Start with a good-quality chocolate
Select a chocolate that you enjoy eating out of hand. To make truffles, you need a firm ganache. The classic formula is to use two parts chocolate to one part cream. Eight ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and ½ cup of cream will make about two-dozen truffles. Chop the chocolate into fairly even, small pieces—a heavy serrated knife works well.
Chocolate with a cacao content of about 60% works best with this formula, though you try out other kinds of chocolate and tweak the proportions slightly. For chocolate with 70% cacao, I’ve had to increase the cream by about a tablespoon or two. I decreased the cream when using milk or white chocolate.
Boil cream, add chocolate
Butter and liqueur optional. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat.
Add the chopped chocolate to the cream. For an extra smooth truffle, add butter, about a tablespoon for every eight ounces of chocolate. The same amount of liqueur can be added at this point, as well. Make sure none of these additions is cold or it could break your ganache, turning your smooth pudding-like mixture into a greasy-looking mess.
Wait a minute or two until most of the chocolate and butter is melted.
Transfer to a mixing bowl
Whisk until smooth. Once the chocolate is mostly melted, quickly but gently transfer the mixture to a bowl so that you can form your emulsion in a cooler environment.
Whisk the mixture vigorously until it’s thick and smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and incorporating all the cream and chocolate. If you have one, an immersion blender helps make sure the emulsion is stable.
If the ganache shows signs of breaking at this point (if it looks curdled or oily), you can add a few drops of cream to help re-emulsify it.
Set at room temperature
As soon as it looks like this, stop whisking. A well-emulsified ganache should look like chocolate pudding: thick, smooth, and glossy. Once it has cooled, gently fold in additions like chopped nuts and cover the ganache. Leave it in a cool spot to firm up for at least four hours, ideally overnight.
You can speed things up by letting it set in the fridge, but resulting ganache tends not to taste quite as silky.
Broken ganache is fixable!
This is a broken ganache. Note the grainy texture as it pours into the bowl. You might also see a greasy sheen on the surface of a broken ganache. It’s easy enough to fix. The most effective method is to little by little whisk the broken ganache into a tablespoon or so of cream that's ideally the same temperature as the ganache. This will work for even large amounts of ganache.
Scoop and form ganache
Once the ganache has set into a uniformly firm mass, scoop out small balls with a melon baller or spoon. Roll each one briefly in the palms of your very clean (or gloved) hands. It helps if you have cold hands or are in a cool room. Chill the truffles briefly, for about 15 minutes, while you prepare whatever you’d like to enrobe them in.
If your ganache isn’t firm enough to scoop into balls, you can chill it in the fridge to harden. Or, whip it very briefly until the color just begins to lighten—about 30 seconds on medium-low with a hand mixer. Let it set again and it will firm up.
Roll in coating
The simplest way to finish the truffles is to roll them in a dry coating: cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, finely chopped toasted nuts, crushed cookies, or shaved coconut, for instance.
If your ganache isn’t firm enough to scoop into balls, you can chill it in the fridge to harden. Or, you can whip it very briefly until the color just begins to lighten—about 30 seconds on medium-low with a hand mixer. Let it set again and it will firm up. I’ve found this method especially helpful with white chocolate.
Or, enrobe with tempered chocolate first
If you want to get fancy, you can dip the truffle in tempered chocolate and then either dredge it in cocoa powder or garnish it. Tempering chocolate involves carefully raising, lowering, and then slightly raising its temperature to stabilize the crystals in the chocolate and ensures a smooth, glossy sheen and a snappy bite. I love the result of tempered chocolate, but have never been much for the process (which deserves its own separate post). See the next slide for a shortcut.
Use two forks to roll the truffle around in the melted chocolate and coat it evenly. Let the excess chocolate drain through the tines of the fork and place on a smooth surface to harden at room temperature. If you want to coat the enrobed truffles in cocoa, roll them before the chocolate fully dries.
The shortcut method
Not a tempering expert? Here’s a simpler method that will keep your chocolate pretty stable, but make sure you use chocolate that has not previously been melted.
Very gently melt grated or very finely chopped chocolate in a bowl immersed in a warm water bath (around 90 to 95°F), stirring it gently as it melts and adding hot water to the bath as necessary to maintain the temperature. Make sure that no water gets into the chocolate.
Rolling the chocolate shell in cocoa powder before it sets will help mask any tempering imperfections.
The finished product
As a final flourish, you can garnish your truffles with crystallized fruit or flowers, dehydrated citrus zest, or small bits of candy as the chocolate shell sets.
When you are finished decorating them, store them at room temperature for up to a week, in the refrigerator for two to three weeks, or in the freezer for two months. They taste best eaten at room temperature.