Making Truffles At Boston Chocolate School

Last Saturday afternoon Jeff, Gunner, and I strolled down to Harvard Square. When the weather is nice, we love getting out for long walks, and Harvard Square is a fun destination. On this particular afternoon, I was meeting Elizabeth so we could check out Upstairs on the Square's Bake Sale for Japan before heading to Downtown Crossing for a chocolate class.

Shortly after Jeff and I arrived in the square, got some coffees at Starbucks, and strolled around a bit, we found Elizabeth and her boyfriend in front of the bake sale. We all checked out the offerings and bought whatever we found interesting. I got some chocolate chip cookies from Harvest for Jeff (and I actually ended up eating two of them), and then I bought myself a leek, potato, fennel, and cheese puff -- for lack of a better word. I forget exactly what it was called, but it was a sort of bread stuffed with cheese and topped with leeks, potatoes, and fennel. I ate it rewarmed in the oven when I got home later that afternoon, and it was so flavorful and tasty.

After prying ourselves away from the bake sale and saying goodbye to the guys, Elizabeth and I hopped on the T, got off at Downtown Crossing, and wandered over to Elephant & Castle. An unlikely location for a chocolate class, Elephant & Castle is a pub and restaurant. We soon learned that the chocolate making occurs downstairs.

When we got to the classroom, we found Valerie Conyngham of Vianne Chocolat and her assistant setting up for the class. (You may remember reading about Vianne Chocolat on this blog.) Class-goers are usually asked to wait outside until the start of the class, but Valerie let us come in so we could take some pictures. We stayed out of the way as much as possible.

While we sat and waited for the class to begin, Valerie showed up with two mugs of freshly made hot chocolate. This was not your run-of-the-mill hot chocolate.

This was more what I refer to as drinking chocolate. A couple different kinds of chocolate were melted together into some whole milk to form a rich and thick hot chocolate. I was in heaven after the first sip. The rest of the class members soon arrived and were each served hot chocolate as well, and then we began.

Valerie went into detail about cacao pods and different types of chocolate. We had cacao pods on the table in front of us, and we squeezed them open to discover where cacao nibs come from. (Valerie recommended adding cacao nibs to chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods, and I second that recommendation!)

We then picked up what looked like a white chocolate chip but was actually cocoa butter. When we rubbed the little chip between our fingers, it felt very smooth, sort of like Chapstick and made for a great moisturizer.

Then came the fun part, we sampled white, milk, and dark chocolates. As I predicted, the dark was my favorite. (You may remember that the main component of my birthday dessert was a bar of Valrhona Manjari.) We tried letting each chocolate just sit on our tongues and melt (rather than chewing) and really tried to pick up on the subtle nuances. For example, the Jivara has some caramel notes and the Manjari has hints of berry.

All the info about chocolate was really interesting, but Elizabeth and I had already learned most of this at the wine and chocolate tasting we attended at Boston Chocolate School, so we were excited to get started on the chocolate making.

First, we learned how to make a flavored ganache by infusing cream with chai tea bags.

Ganache is simply a mixture of cream and chocolate. I make it all the time by simmering cream, pouring it over chocolate chips, and whisking until all the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. While we just made chai tea-infused ganache that day, Valerie gave us suggestions on how to make other flavors such as raspberry. Instead of infusing the cream because putting raspberries in the cream won't give it much flavor, you can add something like Chambord or raspberry jam into the chocolate while whisking everything together.

Then we learned how to make filled chocolates by filling foil cups with tempered chocolate and flipping them over to let the excess chocolate drip out. The chocolate hardens around the inside edges of the cup, and the cup can then be filled with a loose ganache or even caramel. More chocolate is simply floated on top of the filling, and that too hardens.

Lastly, we learned how to dip our truffles into the tempered chocolate. Tempering chocolate requires keeping a close watch on the temperature of the chocolate, but Valerie has these amazing chocolate tempering machines that automatically regulate the temperature (I seriously need one). Tempering is what gives the chocolate a nice snap once it hardens.

To dip the truffles, we simply needed to set one on a dipping tool and scoop it down into and up out of the tempered chocolate. The concept was simple, but it's also pretty easy to lose a truffle if you're not careful.

Lessons out of the way, we were all given trays with three different kinds of firm ganache for our truffle filling (raspberry, caramel, and milk chocolate) and four foil cups to make filled chocolates with the chai tea ganache.

On a nearby table were an array of toppings: cacao nibs, coconut, finely ground almonds, cocoa powder, and confectioners' sugar. (And there were also boxes and ribbons for us to use to package our chocolates when we were done.)

Elizabeth and I figured out what would be our best plan of attack, considering there was just one vat of tempered milk chocolate and one vat of tempered dark chocolate. We decided to line our foil cups with chocolate first, so they could firm up while we made our truffles.

I made two milk chocolate cups and two dark chocolate cups.

I did the milk ones first and by the time I was done doing the dark ones, the milk ones were firm and ready to be filled with ganache. After we got our chocolate cups filled and topped, we started rolling truffles.

I decided to dip all of my raspberry truffles in dark chocolate because I love dark chocolate, and I knew Jeff wouldn't want any raspberry truffles. I dipped most of the caramel truffles and milk chocolate truffles in milk chocolate because I knew Jeff would enjoy them.

I created a system to keep track of my truffles (at Valerie's suggestion). I topped the raspberry dark chocolate truffles with cacao nibs.

The milk chocolate truffles that I covered in dark chocolate, I left plain. And the caramel truffles that I covered in dark chocolate, I gave an almond and coconut topping to.

I sprinkled almonds on all of Jeff's caramel truffles and left his milk chocolate ones plain.

At the end of the class, I had a full box of chocolates with one layer of milk chocolate truffles and one layer of dark chocolate truffles.

The class was so much fun, and I thought the truffles looked so professional!

If you want to learn more about chocolate and chocolate-making, I highly recommend this class. It would be a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends... and you could all head home with truffles to snack on for the next week -- at least I'm hoping it takes me at least a week to get through them all.

The classes run on Saturdays and cost $75. Elizabeth and I were given complimentary tickets to the class.

What's your favorite kind of truffle?