As our pepper fermentation expert says above, a lot of this...
Some things are so easy to make at home that you end up wondering how you could have missed the memo for so long. I mean, leaving certain things to the professionals makes sense--fine cheeses, artisan breads, wine--but other things are just as easily made in the comfort of your home and for less money. Of course, you may never attain artisan status, but that's okay as long as you find satisfaction in what you're doing.
Now that the season of chocolate is upon us, let us reconsider the truffle. A box of chocolates is an accepted standard Valentine's Day gift, but as most women will probably attest, getting yet another box of chocolates is fraught with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's really lovely to get something--anything--from someone who cares about you. On the other, a box of chocolates is a bit half-hearted. It's too obvious, too easy. After all, you can just run down to the drugstore and get one at the eleventh hour. And even if you are well-prepared and purchase your fair lady's chocolates days ahead of time, the gift will still have the aura of laziness or cliché about it.
Even supposing you splurge and buy really spectacular artisan chocolates from the latest Brooklyn micro-producer, they're still only chocolates, and once the initial charm wears off, there will be a half-eaten box of really expensive chocolates in the back of the pantry until someone works up the nerve to toss it. A sad story but so often true.
Homemade chocolates, however, are a different story. They're not going to be as pretty as store-bought, and you're not going to be able to pull off anything terribly extravagant--pomegranate jellies enrobed in single-origin chocolate with gold leaf, for instance--but they're homemade.
Truffles are a great starting point. They're incredibly easy to make, if a bit messy, and they're irresistible. Bite-sized cocoa-dusted spheres of ganache. Best of all, they are easily flavored with your valentine's favorite liquor. We used Frangelico--hazelnut liqueur--but almost any flavorful alcohol can be used instead: Cointreau (orange), St. Germain (elderflower), Domaine de Canton (ginger), or even red wine, bourbon, rum, or port. If you don't drink, consider infusing the cream with Earl Grey tea or using citrus zest to liven up the truffles.
This is the sort of task you'll want to wear an apron for--extra points if she sees you wearing the apron (trust me). It's messy but pretty quick and very easy. And it's homemade. Nothing says love like homemade.
It pays to use the highest quality chocolate you can afford, as that will be the predominant flavor of these candies.
Chop into tiny pieces with a knife or in a food processor and place in a medium mixing bowl:
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
Heat to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat:
1 cup heavy cream
Pour the hot cream all at once over the chocolate, cover, and let sit for about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (whisking introduces air bubbles, so avoid the whisk) stir gently until the mixture is smooth and thoroughly blended. Stir in:
1/4 cup liqueur of choice
Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, until the ganache is thick and quite stiff. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Measure out the ganache in heaping tablespoonfuls (or use a teaspoon for the larger amount), and quickly roll between your palms to form rough spheres. Drop the spheres into a bowl of:
Sifted cocoa powder
Toss with the cocoa powder until coated, and place the spheres on the lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Truffles can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up t