolate. Lastly, I find it’s easier to knead the ganache with one hand before rolling it into a ball, or shape of your liking with both hands. If you’re imitating Maison du Chocolat, your truffles will be slightly potato-shaped. Otherwise, it’s a lumpy sphere for you – the classical truffle shape.
Whatever flavor and shape you use, these will, undoubtedly, add sparkle and zest to any holiday table. You should try to consume them within 8-9 days of the creation though – fresh ingredients only last so long.
While the Radish is off to a little sojourn in the Hamptons, I’ll be cooking there as well, and depending on internet access, try to post there too. Should I be cut off from all things online-related, I wish you all a very Happy New Year full of champagne and soirees!