BY Caroline Hood

Bite into the silky center of a chocolate truffle and experience the essence of fine confection: an intense encounter of richness.

A French invention the truffle is a decadent candy that is both versatile and indulgent. Made with butter heavy cream and high-quality chocolate the truffles ganache center may be dusted with cocoa powder enrobed in white or dark chocolate or rolled in nuts or toasted coconut. 

Choosing the best chocolate truffles from local confectioners begins with understanding the origins of the chocolate from which they are made.


Where They are Made and How to Get Them

Truffles are named for their resemblance to truffle mushrooms dark round fungi with bumpy exteriors. The candies are made with chocolate ganache centers and require the finest quality cocoa. Chocolate made with at least 55 to 60 percent cocoa solids is ideal for making truffles to achieve the concentrated flavor.

To create the ganache center chocolate is melted with cream and butter until it is emulsified and smooth. The ganache is then piped through a pastry bag and rolled into balls by hand. Once the centers of the truffles have been chilled in the refrigerator they can be dipped in a chocolate coating rolled in cocoa powder or covered with toasted coconut or chopped nuts.

Sue Papach of So Sweet Chocolates developed her own truffle recipe in 2000 using the freshest ingredients and 100 percent dark cocoa ganache. She ensures her truffles are of the highest quality by using Fair Trade cocoa which means the beans are grown and harvested in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner.

Papachs truffles are made with essential oils rather than extracts and without preservatives. She creates classic chocolate truffles and also experiments with different flavors such as Key lime and mocha.

If ingredients are truly fresh the shelf life is short  Papach says. The cocoa base makes for a nice rich creamy truffle.

An artisan truffle snaps on the first bite. The texture is smooth says Kymberlei DiNapoli owner of Taste the Olive which features a gourmet chocolate truffle case in its restaurant and store.

A good product should have a shiny finish and not have a grainy texture  DiNapoli says.

DiNapoli started learning about gourmet chocolates 15 years ago when a friend opened a chocolate shop and she was introduced to creative and innovative flavor combinations. Since then she has cultivated a diverse palette by tasting chocolates during her travels around the world.

It s my own personal quest  DiNapoli says. I love the creativity and adventurous spirit of chocolatiers.

DiNapoli started carrying gourmet truffles in Taste the Olive as this personal quest grew into a desire to offer fine chocolates to the Wilmington area. She receives a shipment of Recchiuti chocolates each week from San Francisco and displays them in a temperature and humidity-controlled case. Each truffle is decorated by hand and enveloped in dark chocolate with unusual flavors such as grapefruit and tarragon.

Joan Winkler the owner of Choco Geo learned the complex chemistry of chocolate making by spending years in the kitchen and taking chocolatiering classes. She says starting with simple truffle ingredients allows for delicious flavor combinations such as dark chocolate raspberry or white chocolate ginger.

True chocolate will have a highly complex combination of flavors when tasted Winkler says.

If your first reaction is Wow this is really sweet  it s probably not a good piece of chocolate  Winkler says.

Winkler will sell hundreds of her handmade truffles at the Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival in February. Her classic dark chocolate truffle is a favorite among customers. She attributes the high-quality chocolate and cream she uses in her truffles to their success and popularity.

Artisan chocolate truffles slightly irregular in shape and size should also have a clean finish on the bottom says James Snyder owner of Temptations Gourmet Foods and Cafe which carries 15 to 20 different truffle flavors at a time.

When they are decorated by hand every truffle is slightly different not identical like machine-made candy  Snyder says. It s higher quality if it s handmade.

Temptations provisions its truffles from Sweet Shop USA a Texas-based company that uses certified kosher ingredients and hand-dips all of its truffles. Snyder says truffles have been a Temptations staple for almost 30 years because of their quality and timelessness.

Fritzi Huber a local artist created her own truffle recipe from sweet childhood memories of eating them with her father a Swiss-born aerialist who performed in the circus.

The family traveled to New York City every Christmas where Huber s father would buy her a truffle from a candy store on 86th Street. She was never able to find the same quality of truffle again so she began experimenting with making her own to give to family and friends.

Now Huber makes several hundred Fritz Huber Truffles during the holidays using the highest quality chocolate heavy cream and butter. Named after her father the truffles are a nostalgic indulgence with a rich complexity and density of flavor.

It s very layered in the taste sensation it creates. If the truffle is good you start feeling it deeper in your palette  Huber says. Then the flavor subsides very cleanly.

The best way to cultivate a chocolate palette is to simply indulge and eat.