Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cécile's Chocolate Truffles

Totally addicting chocolate treats!

On to our final stage of our two part adventure into treats our favorite girls from 1853 New Orleans might have enjoyed during Christmas! Last time, I explained that because Marie-Grace and Cécile's books don't really focus on how they would have celebrated Christmas, I had to get a little creative in coming up with desserts they might have eaten during holiday celebrations. While I picked the bread pudding for Marie-Grace because it was something practical and tasty, I wanted to do something simple and decadent for Cécile to reflect something she and her family might have enjoyed at a fancier party or get together during the holiday season.

After a lot of consideration, we decided to try out this recipe for homemade chocolate truffles, and boy, they were not a disappointment. This was definitely a winner, and I would imagine it's going to be added into the regular rotation for any parties we host at our house!

I did learn a few interesting things about what Christmas for Cécile and Marie-Grace would have been like, and the first was that while they might have been familiar with staples like candy canes, they might not have ever heard of a Christmas tree.

Mon dieu, what's this? A doll sized tree!

Well, okay, that's not explicitly true. Cécile's family does decorate one in 1853, and at the start of Meet Cécile, she's helping her mother take it down. She thinks the new custom is too much bother, even if it is pretty, because decorating something only to take all of it down a month later is a bit of a pain, which is something I'm sure many modern people can fully relate to. While doing research for this post though, I discovered that this might be some artistic license with historical accuracy on the part of the author, as it's actually pretty difficult to track the history of the Christmas tree in America.

There are a lot of conflicting stories about when the first American Christmas tree was decorated, mostly because a lot of people want to be the ones credited with starting the tradition in America first. The tradition is German in origin, and was first brought to the United States by - you guessed it - German immigrants. Although most credible sources state that the rise in popularity of decorating Christmas trees is probably nearly solely because of printed pictures of the British royal family's Christmas tree in 1848 in Britain, and 1850 in the United States (Prince Albert was German, and brought the custom with him when he married Victoria), there are several accounts of Christmas trees being in the United States before then, with a story in Connecticut claiming 1777, Pennsylvania in 1816 and again in 1821, Massachusetts in 1835, Virginia in 1842 and Ohio in 1847. Several of these stories are supported by published accounts of the tradition, but the fact of the matter is that these were more isolated incidents of the custom, and widespread popularity and adoption of the tradition didn't come until after the 1850 publication of the woodcuts of the royal family. These pictures were republished throughout the 1850's and 60's, and by 1870, most Americans who celebrated Christmas included a Christmas tree as part of the festivities.

The first record of a tree in New Orleans is from an article in the Times-Picayune in 1855, when one was set up at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The article meticulously describes the tree and the custom of leaving presents under it, which seems to suggest that most of the readers wouldn't be familiar with the custom. This means while girls like Kirsten and Addy would probably be familiar with the custom, or at the very least have heard of it (and a decorated tree is included in Kirsten's Scenes and Settings), kids like Cécile and Marie-Grace probably would have had to wait a year or two before they started seeing them in more houses and buildings in New Orleans.

C'est magnifique! Until we have to take it all down, anyway...

Now on to the truffles. Although Marie-Grace and Cécile don't have the same format to their stories and accessory sets as most of the older characters (and even Caroline, to some extent), truffles are included in their banquet table and treats (which is now apparently retired? what's going on there, AG), even though they aren't mentioned specifically in both Meet Marie-Grace or Meet Cécile. These aren't an exact replica of the truffles included in the set, but they're close enough and certainly something Cécile would have had access to.

Unsurprisingly, the first step is to prepare your chocolate by chopping it into very small pieces. The recipe calls for semisweet chocolate, but I don't think making it with dark chocolate or substituting an entirely different ganache recipe would be too difficult if you want to go for something else.

I think I probably wouldn't do this with chocolate chips again, even though I really like the flavor this particular brand gives to anything chocolate. They were kind of hard to chop! They would move a lot when you tried to get the knife to slice them, so a regular chocolate bar would make this a lot easier.

Heating up the cream took almost no time at all. I had my back turned for maybe two minutes and my mom was suddenly yelling at me in panic because it was boiling and I needed to take it off the heat. Oops.

Anyway, I dumped in the chocolate, and they really aren't kidding when they say that the chocolate should be chopped up into tiny pieces. The larger chunks took a while to melt down fully, and the cream cooled off quickly enough that the process ended up taking a while longer than I would have liked it to. I had to hold the pot back over the burner to make sure the cream was still hot enough to actually melt the chocolate after a while.

Still, it was totally worth it. It made a really thick, beautiful ganache, and it was really hard not to just eat it right out of the pot instead of making the truffles!

It took a really long time for the ganache to cool enough to actually be workable. I checked on it pretty frequently for the first two hours or so, and then had to set it aside until well after dinner was over, so I'm afraid I don't know how long you've actually got to wait before you can start making these, and the recipe doesn't give a time estimate, either. Basically, when they're ready, you'll know because the ganache will be pretty hard, but still have some give when you start poking at it. By the time I took it out, I worried it would have sat for too long and become impossible to work with, but I shouldn't have been concerned.

I got the cocoa powder out and ready to roll onto the balls. This was a really nice way to add some bitter chocolate taste and offset the sweetness of the ganache, but honestly, I think the next time I make this, I'd like to try it with some shredded coconut.

I used a scoop to help get at least somewhat even shaped balls of chocolate and rolled them into balls with my hands as instructed before rolling them around in the cocoa until they each got a healthy coating. As far as candy prep goes, this is a pretty easy process.

But your hands will get messy.

Really messy.

Three hand washings later and I can still smell chocolate on them.

Even though the ganache still held its shape and seemed sturdy enough, the chocolate that comes in direct contact with your hands ends up feeling kind of liquidy and slippery, and this only gets worse the longer you leave the ganache out. You definitely need to chill these before serving, and try to make sure that they're either eaten quickly, or kept somewhere where there's no danger of them completely melting on you. I'd also recommend serving them in little paper cups like we did, or some other serving dish, because the cocoa will stick to your guests' hands and create a bit of a mess.

This recipe makes a lot of truffles, and since it's overall not that complicated to make, it would be pretty easy to make a few batches if you're anticipating a lot of hungry people with a sweet tooth. They also keep pretty well in the fridge if you want to make them a few days in advance, which means more time to prep other stuff the day of, or just one last thing to worry about getting ready for the get together.

At this point, you're probably thinking that's great and all, but when are we going to get to eat them?

I really can't stress how rich and delicious these were. They really did have that nice, silky texture of a truffle center, and even though it didn't have a hard chocolate shell, I didn't find myself missing it and would happily eat these instead of store bought truffles for the rest of my life. While I really liked the flavor combinations we ended up with, like I mentioned before, these would be really, really easy to customize and put spins on if you're looking for more variety in your dessert offerings. I imagine that different kinds of chocolate, different toppings and maybe even fillings would work their ways into this recipe very easily, so you're very open to exercise some creativity when it comes to how you want to serve these.

The one thing I'd like to point out is that unlike the hazelnut berry chocolate bark we made with Kaya, I don't think this would be an easy thing to give out as gifts or party favors to anyone because the truffles need to be kept at least a little cooled and tend to melt easily if left somewhere very warm. Because of that, I'm not sure this is a recipe I'd make if I was expected to bring a dessert somewhere versus having a party at my own house. I wouldn't want to show up with a tupperware container filled with melted chocolate!

Overall, this is a really easy, incredibly tasty treat to make at just about any party, and it's something that would have been right at home at any function the Reys would have hosted or attended! You really can't go wrong with these.

 And be prepared to eat more than just one!

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