At our house, a box of See’s chocolates was standard holiday fare. They were special – the white box, the ruffled, rustling brown wraps that made it all but impossible to sneak a selection without someone overhearing – and all too quickly gone. But they were special for good and for bad reasons. As Forrest Gump so wisely told us, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be a luscious square of soft, fudgy dark chocolate studded with walnuts, or it might be the dreaded maple nougat. My cousin J. loves caramel, and when she was little she developed a surefire way to determine which mysterious See’s square to choose: bite the bottoms off, and if you don’t like the filling inside, put it back in the box. No one could see the intrusion, at least not until that piece was selected again.
For the past few years, I’ve made truffles for my officemates at the end of the term. Squares of ganache flavored with fruits, nuts, and liqueurs, robed lovingly in melted chocolate and stuffed carefully into pretty little boxes make excellent, always well-received holiday gifts. I’ve experimented with ginger, apricots, amaretto, peppermint, almond butter, dark, white, and bittersweet chocolate. To my delight, Bittman has a truffle (or at least a truffle-like) recipe among his 101. With no officemates to share with this year, I decided to make a selection of truffles for my husband to give his department at his school.
I went a little overboard.
“Cranberry Truffles: Heat ½ cup simple syrup and ½ cup bourbon or water; add 2 cups dried cranberries and steep until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Pulse the fruit in a food processor, adding just enough liquid so the mixture comes together. Roll spoonfuls of the cranberry filling into balls, then roll them in cocoa, mixed with pulverized nuts if you like.”
This sounded decadent and very adult – an excellent addition to truffle flavor combinations I was planning like Chambord with dried raspberries and Grand Marnier with candied orange peel. I used:
½ cup bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
½ cup simple syrup (I had some ginger syrup kicking around, so why not?)
2 cups dried cranberries (use reduced sugar, if you can find them)
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup hazelnuts (optional)
I was pleased to find reduced sugar Craisins to use here – the bourbon has its own kind of sweetness, and the ginger syrup I was using instead of a simple syrup was tooth-twingingly sweet. I heated the liquids together in a small pot over medium heat until they came to the barest simmer.
As Bittman directs, I steeped the Craisins in the bourbon and syrup for fifteen minutes or so. I wasn’t sure what temperature “steeping” actually is, so I decided on a barely bubbling simmer. The syrup seeped into the cranberries, giving them a slightly fleshy texture. The bourbon wafted headily through my kitchen, making me think 10am might have been on the early side to take on this project so clearly meant for a Friday evening.
Fifteen minutes of simmering down, and I dumped my swelling craisins into a strainer over a pot to catch the liquid. Don’t lose all the liquid; you’re going to need a tablespoon or two of it later. Let the craisins drain and cool for at least ten or fifteen minutes. While they cooled, I put half a cup of hazelnuts in my food processor and let it rip until they were almost all pulverized into a powder.
When they were cool and had (emitted) plenty of bourbon infused syrup, I moved the craisins to the clean-scraped food processor and let it run. The little ruby jewels came together into a whirring relish of red, and as the bits began to clump in the bowl of my food processor, I added a tablespoon of the bourbon syrup, and then another. The cranberry bits now clung stickily together and I decided they were stable enough to scoop.
I mixed my powdered hazelnuts with cocoa powder in a shallow bowl, then laid out a piece of wax paper for the finished balls. I spooned out rounds slightly smaller than ping-pong balls and rolled them gently in the nut and cocoa mixture, then set them gently on the wax paper to set or firm up or whatever it was they were going to decide to do.
When I let myself taste one (I waited until after lunch, out of respect for the bourbon), I was glad to have waited. These, folks, are strong. They are utterly delicious, but extremely intense. The cranberries absorb all the flavor and warmth and musty floral overtones of the alcohol, and the cocoa adds just the right hint of matte bitterness to combat the sweetness and tartness of the cranberries. I set them gently in mini cupcake wrappers.
Once completed, the bourbon balls joined the rest of the bejeweled collection, which consisted of:
Apricot and almond bits in white chocolate, spiked with amaretto and then dipped in dark chocolate.
Bittersweet ganache with orange liqueur, threaded with candied orange peel, dunked in white chocolate and garnished with a piece of sugared rind.
Dark chocolate with candied ginger and ginger syrup, dressed with semi-sweet chocolate and topped with a piece of ginger.
Chocolate ganache flavored with chambord and studded with freeze dried raspberries, which contributed a really intriguing crunchy intensity.
Crunchy flaxseed and almond butter cups, topped with a sprinkle of sea salt.