My two favorite board games when I was a kidlet were Chutes & Ladders, and Candyland. I liked the first, but found it slightly stressful, since it seemed I inevitably ended up sliding down the longest possible slide and having to restart the game from the beginning. Looking back, I wonder whether the primary design of this game was to keep children occupied with it for as long as possible, to give exhausted parents a chance to rest. Having no siblings at that point in my life, if this was the goal of the game it backfired in my family.
But Candyland? Candyland I loved. And I loved it not so much for the gameplay itself, but for the fantastical characters and decorated board, and for the outrageously wonderful idea that a whole kingdom could be made out of and based around candy. It was like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” but better. Because it was candy. My favorite figure in the game was Queen Frostine. She had blueish silver hair that came down to her waist, and a sparkling rock candy scepter. I still remember the first sentence or two provided about her in the game description: “Peacefully adrift on an ice cream float in an ice cream sea…” Pretty, powerful, royal, and living in ice cream. It was everything I thought I had ever wanted.
When Candyland was at last boxed up for good and covered in an inch or two of dust in our attic, I retained a love for both miniatures and candy. Thus, truffles were like little boulders, or tree stumps, and gingerbread houses were the most romantic, creative way of celebrating the desserts of the holiday season.
Now, as an adult but also a student, my holiday budget is somewhat limited. But I know, since I share my life and most of my friendships with other graduate students, that food – especially a special, out of the ordinary sort of food – makes a good gift. So, with the holiday season approaching and the term ending, early in December I celebrated my extraordinarily timely submission of my first dissertation chapter by hiding books, pencils, and papers from myself and instead filling my kitchen with bags and boxes of chocolate. I submerged myself back into Candyland. Not as Queen Frostine this time, but as a new character: the Empress of Truffletown, perhaps. I wrote some time ago about my first experience with truffle production, and this time I wanted to explore some new flavors – add my own sweet twists to the basic recipe.
The basic procedure is to coat squares of ganache in melted chocolate. It seems to me after some experimentation that the right ratio in a ganache is 6-8 tablespoons of liquid for each 8 oz. of melted chocolate. At least 6 of these liquid tablespoons should be heavy cream. But the really exciting part lies in the possibilities for the other 2 tablespoons…
I made three varieties: Amaretto White Chocolate Truffles, Gingerbread Truffles, and Peppermint Truffle, and popped them into some pretty, festive boxes I found. Then, just for fun, I also whipped up some Almond Butter cups. My willing taste testers declared the Amaretto and the Almond Butter cups the best selections.
Amaretto White Chocolate Truffles:
To make this flavor, I melted 6 TB of heavy cream with 8 oz. white chocolate over a double boiler. When the mixture was almost completely melted, I carefully stirred in 2 TB amaretto. When it was completely smooth, I added a few tablespoons each finely chopped dried apricots, and finely minced, toasted almonds. I stirred the whole thing together quickly, poured it into a plastic wrap lined loaf pan, and stowed it in the fridge to harden.
The following day, I pried the block of creamy white goodness, studded with precious gems of flavor, out onto a board, cut it in squares, and dunked each in melted semi-sweet chocolate. After letting these harden on parchment paper, I added a white chocolate drizzle to the top for a little flair. They were incredible. The white chocolate was delicately flavored by the amaretto, which is one of my favorite liqueur varieties. Nutty and rich and sweet, and here punctuated by the soft crunch of almonds and the slight chew of apricot chunks. This variety is definitely one for the recipe books. I will absolutely be making it again and again.
I followed the same basic procedure for these as for the Amaretto version, though I used dark chocolate as my base for the ganache. Lacking a ginger flavored liqueur, I melted the chocolate with only 6 TB heavy cream, and stirred in about a ¼ cup finely chopped candied ginger. Again, I refrigerated, again, I removed, sliced, and dipped. Then, while the outer layer of chocolate was still glossy and wet, I sprinkled a good teaspoon or two of powdered gingersnap cookie crumbs atop each truffle. Spicy and warm in the back of the throat, with a pleasing crispy crunch from the cookie powder. I did find, with these, that the ganache was a bit crumbly after it hardened, perhaps because it was made with less liquid. I would up the amount of heavy cream in the mixture to 7 or a full 8 tablespoons to try and combat this issue.
For these, I combined 8 oz. of milk chocolate with 6 tablespoons of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of peppermint schnapps we had kicking around in the back of our liquor cabinet. This time, instead of pouring into a loaf pan, I just left the ganache in the glass bowl I was using as the top portion of my homemade double boiler. While I waited for it to cool and solidify into that glorious fudgy paste ganache becomes, I broke up and crunched several candy canes into bits. The bottom of the peppermint schnapps bottle proved an excellent tool for this project. A rolling pin would probably also work well for this. As I scooped out each tablespoon of ganache, I rolled it into a ball with my hands and then rolled it through the candy cane flakes, creating a pinkish minty snowball to add to the collection. I wasn’t as thrilled with the flavor of these; the schnapps came through more as the harsh grate of alcohol rather than the spicy-cool flavor of peppermint, but my taste testers didn’t complain. They were Christmas-y in appearance, which no doubt leant to their appeal. If I do this flavor again, I might use only one tablespoon of schnapps, rather than 2.
Almond Butter Cups:
I was much less exact with these, working mostly for flavor rather than creating a recipe. Again, I melted 8 oz. of chocolate – semi-sweet this time. Then, I mixed a few tablespoons of powdered sugar into a cup or so of almond butter. Trader Joe’s makes a really good crunchy variety with roasted flax seeds, so that is what I was using. When the sugar and the butter were well combined, I scooped it into my chocolate and let them melt together into smooth, thick ribbons. Then I poured a tablespoonful or so directly into candy papers. I found that setting each paper into the depressions in a mini muffin tin made them stand up straight and not collapse when the hot chocolate mixture was added. I refrigerated my muffin-tin-full to let them set up. Imagine taking a bite of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Now imagine it tastes of almonds instead of peanuts. Now imagine that nutty flavor is mixed evenly through the chocolate, rather than sitting in the center, and that it is interspersed by the crispy, deep, roasty-ness of golden flax seeds.
Presenting boxes of these collected divinities to my officemates, a few close friends, our neighbors, and finally our families, I felt like a benevolent ruler. Sure, it’s only my little kitchen where I rule with a chocolate-daubed fist, but my offerings were wide and sweet. Move over, Candyland. This is Truffletown.