Finish out the year with a batch of truffles

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There’s nothing like a holiday to cause folks to buy and give cheap chocolate. You heard me. Cheap chocolate. It’s usually shaped like gold coins, Christmas trees and jolly Santas.

You know the stuff I’m talking about. It’s made with corn syrup solids, hydrogenated vegetable oil, soy lecithin, lactose, skim milk, vanillin (an artificial vanilla-like flavoring) and minimal cocoa. It’s sometimes labeled “milk chocolate flavored” and tastes nothing like milk or chocolate.

Cheap chocolate is included in gift baskets, teacher gifts, candy boxes, Hanukkah gelt and Christmas stockings. It’s gritty, waxy and sticky. My suspicion is most of it gets thrown away. Because it’s that bad.

What is the difference between a cheap-in-price and cheap-in-taste chocolate and it’s good quality counterpart? A good quality chocolate will be comprised of a high percentage of cocoa solids (over 50 percent), cocoa butter, real sugar and little else.

You can also smell, hear and taste the difference. Good quality chocolate smells strongly of, well, chocolate, and not vanilla, spices, or other scents. The good dark stuff also has a clean, crisp snap when you break off a piece. Milk chocolate will bend more because the milk solids make it softer.

The final indicator of an excellent chocolate is taste. It has a velvety, smooth mouth-feel and will melt quickly in your mouth or hand. The chocolate flavor will linger for several minutes after you finish the piece. You will think to yourself, “Now, that was delicious.”

According to the website explainthatstuff.com, the typical American consumes 11 pounds of chocolate a year. That doesn’t compare to the Swiss who put away 21 pounds a year, but still. Why do we like it so much? There is some science behind the culinary addiction.

Researchers at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego have identified a chemical called anandamide, a chemical that makes us feel good, in the chocolate we eat. Since we also have this chemical naturally occurring in our brains, the researchers believe that the anandamide from the chocolate combines with the anandamide already in us to give us a “chocolate high.”

Interestingly, the anandamide in chocolate is similar to another one called anandamide THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana. Now there’s a thought: Chocolate Clinics. The clinics could fly a flag with a brown plus sign on it.

This week’s recipe, from Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine, utilizes a bar of good quality chocolate. If you are flush with Christmas cash, you can spring for one of the pricier brands like Valhrona, Callebaut, or Scharffen Berger to make these truffles.

But if your budget’s a bit tight after holiday shopping, your chocolate truffles will still be delicious made with a more cost-effective bar that can be found at the local grocery store: Ghirardelli 60 percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar.

If you are sharing these with those under the drinking age, you can choose to omit the bourbon in these truffles. Or if you don’t like the taste of bourbon, you can substitute brandy or rum instead. I happen to have Bacardi rum in my kitchen for the fruitcakes I made this year, so that’s what I used.

As we wind down the year and the holiday season, I say we should finish it with some good chocolate. You’ve seen the shirt, right? “Life’s too short to eat bad chocolate.” Make a batch of these truffles and ring in the New Year with the good stuff.


Chocolate Bourbon Truffles

Makes 15 truffles

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz. good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ½  tbsp. bourbon

Garnishes: Cocoa powder, chopped nuts, candy sprinkles

Directions:

In saucepan, heat cream until warm. Off heat, whisk in chocolate and bourbon. Pour onto rimmed baking sheet; freeze 15 minutes. Dip melon baller or round teaspoon into hot water; dry it off. Scoop up balls and place onto a baking sheet or clean plate. Freeze 10 minutes. Roll truffles until smooth; coat in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or sprinkles.

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Betty Williams