The plan was to take a drive, to visit my grandmother’s grave. But it’s been raining in Los Angeles, and last night at my aunt’s house we put our plans on hold. You see Grandma’s spot is on a hill, and my mother and her sister had some concerns, something to do with tumbling down a muddy slope.
“We could always sled down, whee,” I said, and my aunt laughed before she stopped abruptly, like she remembered something, because she had: her poodle had just eaten eight pretty sizable chocolate truffles, and that is serious business, doggy-death business, and she was feeling sad, sad as a peeled orange, and that meant she wasn’t allowed to laugh.
I was the one who found him last night, licking his chops guiltily, chocolate-ily, and I was the one who found the gold foil wrappers in his doggy bed as he slouched around the kitchen, feeling sickish, with his cropped nub of a tail tucked between his legs, a picture of penitent excess.
Which sent my easily ruffled aunt into a spasm of stone-faced worry. But to be incapable of laughter! Even the mournful chuckle of the death of something. I don’t mean to worry you, reader. Charlie the poodle is doing just fine. I mean, he payed for it in illness, in puke, and maybe his soul suffered damages, that pure searing puppy guilt, but he is alive and almost healthy and even smiles occasionally.
The lesson here being that everyone loves chocolate, even dogs, even when it can kill them, and they get to truffle number eight before they feel they’ve had enough. This is the way it is, I think, with our more indulgent indulgences.
“Do you want a chocolate?” I asked my friend today, and yes, she said, yes. Yes and yes and no. “I want it in my mouth, but I don’t want it on my body.” Chocolate, that all-purpose stand-in for our guiltier, most ambivalently loved nourishments. But still she took one home to enjoy later, alone. This is the way it is.
You have chocolate on your face, Angela, someone has been telling me all week. Last night Kurt told me I had chocolate on my arm. I had it on my elbows, down to my wrists. I had it on my skirt.
“At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I found chocolate in my panties,” I told him. “Well, you could hardly do better,” he said, and he was right. Of all the prandial pleasures we call guilty, it is chocolate, deep-dark chocolate, that most tastes like despicable things.
Which is why I’m giving these away for gifts this year. I can’t help but feel that they say something important, something I’m pretty much always trying to say. That is, Hey. Remember who you are. Remember, before the new year comes, and you start telling yourself how good you’re going to be, remember how bad you can be. And smile then. And let the truffle melt on your tongue and feel the sting of orange liquor and the silken chocolate, that sweet black butter-silk, and be happy for it, be happy for that.
And happy Christmas, readers, and eat your chocolate.
Grand Marnier Truffles
– 12 oz dark-as-night chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
– 2/3 cup heavy cream
– 1 1/2 Tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau
– 1 tsp orange zest
– 1 Tbsp butter
– Pinch of salt
– 1/2 cup cocoa powder for rolling
– 12 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate, plus 2 oz, for tempering
– Candied orange peels, slivered or minced (recipe below)
With a sharp knife, chop chocolate into pea-sized chunks, and remove to a medium-sized metal bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine cream, orange zest, and orange liquor and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Pour cream mixture over chocolate, stir to combine. Add butter and salt. Stir until mixture is smooth and a ganache forms. Pour into a nonstick cake pan, an 8-inch round or a 12-by-6 inch rectangular pan, and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to three, until the ganache hardens.
When the ganache is ready, use two spoons to begin to shape the ganache into balls. You do this so the truffles will be easier to roll into balls later. The size of the truffles is up to you. Mine are about a third of an ounce each. Place each measured-out truffle on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.
Refrigerate truffles for five to ten minutes, enough time to allow them to firm up again. Meanwhile, fill a large ziplock bag with ice. It’s good to have ice nearby while you roll the truffles, to keep your hands cool and the truffles from melting. With the palms of your (iced) hands, roll each truffle into a smooth ball.
You’ll make a mess, but trust me: this is just about the tidiest method I’ve found, and I’ve tried it all. Remember: spoon, refrigerate, ice, roll. Pour about 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder into a bowl, and roll each truffle in it. This will smooth over any rough edges. You can stop here. They’re done.
Or you can get fancy. You can dip the truffles in more chocolate and top them with candied orange peels. Labor intensive, but never a bad idea. Here’s what you do: In a double boiler, heat another 12 oz dark chocolate, stirring frequently, until just melted. Remove from heat. Add another 2 oz chopped dark chocolate, and stir until the fresh chips melt and the chocolate begins to cool and thicken.
This is called tempering the chocolate. It produces a chocolate that will harden to be snappy and shiny, like all really good chocolate is at room temperature.
If you’re using a candy thermometer, once the chocolate reaches 88 degrees, it’s ready. I don’t use a candy thermometer…
With a fork, lower the rolled truffles into the melted chocolate. Lift them out quickly, and allow some of the excess chocolate to drain off the truffle before removing to a baking sheet lined with wax paper.
Sprinkle the dipped truffles with minced candied orange peels, or place a slivered orange peel on top. Your choice! Once the chocolate hardens, you can melt the rough edges down on a warm pan or plate.
or, Candied Orange Peels Dipped in Chocolate
– 2 navel oranges
– 2 cups sugar, plus 2 cups for dusting
– Juice of 1/2 lemon
– 8 oz bittersweet chocolate
Slice the top and bottom off both oranges, and score the peel four times lengthwise along each orange. Remove the peel.
Slice the peel into 1/4 inch segments. Place in a medium pot, fill with cold water, and slowly bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, drain the peels. Repeat, 5-7 times, until the peels lose their bitterness. (This is the kind of line that’s so easy to write in a recipe, that takes a century to actually accomplish. You’ve been warned.)
On the final boil, cover the peels with only 2-3 inches of water, add sugar and lemon juice, and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Drain, and arrange peels on a drying rack. Place rack by a fire or in the oven at 200 degrees for up to three hours, until peels are just moist.
Roll peels in sugar, shake off excess, and place peels on drying rack again. Allow them to sit until they are completely dry, but still tender. This is an overnight kind of thing.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler, and dip half of each peel into the chocolate.
Arrange on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and allow chocolate to harden, and finally, enjoy.