For something so famous and ubiquitous, the story of chocolate truffles is infuriatingly vague. Their inventor, history, naming and even definition are obscure and complex.
They are nonetheless amazing when properly crafted. And we are delighted to, finally, have some craft chocolate truffles from David Crichton of The Careless Collection, and Mike Longman of Chocolarder, and we hope to be launching more soon!
We’ve also pulled together some other packages for Father’s Day, and to take advantage of the great summer weather (please see below).
And if you want to know more about the history and etymology of ‘chocolate truffles’, read on for more information to impress and bamboozle everyone you treat to these delights (spoiler alert: These truffles don’t contain any mushroom or fungi or Piedmont truffle, they aren’t Belgian, they aren’t to be confused with Pralines; but they do have a connection to the French for “chump” or “idiot”).
There are a lot of claims as to who invented the first chocolate truffles, with three French chefs vying to claim the credit for their invention:
- The earliest claim is by a Paris playwright turned confectioner called Paul Sirauadin, who created a bon bon called a “crème ganache” in 1869, which he named after a popular comedy called Les Ganaches (The Idiots), written by a friend.
- Next up is French pâtissier Louis Dufour who, running out of ideas (and stock) for treats on Christmas Day 1895 in Chambray, France, made up a batch of ‘ganache’ (i.e. chocolate mixed with cream), shaped this into round balls and then dipped these into melted chocolate. As a side note, one of his relatives (Antoine Dufour), took this idea with him when he came to the UK in 1902 and used it to found Prestat Chocolates.
- The third, and most often cited, truffle inventor is the famous French Chef, Auguste Escoffier in the 1920s. According to legend, one of Escoffier’s apprentices mistakenly poured some hot cream into a bowl with some chocolate instead of a nearby bowl of beaten eggs and sugar. Escoffier yelled “ganache” (idiot), but then turned this mistake (or bad pun) into truffles by hand rolling the ‘ganache’ into balls and dusting them with cocoa powder (i.e. basically doing what is also claimed of Siraudin and Dufour).
Whichever story is correct, the bottom line is that these ganache truffles are amazing. When crafted properly, the combination of melted cream and chocolate encased in a hard chocolate casing is hard to beat.
What’s in a name?
Similar to the claims to who came up with the original truffle recipe, the person who first named them “truffles” is similarly disputed. But it’s generally accepted that because these hand rolled chocolate delicacies are such a luxury, and on the surface physically look very similar to the legendary fungi truffles of Perigord and Piedmont, that this is the origin of their name.
(Note: the history of fungi based truffles is far, far longer: Their consumption has been traced back to the Sumerians and Babylonians in ~4000 BC).
Divided by a Common Language
Over the last hundred years, chocolate makers in different countries have further confused the world of chocolate truffles by developing their own recipes and definitions, with massive variations. For example:
- The classic French truffle should only be made with fresh cream and chocolate, and then rolled in cocoa powder (and, sometimes, nut powder). They should also be made by hand. And can only be made with milk or dark chocolate.
- The Swiss truffle has similar ingredients to the French but is made somewhat differently; melted chocolate is mixed into a boiling mixture of dairy cream and butter, which is then poured into moulds to set before sprinkling with cocoa powder (and given these moulds, they can easily be confused with a Belgian Praline; see below).
- The Spanish prepare their truffles with dark chocolate, condensed milk, rum (or any preferred liqueur), and chocolate sprinkles.
- The classic American truffle is more recent, and comprises a half-oval-shaped, chocolate-coated truffle made from a mixture of dark or milk chocolates with butterfat and, in some cases, hardened coconut oil. These American truffles also have a flat bottom (as opposed to being round like mushroom truffles).
- California (of course) has its own truffle variant that is essentially a super sized, and lumpier, version of the French truffle (developed by Alice Medrich in 1973 in Berkeley California).
- Further north, the Canadians also have a truffle called the “Harvey Truffle” which shares the same flat bottom as the American truffle but includes fillings such as peanut butter and graham crackers.
- And then we have what the Belgians call a truffle or praline (see below), which is basically a chocolate shell filled with all sorts of creations, but often involving nuts.
Pralines versus Truffles: Putting the Matter Straight
The Belgians, as well as claiming to invent couverture in the 1920s, also claim that a Belgian, Jean Neuhas, in 1912 invented a form of truffle which they somewhat confusingly also call “pralines”.
Belgium’s claim to have invented the praline is a bit of a stretch (and their claim over truffles even more tenuous). But to give credit where credit is due, the Belgian claim for Oskar Callebault to have invented couverture appears on firmer ground. However, boasting about the invention of mass produced couverture in the world of fine chocolate is a bit like claiming to have invented ready cooked meals in the world of fine cuisine (come to a virtual tasting to find out more).
As with truffles, the French have a strong claim to inventing, and at least first using, the term ‘praline’. In 1636 Clement Lassagne, chef to the French Duke of Praslin, named a confection comprising almonds and sugar after the Duke, a famous French general. Initially he called it a Praslin, but upon retiring from working for the Duke, Clement Lassagne founded La Maison de la Praline (which still exists in the French town of Montargis, and still sells Pralines).
These Pralines also spread internationally, enjoying status of a classic dish in New Orleans and Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries, where it became a source of great pride, and income, for many Creole families.
Confusion then occurred in 1912 when Jean Neuhas in Belgium started to use the word “praline” to describe what he also called a “truffle” for his chocolate invention of a hard outer shell which contained various fillings. And as with couverture in general, many companies specialise in making these praline casings for other chocolate makers to add various creams, concoctions, etc. but don’t actually make the chocolate themselves.
What to Look for in a Truffle
So, first and foremost, neither the American nor the Belgian pralines are really truffles (and the chocolate they use probably wasn’t made in America or Belgium).
Secondly, as with craft chocolate bars:
- Check the ingredients (to paraphrase Michael Pollan: Make sure your grandmother would recognise them all).
- Make sure you know the source of the chocolate beans used in the ganache and casing.
- Identify where, and how, your chocolate is made.
To date, very few truffles are made with craft chocolate, and that’s why we’ve held off launching them until now. But this is changing!
Chocolarder crafts all their chocolate, and inclusions, down in Cornwall, including their incredibly moreish Salted Caramel which we tasted on Sunday Brunch. Mike Longman, founder of Chocolarder, directly sources the beans for this chocolate used for the casing from the Ashaninka people in the Peruvian Andes. And Michael then combines some of this chocolate with Cornish sea salt and fresh Cornish cream to make a ganache that they turn, by hand, into truffles. See the truffles here.
David Crichton (of Master Chef fame), works with Pump Street Chocolate to create firstly his bars, and now his truffles (including the bread and butter one, that was so good that Simon and Tim wouldn’t share it with their guests last week; but you can now try them here).
Enjoy! And as ever, thanks for your support (and please keep the feedback and comments coming! Email us here).