Chocolate Beer Truffles

Cooking with Beer by | Feb 2009 | Issue #25

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

For this month’s issue, I am excited to share with you original chocolates that Pete Slosberg (creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale and founder of Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures), friend Arie Litman and I created. We sipped a selection of brews as conversations on flavors from different beer styles and how they compare and contrast against the complex nuances found in chocolate echoed through the kitchen.

Chocolate (or Theobroma cacao) starts as the seeds of a cacao tree. The fruit, also called a “pod,” is surrounded by a white, spongy pulp that, when exposed to air, spontaneously ferments, similar to producing a Lambic fermentation. It’s only after this fermentation that the acids and alcohols from the fruit change the chemistry of the seed, making the bland kernel taste like chocolate. After fermentation, the name used is typically changed from the scientific name “cacao” to “cocoa.” The cocoa beans are then roasted to further enhance the flavor and aroma characteristics of the seed, similar to roasting malted barley.

Cacao Nibs: The individual cocoa beans are shelled, then cracked, producing an almost spiral-looking edible fragment. Nibs are 100-percent pure chocolate and have a wide range of flavors and aromas reflecting the variety of the source trees, the growing conditions, ripeness of the fruit, the fermentation and finally the roasting techniques. Try adding nibs to the secondary fermenter by dry “nibbing,” similar to dry hopping, adding a cocoa flavor without affecting the head retention of the finished beer.

Unsweetened: Also known as “bakers’ chocolate,” this form of chocolate is ground cacao nibs processed into a fine paste, sometimes called “chocolate liquor.” Comes in at 95- to 99-percent cocoa.

Bittersweet, Semisweet and Milk Chocolate: A combination of cocoa, milk (either solids, products or powders) stabilizers, vanilla and sugar. The percentage of chocolate can vary from 90-percent down to 10-percent cocoa. Usually more complex chocolate flavor comes from having a higher percentage of cocoa with fewer fillers. Chocolate with higher percentages of milk products can have flavors of caramel, since the mixture is heated, which causes the milk solids to caramelize.

White Chocolate: A little over 50 percent of the nib is fat, called cocoa butter. Cocoa butter has no chocolate flavor! White chocolate utilizes only the cocoa butter, and it’s made with milk products and other emulsifiers, a touch of vanilla and other flavorings.

Making a Custom Blend: Do you favor truffles with creamy centers or rich and decadent flavors that leave you reaching for a cold glass of milk? Do you like regional chocolate from particular plantations? How about a chocolate that melts nicely on the tongue, but has more bitterness? When making a custom blend, it is important to think about the flavors and textures of your favorite chocolates. This is especially true for bars and barks, since fillings and creamy centers can distract from the pure chocolate flavor.

First, taste your chocolate. Try different types side by side, as you would in a beer tasting. Take note on how the chocolate breaks on your teeth, how its texture (chalky or milky) coats your mouth and tongue, how it melts and which individual flavors you taste. Next, after the tasting, think about what you liked overall, not as a single chocolate, but as elements of chocolate: taste, mouthfeel, unique flavors—sweet, bitter, creamy, soft. Now take the chocolates that have those characteristics, weigh each and create your blend, noting the results for future reference.

Working with Chocolate: The Art of Confectionery
What is tempering chocolate, and do I have to do it? Tempering chocolate is the technique that creates a smooth, shiny and glossy look to the finished truffles and sets the chocolate’s crystalline structure that results in the final texture. If you choose not to temper, the final products will be dull looking.

Start with two thirds of the chocolate of your choice. Place the chocolate in a double boiler (or a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water). Melt the chocolate to the temperature (113–122°F for dark chocolate) and stir to melt the fat crystals completely. Remove the bowl from the heat (placing on a clean towel to remove moisture) and add half of the remaining third of the chopped chocolate. Constantly folding the warm chocolate over the new addition to cool the chocolate to the cooling temp (82–84°F for dark chocolate) will improve the chances of a good temper.

Once cool, place the bowl back over the simmering pot and carefully reheat the chocolate back to the melting temp. Remove the bowl, adding the remaining chocolate and cool to below the cooling temp, again folding the chocolate. Then bring the chocolate back to the cooling temp and hold at that temperature. The chocolate is now ready to use for truffle shells, bars or barks.

To use the tempered chocolate for molds, place the molds in the refrigerator to thoroughly chill them. One at a time, fill each individual indent with tempered chocolate, then tap the inverted tray to remove the remaining chocolate. Repeat until all the molds are lined with a thin coating of tempered chocolate. Place the tray back into the refrigerator until the chocolate is set. Then the shells are ready to fill.

Water and chocolate? Not a good combination. If water comes in contact with the chocolate while melting and tempering, it will be absorbed by the sugar in the cocoa and will “seize” or become very grainy and form large lumps, rendering it unusable for truffles. The only solution, strange as it might seem, is to add more water or cream/butter/liquor. Keep adding small doses of liquid until the texture is like syrup, creating a ganache. It can then be used for a sauce over ice cream or swirled into brownies.

Below are several filling options for truffles created during my day with Pete and Arie. Make sure to have your chocolate molds ready, and you will be set for your own day of chocolatiering.

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Caramelized Cocoa Nibs in Imperial Stout Truffle
The rich chocolate flavors from cacao nibs along with the other roast and coffee flavors from the Imperial Stout make a wonderful syrup filling for an Imperial Stout Truffle.

Makes: 1/4 cup filling

1/2 cup Imperial Stout
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1 pinch sea salt

In a medium-sized pot with a thick-core bottom, add the Stout and sugar, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to fully dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup is boiling, reduce heat to medium to prevent burning. Using a candy or laser thermometer, cook until the temperature hits 200°F; this will take about 10 minutes. Add the cacao nibs and stir to evenly coat. Cook the nibs for 5 minutes. The temperature should be around 210–215°F.

