chocolate mint truffles.

I'm a really, really terrible gardener. I always get overexcited at the thought of a little herb garden on my back porch or being able to walk outside and tug a juicy tomato right off the vine, but as it turns out - you have to actually  get a little dirty to reap the benefits. And, um, dirty just isn't my style. I keep my nails super short for fear that itsy-bitsy bacteria will get under there, I wash my hair every day even if it stills looks okay, and I add an extra scoop of laundry detergent to the washing machine because mentally, it's never clean enough.

So, you see, getting on my hands and knees, digging in the dirt, hauling out the watering can in midday heat only to have gnats kamikaze into my eyes - so not worth it. My mother loves to garden. She plants trees and flowers and tomato plants and is never in any sort of hurry to get back into the air conditioning like her pansy daughter. We took her to Lurgan's Greenhouse a few months back and it was like having a toddler with me. She kept darting off in different directions, I'd hear her calling my name from three aisles over, and every now and then she'd just stand there and stare, totally overwhelmed.

That's how I feel about the cooking store.

During our trip, my Dad and I wandered into the herb and vegetable section where I maintained my lofty ambition to plant a garden even though we both knew I'd kill it in a matter of weeks. In one row they had fifteen different types of peppers, another filled with tomatoes with darling names like Sugar-Snack and Black Cherry, and another aisle that was brimming with mint. Spearmint, pineapple mint, peppermint, orange mint, chocolate mint - how could this be!?

I will tell you - there was a plant there advertised as a Toothache Plant with the promise that chewing on a few leaves would numb the mouth and alleviate pain. Skeptic that I am, my Dad dared me to gnaw on a leaf and tell him if it worked. I chewed for about fifteen seconds, nothing happened, so I spit it out and starting mouthing off about how it was a bogus advertisement. Then my tongue started to tingle. Then my lips went numb. Then I started drooling. It works.

I had heard of chocolate mint only once before when my friend Peggy showed me a modest garden of it growing on her back patio. She tears off a few leaves any time she wants a cup of tea and simmers it right into the brew. She ripped off a leaf, told me to rub it between my fingers and then take a big whiff. People - it smells like mint chocolate chip ice cream. Ice cream. Only a touch more herbal, grassy even. I schlepped two of the chocolate mint plants into our cart and my mother has faithfully kept them alive ever since, God bless her.

I'm generally not the sort of person who faints over truffles, their unappetizing shape usually turns me off, and I almost always find them to be entirely too rich to eat out of the box while watching soap operas like Peg Bundy. Naturally, I was delighted to find that the fresh mint jives against the rich chocolate and cream, brightening it up, forcing it not to take itself so seriously. These are a bit of a messy process and I made the mistake of not wearing gloves while I rolled the candies out and I ended up with chocolate slicked hands, incapable of taking photos to show you in the meantime. Bear with me.

You could certainly use regular mint for these and you'd get much the same result. The recipe below is infinitely adaptable - use whatever flavors you like.

Chocolate Mint Truffles
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Basic truffle ingredients:
8 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (high quality, 62% cacao or higher), well chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Optional base flavorings:
Mint leaves (1 bunch, stems removed, chopped, about 1 cup)
Cinnamon and cardamon (1 cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom pods)
Amaretto (1-2 tablespoons)
Almond extract (1 teaspoon)

Truffle coatings:
Cocoa powder
Finely chopped walnuts
Finely chopped almonds

In a small, heavy saucepan bring the heavy whipping cream to a simmer (this may take a while, be sure to stir and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every few minutes).

If you are using one of the other recommended flavorings, stir it in with the cream (and ignore vanilla in the next step). If adding mint or other solids, after the cream simmers, remove from heat and let seep for an hour. Then strain away solids, and return the cream to a simmer and proceed with recipe.

Place the chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and allow to stand for a few minutes then stir until smooth.

Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for two hours. Remove and with a teaspoon roll out balls of the ganache. Roll in your hands quickly (as it will melt from the heat of your hands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts and serve, or place back in the refrigerator until needed.

Makes 20-30 chocolate truffles.

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