Sunday, February 12, 2012
Hearts (Spades, Diamonds, and Clubs) and Chocolates
What’s cooking? Goat Cheese & Hazelnut Truffles
My husband and I are bridge players. In that serious, competitive, obsessive way. The kind of people who go on vacation to a tournament and play the game for 6-7 days in a row. I know, it sounds crazy; but there’s a whole subculture of people who do this for entertainment.
Bridge and golf have a lot in common, in the sense that couples who play either game together walk a fine line in order to remain happily married at the same time. I don’t play golf – I figure it’s tough enough to survive one couples game, and besides, sitting at a card table suits my physical skill set a lot better. But I love bridge, and I love playing with my husband as my partner.
We get along at the table because we pay strict adherence to two basic rules. Rule Number One: He has to smile. He’s much better than I am, and I can’t concentrate on making the right bid or play if he’s across the table scowling. I start worrying about what I might have done wrong, and in an instant, my whole game goes down the toilet.
On the other hand, there’s Rule Number Two: He’s always right. Okay, okay, so it’s mostly true. Which doesn’t mean I always feel like saying so. Nevertheless, at the end of a hand, if he has some piece of advice, my job is to nod and say, “You’re right.” Even if – hard to imagine – he’s actually wrong, there’s no discussion, and we can move on to the next hand. The analysis goes a lot better when it’s later, over a glass of wine.
We’ve played a lot together recently, and he’s been swell – smiling almost the whole time. So for Valentine’s Day, I’ve made the most delicious chocolate truffles you ever swooned over. In fact, I served them last night for dessert and his only comment was, “Oh, wow....”
These were originally served to me at a delightful restaurant called Elsewhere, in NYC. Unfortunately, not all really good restaurants make it in NYC, and such was the case with Elsewhere. But – and this is truly great news – the same fabulous Pastry Chef from Elsewhere has relocated to another restaurant under the same management: Casellula Cheese & Wine Café, at 401 West 52nd Street, in NYC.
The Pastry Chef’s name is Leigh Friend (I like her already because our names are homonyms), and her creations are amazing. I was at Elsewhere last summer for lunch with two friends, and we weren’t going to have dessert, but decided what the heck. Oh my goodness. I had grapefruit sorbet, one friend had orange mint sorbet, and the other had a Pavlova made with coconut ice cream and passionfruit purée. The sorbets were smooth and completely perfect – the mintiness in the orange mint was like a drink of cold spring water, and the grapefruit was the exact right balance of sweet yet not sweet. But my friend with the Pavlova was so overwhelmed she refused to share and insisted that we order another for the experience. We did, and the creaminess of the coconut ice cream topped with the just-tart passionfruit purée over a perfectly crunchy meringue was hands down better than any I’ve had before. I just hope it’s on the menu at Casellula.
Chef Friend was kind enough to give me the recipe for her truffles. You may blanch at the ingredients (goat cheese and Nutella – really? yes, really), but the result is a truffle that’s mysteriously delicious and not overwhelmingly sweet. And while the process isn’t short, it’s far easier than you’d guess.
Leigh Friend’s Goat Cheese & Hazelnut Truffles
In a KitchenAid mixer with a paddle, combine equal parts goat cheese (chèvre – any mild-flavored brand will do) and Nutella. Mix until smooth, making sure to scrape down the sides. Transfer the mix to a piping bag and pipe out the truffles to the size you would like. Chill in the fridge until firm. Once firm, shape into uniform balls. Dip the truffles in chocolate once to get a good thick shell on the outside. Have toasted chopped hazelnuts in a bowl mixed with a bit of salt (I use Maldon) aside. After coating all the truffles once, dip them a second time and before the chocolate can harden, toss them in the hazelnuts.
So now that you get the general idea, here are a few Kitchen Goddess notes that should help:
(1) As to quantities of the ingredients, here’s what I used, so you can gauge what you’ll need for a specific number of truffles. These quantities produced 32-34 truffles. (I might have consumed 1-2 in the tasting process.)
4 oz goat cheese (chèvre – any mild-flavored brand)
4 oz Nutella
5-6 oz toasted, chopped hazelnuts
large pinch of finishing salt (Maldon or other flaky sea salt)
11.5-oz bag of Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (You might make do with 2 of the 4-oz bars; I just think the chips are easier to deal with, and it never hurts to have leftover melted chocolate.)
(2) I’m as handy with a piping bag as I am with, oh, say, a coping saw, so I chilled the cheese/Nutella “batter” in a bowl in the refrigerator until firm, then used a teaspoon and my fingers to form the truffles into balls about ¾ inch in diameter. It’s less elegant, technique-wise, but once you’ve covered the little darlings with a couple of rounds of chocolate and the nuts, there’s precious little difference in the final product.
(3) If, like me, you can only find whole hazelnuts with skins on, by far the best way to remove the skins is to boil them 3-4 mins in a quart of water with 4 Tbl of baking soda, then rinse them in a colander under cold water. Most of the skins will peel off on their own; the rest will come off easily with a little rubbing. Chop the nuts and toast them 10-20 mins in a 350º oven.
The above photo is of Friend’s truffles; the photo here is of mine. You can see that she allows the nuts to be more chunky, which is a bit artier than my version. I plan to do less chopping of the nuts next time.
(4) For the chocolate, if you use bars, first chop them into small pieces. Melt it slowly, using either a double boiler (do not let the pan with the chocolate touch the water), or a microwave. For microwave melting, use a bowl that will not overheat as you work, and heat the chocolate at 50% power in bursts of 30 seconds to a minute. Stir well between bursts.
(5) Most important note: the whole process goes best if you freeze or chill well the balls in between stages – e.g., mix the chèvre, chill, form into balls, chill, dip in chocolate, chill, dip in chocolate/nuts, chill. And I stored the leftovers in the freezer. Worked great.
Happy Valentine’s Day!