Luxury comes in many forms, the best of which are coated in chocolate. Preferably dark chocolate. Truffles for example -- not the kind that dogs nose out of oak forests -- but the kind made from fine Belgian chocolate.
There is a good reason why this queen of candies is named for the queen of luxury foods – the “white diamonds” of Italy’s Langhe Hills, so precious that chefs will pay exorbitant amounts for enough to add a few shavings to a signature dish. Just as the pricey little fungi are the most precious ingredient in a chef’s palette, the sweet kind are the ultimate in dipped chocolates.
What makes a truffle different from an ordinary boxed chocolate, apart from its size? A truffle is handmade, a generous round morsel of creamy ganache dipped in a thick layer the highest quality chocolate. The ganache can be of dark, milk or white chocolate, with various flavors added – perhaps a fine liqueur such as Grand Marnier or a richly flavored dark rum.
Ganache is a creamy blend with the texture of velvet, and until I learned how to make it last week, I never realized how simple its ingredients were.
On a trip to New Brunswick, one of Canada’s four Atlantic provinces – the one that lies just north of Maine – I spent several days in its capital city of Fredericton. And along with a charming downtown where craftsmen’s studios and galleries cluster around the world-class Beaverbrook Art Gallery, I discovered Fackelman Chocolaterie & Patisserie, a chocolate shop owned by German couple who make some of the world’s finest truffles.
I’ve munched my way through Teuschers in Zurich and the rest of the best, and Fackleman truffles stand up proudly with any of them. And now I know how to make my own. That, to me, is the ultimate luxury – to be able to whip up a batch of my own personal nirvana.
On Wednesday afternoons, for a mere $10, Uwe Kuester teaches a hands-on class where he shares the secrets of perfect truffles. Last Wednesday I was there, along with three Korean high school girls, their Canadian host and her 83-year-old mother. The six of us took turns stirring the ganache to make sure the chocolate and sweet butter melted evenly in the heavy cream – those are the only three ingredients, apart from any added flavoring.
Hand stirring with a wooden spoon, we learned, was the key to the silky smooth mouthfeel of a finished truffle. Stirring with a spoon, as opposed to a whisk, blends the ingredients as the mixture cools, without beating in air. The mixture remains firm and will hold its shape, but takes on the light creaminess that balances so well with the harder chocolate coating.
Truffles require several long cooling periods: 8 hours to chill the ganache enough to form into balls, another 8 hours to chill the balls before dipping in the warmed chocolate. Uwe had another batch ready for us at each stage, so we were able to complete our truffles in one afternoon. As I waited my turn to dip the dark chocolate centers in melted Belgian chocolate, the tray full of them grew softer in the unseasonable (for New Brunswick) 80-degree heat, so when my turn came, the ganache was losing its shape as I scooped it onto the dipping ring.
When it hit the warmer chocolate, it began to melt, so when I retrieved it and moved it to the waiting tray of truffles, it was no longer round. The Korean girls were topping each truffle with a silver dot as they were lined up on the tray, but mine were so strangely toad-shaped that instead they put two dots on each one for eyes.
Mine tasted just as good, however toad-like, and we did learn from this that hot or humid weather is not a good time to make perfect truffles. Uwe generously offered me the three he had made to demonstrate, since each class member could take home the three they had dipped.
Along with making truffles and beautiful German tortes, which they sell by the slice in the little café (or for locals to take home for dessert) Fackelman Chocolaterie & Patisserie also operates a little restaurant, The Schnitzel Parlour. Here they serve lunches and dinner, the latter by reservation only. Schnitzel is on the menu, along with other German specialties and a few international favorites.