If you’re a regular ’round here, you may have noticed that things have turned a little, uh, over the top and ever so slightly excessive lately: gourmet restaurant reviews, rabbit gumbo, premium vodkas, gold leaf and Caviar… It’s been a lot of fun, granted, and as I’ve always said: if it’s worth doing, it’s probably worth doing in excess!
But maybe it’s time we took a break from the excessive things in life. Maybe it’s time for another one of those little simple pleasures posts. Maybe it’s time I told you about one of my favorite original desserts; one that has a total of five (non-expensive, non-hard-to-find) ingredients and doesn’t take half a day to make? Yeah, I know, it’s all starting to sound a little weird and quite outside our comfort zones, but stick with me my story gets better.
Our topic of tonight’s story? White chocolate truffles – or how to wow your guests with five simple ingredients!
Chocolate or not chocolate? The eternal debate! Alright all you purists out there, let’s just get this one out of the way from the beginning. Too many are the times where I have been locked in heated debate on the subject or have purposely sat silent as verbal wars raged over my head, so let’s just throw it out there: white chocolate is NOT chocolate, OK? There, happy?
It’s a so-called chocolate derivative made from cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. It does not contain cocoa solids which is technically what makes chocolate, well, chocolate, nor does it contain much in terms of the stimulants theobromine or caffeine which make us love chocolate or the antioxidants that make us justify eating chocolate. I’ll keep referring to it as white chocolate, though, because that’s what people do. I’m sorry if that offends anyone. Uh, but I digress… Geek mode off!
White Chocolate truffles: simplest dessert ever… No, really!
Okay, maybe not really *the* simplest dessert ever. But really, this one is pretty damn straight forward. And I say that knowing I have a bad reputation for thinking of the not-so-simple things as simple (I’m obsessive and a geek, it’s my cross to bear!). I still recall proudly telling my on-again/off-again proof-reader and creative muse Tina that I’d come up with a really simple weeknight stir-fry recipe, to which she just shook her head, rolled her eyes and simply said: “Uh-huh, simple… To you, probably!” But trust me, this time we’re really talking painstakingly simple. We’re talking the kind of dessert you can get away with making in about 30 minutes total (chill time not included) from as little as four (count them, four!) easy to procure ingredients: white chocolate, lemon zest, heavy cream and pistachio nuts:
You melt the cream and chocolate together, add lemon zest, chill, form balls and roll in chopped pistachios – and just like that you’ve got a dessert that in itself will have people thinking you’re pretty special! It’s almost annoyingly simple, really.
At least that’s what It thought the first time I served these little babies up for friends. I’d been working on this little 15 servings tasting menu for friends, you see (I know, there I go being over the top again, I’m sorry baby but that’s the way I roll!) , and I’d intended for these to be a sort of end of the show petit fours kind of deal. They were, and fit the bill perfectly, but they also ended up completely stealing the show over quite a few much more elaborate and luxurious dishes. Why? Well, partially because they looked pretty and tasted great, but also because I added a single, little, secret ingredient to the mix.
No, no, don’t flinch. There are no secrets on this site, my friends: If you want to create a truly remarkable and surprisingly mesmerizing dessert from the ingredients above – and believe me it’s possible – you can do so by simply searching the world-wide web for a single, inexpensive yet spectacular additional ingredient: popping candy!
Popping candy – the stuff of which childhood memories are made!
Originally a product of the 70’s and 80’s, popping candy has made a bit of an odd renaissance in modern desserts, partly for show and partly for nostalgic reasons.
Popping candy – or pop rocks, space dust, or effervescent sugar by any other name, is a form of carbonated candy (yes, you read that correctly!) made from sugar, lactose and corn syrup. It’s produced by melting the ingredients into a syrup, then exposing the syrup to pressurized carbon dioxide gas before allowing it to cool, trapping the gas inside. When the resulting candy is eaten and comes into contact with the saliva in the mouth, the candy shell dissolves, releasing the trapped gas and creating a sizzling sound and a tingling sensation in the mouth. Much like soda.
The unexpected popping in the mouth has a way of causing a thrilling mix of surprise, euphoria even nostalgia in diners and is about as much fun to watch as it is to participate in. If you’re a child of the 70’s or 80’s and planning on using this element, as I think you should, I strongly advise you against telling your guests beforehand. Few things in this world quite beats the looks of surprise on your guests’ faces as they bite into these, followed by their gleeful and giggly transportation back to the wonderful days of childhood summers and weird candy memories. No, seriously. Trust me!
