Lately I’ve been getting restless with copying other people’s recipes, itching to try my own hand at recipe development. When it comes to cooking, this is no big deal – but baking? One semester of food science two and a half years ago does not, apparently, make me inherently qualified to just start shuffling around ingredients like it’s my job. I haven’t missed the mark completely, but there have been little problems with everything, and those nasty little pessimistic thoughts started to seed themselves in my brain after the third or fourth flop: I’ll never make my own recipes. How can I dream of becoming, perhaps, a dessert shop owner if I can’t even make a simple brownie recipe? An easy truffle? I’m just a copy-cat, and who wants to read the blog of a copycat? And so on and so forth until I beat myself into a pulp.
Then I stepped away from the gooey truffles and undercooked brownies, hands in the air, and reminded myself that I never went to culinary school. All I have is my limited baking experience, one lonely food science class, and Google – a formidable combination, but not an unbeatable one. I’m bound to flop more times than I succeed, especially in the beginning. And the beauty about baking, that I find at least, is not just in a well put together and delicious end product – that’s nice, absolutely, but what I truly love is the calm that settles over me as I go through the motions of mixing a batter and putting it all together. Even if every kitchen cabinet is open, I’ve dirtied every bowl and it looks to any innocent bystander like I’ve surely lost my marbles – I’m calm inside. No gooey truffle or unevenly baked brownie can take that from me.
And in the end, I know I’ll make it – the way I did with this Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffle. This began two years ago, when I wanted to make caramel cookies to bring with me to L’s family Christmas dinner. The cookies stuck to the pan 100% and were a horrific mess. Tears in my eyes and panic in every fiber of my being, I scraped them off into one pile of warm, sticky cookie mess. What was I going to do? I’ll tell you what I was going to do – I was going to smoosh them all together, portion them out into little single-serving balls, dip them in melted m&m’s and play it off as totally intentional. Because it was such a haphazard attempt, the distribution of caramel and cookie wasn’t uniform, so some truffles were fantastic and others were a little bland. I was determined to remake them the proper way, intentionally.
It took two more attempts, and I still discovered little nuances in my technique that will make them more professional looking for my fourth try, but I can officially present to you The Chocolate That Will Make You Forget About Storebought Candy Bars. You want a Twix? Make these Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffles. You’re craving Mounds? Add coconut to your shopping list, and make these Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffles (according to my Dad). You can’t get enough of a Snickers bar? Chop up some peanuts and make these Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffles (according to my Mom).
If you’re really good at pattern identification, you’ve probably picked up on a common theme here: make these Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffles – and you better make them quick, cause if the world really is ending tonight, you won’t want to go out without trying at least one of these.
One Year Ago: Egg Muffins
Two Years Ago: Eggplant Croquettes
Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Truffles
These truffles have soft, sweet centers with a hint of salt, all encased in a dark chocolate shell. They store easily, can – and should – be made in advance, and will be a hit at any get-together.
Yield: 3 ½ - 4 dozen truffles
Active Time: approximately 1 hour
Inactive Time: approximately 1 ½ - 2 hours
Inactive Time: approximately 1 ½ - 2 hours
½ tablespoon vanilla bean paste2
½ cup heavy cream
2 ½ tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup3
2 tablespoons water
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
½ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
20-24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Begin with your caramel: combine the vanilla with the cream, butter and salt in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture has boiled, remove from the heat and set aside. Place a new, larger (3-4 quart capacity) pot on the burner with the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, allowing the mixture to come to a boil as well, then stop stirring and simply swirl the pan gently now and then until the mixture has reached a golden caramel color. The longer you cook it, the more complex the flavor will be, but take care not to overcook it – burnt caramel can occur in the blink of an eye, and there’s no way back from that mistake. Slowly pour the cream mixture into the caramel, stirring all the while – it will bubble up then settle a bit. Continue to stir while the mixture simmers another 3 minutes. Transfer the caramel to a heat-safe container that can hold around 2 cups, and set aside to cool. Once it has come to room temperature, place it in the fridge to chill.3
Next, start on your shortbread by preheating the oven to 350˚Fahrenheit and greasing a light colored cookie sheet with butter or nonstick spray (I just use the butter stick that I’m about to stick in the recipe – I figure it won’t miss that exact teaspoon). Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, a little bit at a time to minimize the amount of flour that flies everywhere. Grab chunks of the dough, roll into a ball and smoosh flat onto the baking sheet spaced a few inches apart – the goal is moderate uniformity to ensure even baking time, but they don’t need to look nice or be any particular size. I’d say about the size of 1-2 balls of mozzarella is what I did. Bake the cookies until just barely golden around the edges, 10-15 minutes; they’ll still be soft in the center. Allow to cool 5 minutes on the pan, then crumble into a bowl and stick in the refrigerator to finish cooling, approximately 15-20 minutes.
When your cookies are nice and chilled, remove from the fridge and break up with a metal spatula, perhaps letting them warm slightly if necessary to fully break up the chunks. Also bring out the caramel and pour over the cookies, using a spatula to mix them as best you can. Use a ____ scoop to portion the caramel cookie out onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet, and place in the freezer to firm up, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and roll each scoop in your hands to make a smooth ball, and return to the freezer while you prepare the chocolate coating.
Using either a double boiler or a small saucepan with heatproof bowl placed on top (either way keep the water in the bottom pan at a minimum – you never want the water to splash up and hit the compartment housing the chocolate), place the chocolate in the bowl/top container and set over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate has fully melted. Remove the caramel balls from the freezer and, working quickly, use two forks to dip each ball in the chocolate until fully coated. Let some of the excess chocolate drip off into the bowl again before setting on another wax paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all of the truffles are complete.4 If you’d like, sprinkle the tops with a little extra sea salt, a drizzle of caramel, or other fun/festive toppings. Set the truffles aside to set up; you can return them to the freezer to hasten the process a little bit.
Truffles can be stored in an airtight container in a cool area or in the refrigerator for up to one week.
1This is the equivalent of 1 vanilla bean. If you don’t have either one – I encourage that you try at least the paste, at least for recipes like this, and keep your standard extract for recipes where the bean itself isn’t so important, like chocolate cake. If you’re really in a bind, though, you could probably also use vanilla extract – they say 1 tablespoon paste = 1 tablespoon extract, but you may want to be conservative at first, as I’ve never tried this recipe with the extract.
2The recipe says light, I used dark because it’s all we had. I now know, however, how icky dark corn syrup is – caramel color is added, for example – plus it makes it more difficult to tell when the caramel has reached the appropriate color/doneness. Basically – yes, you can use dark corn syrup, but I’d really recommend that you not. I know in the future I won’t.
3You can make this the same day as assembling the truffles (I did that the first time), but really, it goes much more smoothly when it’s had a day or so to sit in the fridge (I did that the second time). Everything in this recipe works better cold.
4Remember everything working better cold – if you’re slow like me, consider keeping half the truffles in the freezer while you start the dipping, as they come to room temperature quickly and will be more likely to fall apart in the hot chocolate coating if they aren’t fully frozen when dipped.