Making truffles for Valentine's Day is one way to say "I love you," "thank you," "you are appreciated" or whatever needs saying. That chocolate is an aphrodisiac has never been scientifically proven, but it is an undeniable mood elevator. No matter what the research says, chocolate is a legitimate craving this time of year. It can drive away the darkness of winter as we hang on for spring, no doubt about it.
I adapted this recipe from one that came to me through an elegant woman who lives in Atlanta, where they know a thing or two about sweet temptations.
A note about cream cheese: I made these truffles using local farmers cheese and local pecans, the best-quality free-trade baking and powdered chocolate (semisweet and ground is fine) and pure vanilla I could find. Farmers cheese can vary in density, so test the kind you choose for thickness before you begin making the truffles. Using a spoon, mold a small bit of the cheese into a ball and see if it will hold its shape. If you can't find a dense enough farmers cheese, substitute organic cream cheese. Best strategy is to buy farmers cheese and organic cream cheese. Then, if the farmers cheese doesn't work, you have a backup. You can always use the farmers cheese in a frittata or omelets or just plain eat it on toast or crackers.
Once they are made, be sure to keep these babies cool at all times. If you're traveling in a heated car to see your sweetie, transport them in a cooler. I store them in a corner of the fridge in airtight containers between wax paper. If you're having V-day dinner at home and serving brandy and coffee with your truffles, take them out of the fridge half an hour before you want to serve them and let them come to just room temperature.
Nestled in a shiny tin and tied with a ribbon, these truffles represent a gift of your time, the essence of love, some would say.
If truffles are too fussy for you and yours, try our house-favorite, go-to chocolate fix: my son Matthew's Chocolate Chess Pie. This recipe originally was published in a spiral-bound fundraiser cookbook. It's drawn from an oral-tradition recipe that floated around UNC's folklore program for years. Matthew's adjustments are yummy and rely on powdered chocolate or cocoa rather than melted baking squares, often the preference for this Southern classic. This means it's easier to find best-quality ingredients. The texture is wonderfully silky, especially if you use local eggs and butter.
Yields about 48 truffles
8 ounces organic cream cheese or farmers cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
5 1-ounce squares unsweetened baking or cooking chocolate, melted
1--2 teaspoons pure undiluted vanilla, to taste depending on strength
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped fine
1/2 cup ground chocolate or cocoa powder, sweet, semisweet or unsweetened
Using a handheld or stand mixer, in a 2-quart mixing bowl beat cheese until smooth while gradually adding powdered sugar until incorporated. Add melted chocolate and vanilla and continue blending on medium speed, scraping mixture down and off sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until thoroughly mixed.
Fold the truffle filling into a mound in the same bowl or a clean one and cover tightly with plastic wrap or a firm-fitting lid to avoid drying out. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Using a teaspoon or melon ball scoop, dig chunks of the truffle filling and shape them with your hands into one-inch balls. Immediately roll each ball in ground chocolate, cocoa powder or pecans. Cover each truffle completely. Vary the coverings so you can present a range of tastes in each box of truffles.
As you work, place each truffle in a tin or some other airtight container on wax paper in a single layer.
Truffles keep at least 10 days in a refrigerator. Freezing is not recommended.
Chocolate Chess Pie Your Teenager Can Make
Serves 8 generously
5 tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa or ground chocolate
7 tablespoons melted and cooled butter
2 large (or 3 to 4 medium) farm eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1 9-inch ready-to-bake piecrust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
With an electric mixer, beat cocoa, melted butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla on medium until blended and sugar is well dissolved. Don't beat longer than 3 minutes or too much air will work its way in. Bake at 350 until a knife inserted comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Serve with Slightly Sweetened Whipped Cream.
Slightly Sweetened Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or bourbon
Chill a nonreactive glass or metal bowl and a mixer's beater attachments in the freezer for at least half an hour.
Pour cream in the cold bowl. Using the cold beaters, whip the cream on high speed until peaks begin to form. Slowly add sugar, then vanilla or bourbon. Continue beating. When the cream is firm and cumulus cloudlike but not dense, it is ready.
Serve immediately on top of slices of pie.