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Flash in the Pan

Tripping the truffle fantastic



“Fa crap’s sayk, Laddy,” said Maggie, “we mustant farget the focaccia.”

Laddy nodded gravely. “Aye,” he said.

I was not there for the focaccia—though it did smell good back there in the cozy kitchen. I was there for the food of the gods.

While Hernando Cortez, the gold-sniffing Spanish conquistador, was conquering the Aztec empire, he had the fortune of encountering the hot beverage known as Cacau-atl. The phrase means “bitter water,” and the drink contains roasted and ground cocoa beans, as well as hot chilis and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Aztec law dictated that cocoa was a food of the gods, as well as of Aztec rulers, aka living gods. They say Montezuma drank about 50 goblets of Cacau-atl a day.

Although we know that Cortez brought cocoa back to Spain, we don’t quite know what his experience was with the little fungi. Pondering that question made it seem less strange to me that my hosts were speaking Scottish in the cozy little kitchen. And chocolate is as international as it is cosmic. It was the Dutch who figured out how to separate cocoa butter, mix the pulverized remainder with sugar, and recombine it with the cocoa butter to produce chocolate. It was the Swiss who first added milk.

And there I was, in that most Italian of Missoula cafes: Cafe Dolce, Southgate Mall, USA. It is here that they make the Rolls Royce of chocolate delivery systems, those blissful nuggets named after the earth-dwelling condensed cream of fungal flavor, the truffle.

Oh truffle…you heavenly morsel of food, not to be eaten standing up lest one bliss out and hit one’s head. You special delivery of extraordinary, extra-rich, extra-lovely, extra-dark and sometimes creamy flavor that is alleged to push the brain’s “love” button. Oh truffle...

“Laddy,” said Maggie, “I s’pose wid bist git stirted.” They were going to show me, a dark Russian with a Jewish nose and a Belgian last name, how to be a trufflemaker.

First step: the filling. Maggie poured an unidentified quantity of Meadowgold nine percent heavy cream into a thick-bottomed pot. It was pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized like whipping cream (which works, too). She turned on the heat pretty dang high for cream.

“Ya gots ta bring it to a simma,” she said, “in a dubble-boyla, or a fat-bottom pot, so it down’t scold.”

They use Callebaut chocolate, from Belgium—like my last name! You can get it in a large brick—or pre-chopped—if you have a wholesale account. Otherwise, use something good and dark, like Lindor. The Good Food Store has some fine bulk Ghirardelli as well.

When the cream reached a simmer, Maggie killed the heat and started whisking handfuls of pre-chopped dark Callebaut, letting the lingering heat from the stove and pot and cream melt the chocolate. Then she started tossing in chunks of room-temperature butter. “Incorporate with a whisk,” she said. When I asked her what her proportions were, she eyed me with piercing suspicion. “Try The Joy of Cooking,” she said.

Laddy shook his head. “Fa fok’s seeik Maggie,” he said, “don’t just hang the poor chap out to dry like, like, like...”

His eyes got big.

Her eyes got big.

“The focaccia!”

Laddy checked the oven. It was almost ready, and not smelling like too much of a problem.

“Okay, okay, okay,” said Maggie. “Hail Mury fulla grease, I swear I’ll notever divulge the secret special proportion. But if ya go 1/2 cup cream, und 2T butter ta 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, you’ll be fine.”

Laddy poured the glistening mixture into a shallow aluminum pan. The sight of it made me dizzy, like being in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Now you flavor the filling. The added flavor will fade as the truffle cures, so it should taste a little strong at this point. Vanilla is a good thing to add. Or Kalhua. Frangelica liqueur adds the rich earthtones of hazelnut. Bourbon hits the spot as well. When adding liquid, keep in mind that the more you add, the more liquidy the filling will tend to be, which can make later steps more difficult.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap, tight against the surface of the chocolate. Leave it overnight in the fridge.

This filling can hang out in the fridge for weeks (yeah, right). Just make sure it stays wrapped tight—you don’t want it absorbing the flavor of last week’s moldy leftover garlic bread.

Oh fa crap’s sayk, we’re out of space. Next week, my little gods and goddesses, I will tell you the rest of what you need to know to be a full-on trufflemaker.

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