Or don’t. Just promise me you’ll whip these up sometime and serve them to unsuspecting people. You’ll see!
Popping Lemon/Pistachio White Chocolate Truffles
- 150 grams of quality white chocolate
- 3 tablespoons of heavy cream
- zest of one organic lemon
- 50 grams of pistachio nuts shelled and chopped rather finely
- 50 grams of popping candy optional
- Using a chef's knife or other large knife chop the white chocolate rather finely and place in a double boiler over medium heat along with the cream.
- Using a microplane grater, zest one lemon into the chocolate/cream mixture. Steer clear of the bitter white pith.
- Stir chocolate mixture occasionally while waiting for the chocolate to melt .
- As soon as a smooth mixture forms, remove from the heat and allow mixture to cool slightly.
- Place chocolate/cream mixture in the fridge for at least two hours or until completely solid.
- After two or so hours, remove the now solid mixture from the fridge and allow to warm up for about 5-10 minutes at room temperature.
- Using a metal spoon, melon baller or similar dig out a tablespoon of the mixture (some force will be required here) and use your hands to quickly form it into the shape of a ball. Then deposit onto a tray, a piece of parchment paper or similar.
- Fair warning: The heat from your hands will melt the mixture quicker than you think. Work quickly. This will be messy. But fun! 😉
- Repeat with the rest of the mixture until you have 6-10 white chocolate truffles.
- On a cutting board or other large, clean surface, spread the chopped pistachios into a thin layer, then sprinkle another thin layer of popping candy (if using) on top.
- One by one, roll the chocolate truffles in the popping candy/pistachio mass to form an even coating. There will be some popping and hissing as you do.
- Pop onto a tray or serving platter and serve immediately or keep in the fridge for up to a few hours.
If using popping candy, aim to prepare these little babies as close to serving time as possible. The moisture in the chocolate mixture, pistachio and the surrounding air will reduce the effect of the popping candy. You'll have a few hour's of snap, crackle and pop, but it wears off quicker than you think. You can either prepare the truffles ahead of time and roll them in pistachio and popping candy just prior to serving, or you can do so up to 2-4 hours in advance and still have a decent effect left if you store them in the fridge.
DIY Double boiler: A double boiler or bain-marie as the French would say is an instrument for slowly and gently heating elements without subjecting them to direct heat. They’re mainly used for heating elements that may easily curdle, crystalize or otherwise get ruined if subject to quick bursts of high heat: eggs, chocolate, and the likes.
Most double boilers are made out of a ceramic or metal bowl suspended above a pot of simmering water. You can buy really elaborate (and expensive) contraptions for the purpose. Or you can do what I do, which is to grab a small pot, pour in a few inches of water, then place a ceramic bowl over the opening in place of a lid. Turn the heat on to medium-low, bring the water to a gentle simmer, place your chocolate in the bowl and Bain’s your Marie… Wait, what?
Why this just works
I know, I know, this all hardly seems revolutionary nor does it sound like a big deal, but sometimes beauty lies in simplicity. This is one of those dishes that under the right light and with the right kind of presentation sort of look like a million bucks, certainly tastes like a million bucks but costs maybe a buck a pop (pun intended).
In terms of appearance, the brown, green and purple pattern of the chopped pistachios offer nice contrast to the whiteness of the chocolate truffle mass. Taste-wise, the velvety richness of the cocoa butter and cream is beautifully contrasted by the zing of the lemon while the crunch and saltiness of the nuts contrasts the soft creaminess of the chocolate.
But more importantly, the unexpected popping sensation in the mouth, trivial and gimmicky as it may seem, adds totally new dimensions to the experience. It not only makes it fun, it also throws additional senses into the dining experience: it tickles your tongue and your sense of feeling while triggering thoughts, memories and emotions: it just plain and simply makes you smile and laugh, silly as it all may sound. It’s something you’ll have to see and experience to believe it. There’s something truly odd about adults and popping candy.
But don’t just take my word for it… These little beauties have in no time become an all-time favorite of my friends, so much so that there were literally squeals of joy coming out of a few of the girls when I decided to to these over a couple of weeks after whipping them up the first time. Which I guess is saying something as I hear I usually spoil them pretty elaborately. I am, after all, a little over the top. Just not this time around.
Now, how’s that for simple?