Pour the syrup and nibs onto a sheet tray lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Let cool to room temperature. Using a spoon, scrape up about half a teaspoon of the syrup and nibs. Then, placing some softened butter on your hands, roll into little balls. Add the individual balls to each bittersweet lined truffle mold. Top with extra dark chocolate to seal the truffle. Tap the mold on the countertop to remove any air bubbles and help the chocolate fill around the caramelized cacao nib balls. Place in the refrigerator and let set until the chocolate is fully hardened.

Chambly Noire Brittle Truffles or Bark
The complexity of the brittle caramelization adds extra bitterness to these truffles, not to mention loads of texture.

Makes: 1/4 sheet brittle

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup soft candi sugar, blond
1/4 cup Chambly Noire or another Belgian Strong Dark

Take a sheet or cookie pan and use a Silpat mat or lightly butter the bottom of the pan. In a heavy saucepan, preferably copper-core or triple-ply constructed, add butter, sugar and beer, and heat over medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture comes to a boil, dissolving the sugar completely. Stop stirring the candy mixture and let the temperature come to 300°F on a candy thermometer; it will turn a rich, brown, caramel color. If any sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, take a pastry brush, dip in water and paint just above the surface of the candy to dissolve. The whole candy-making process will take about 25 minutes. Pour out onto the prepared sheet pan, spreading out to an even thickness. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Chop the brittle finely with a knife. Add the brittle to a bowl, adding enough tempered milk chocolate to fully coat all the pieces. Pour into moulds and let cool. For bark, pour the mixture onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined tray, spreading evenly, and let cool. Break up into bite-sized shards.

Variations: This recipe can be doubled or tripled. Add chopped chocolate to the bottom and top of the brittle, encrusting with toasted pistachios, cashews or almonds to create a Roca.

Dark Chocolate Bacon Ganache with Alderwood-Smoked Salt Truffles
Not just for breakfast, these truffles pack extra smoky flavors from mixing bacon fat (instead of cream or butter) into the chocolate, making a ganache.

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate, tempered
2 tbsp. rendered bacon fat
2 tbsp. dry malt extract (DME)
2 tbsp. alder wood smoked salt

In a stainless steel bowl set over a pot filled with 2–3 inches of simmering water, add the chocolate, fat and DME, and let slowly melt, stirring to combine. Pour directly into dark chocolate molds, then top with tempered chocolate and lightly dust with salt. Another option is to cool the ganache in the refrigerator until it is solid. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop the ganache into small round balls and roll in either cocoa powder or a mixture of ground malted barley and smoked sea salt.

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Artisanal Bacon, Encrusted in Applewood-Smoked Almonds

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, tempered
8 strips artisanal bacon, thick cut, cooked till just crispy
1/2 cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped

Take a piece of cooked and cooled bacon, dipping seven-eighths of it in the chocolate, then coating each side with chopped almonds. Place onto a drying rack and let sit until the chocolate hardens.

Master Caramel Directions:
In a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, add the beer, cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the spoon and let mixture come to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, do not stir with the spoon, as sugar crystals can form, causing the caramel to become grainy in texture. Cook the mixture slowly until the temperature comes to 230°F, then remove the pot from the heat and let cool. Once the temperature is around 120°F, the caramel can be added to a pastry bag or Ziploc Freezer Bag.

Pipe the caramel into bittersweet or milk chocolate truffle shells until almost full. Once all the molds are filled, take a moment to remove any strings of caramel that have crossed the chocolate border of each mold. If not removed, this can cause the caramel to leak out of the inverted finished truffle. Tap the mold to remove any air pockets and chill until the caramel is hardened. Top with tempered chocolate to seal and tap again.

Duchesse Beer Caramel
The complex flavors from the Flanders Red Ale used in this caramel add extra depth to the chocolate shell. The textural component with the gooey caramel and the milky chocolate are sublime.

Makes: 1 cup caramel

2/3 cup Duchesse De Bourgogne or another Flanders Red
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
3 tbsp. corn syrup
1 pinch sea salt

Kriek-Soaked Dried Cherry with Framboise Cream Caramel Truffle
Rich and creamy, this truffle is complex with wonderful flavors and textures to surprise the eater.

Makes: 1 1/4 cup caramel

Framboise Cream Caramel Ingredients:
1 cup Framboise
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar or vanilla sugar
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 pinch sea salt

Kriek-Soaked Dried Cherries Ingredients:
1/4 cup dried Montmorency cherries
1/2 cup Boon Kriek or another fruit Lambic

Soaked Cherry Directions:
In a small jar, add the cherries and fill with the Kriek to cover the fruit. Seal and let sit at room temperature overnight or until the fruit has rehydrated.

Truffle Directions:
Place a Kriek-soaked dried cherry into the center of each dark chocolate mould, being careful to remove any excess Kriek as to not dissolve the caramel as the truffles sit. Top with the Framboise Cream Caramel.

Variations: Instead of a soaked cherry, try using a fresh raspberry or dried apricot soaked in a Tripel or straight Lambic.

Bruin Beer Caramel Truffles Infused with Ginger, Cinnamon and Orange Peel

Makes: 1 cup caramel

1/2 cup St. Feuillien Bruin or another Belgian Brown Ale
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tbsp. dried ginger
1 tsp. orange zest
1 each cinnamon stick
1 pinch sea salt
2 tbsp. dried ginger, minced

Additional Caramel Directions:
Add the ginger, orange zest and cinnamon stick to the remaining ingredients. Once the caramel is cool, remove the cinnamon stick. Fill the mould with a pinch of ginger, topping with the caramel, then seal with chocolate. Milk or dark chocolate work well for this truffle shell.