In today's chocolate market there is a spectrum of confections that are referred to as " chocolate truffles". While their quality can vary, this non-judgmental primer is meant to clarify what exactly is (and in some cases isn't) a chocolate truffle and to highlight the important differences to chocolate lovers seeking specific experiences when enjoying their favorite treat.
A non-chocolate truffle is a fungus that grows beneath the ground, often roughly spherical and like many other types of edible fungus, soft when bitten. Chocolate truffles can be any shape (spherical or cube-like) and feature a center made of ganache.
Ganache is a mixture (technically an emulsion) of fat-based and water-based liquids. When made and set properly, well-made ganache maintains a firmness that is easily handled yet is smooth when bitten. The classic ganache formulation is chocolate and cream. There have been many innovative variants to this formulation to allow vegetarians and vegans to enjoy chocolate truffles free of dairy products.
In the realm of chocolate truffles, there are predominantly two main styles originating in Switzerland and Belgium. These approaches differ mainly on the method of enrobing. Enrobing is simply the chocolate coating applied to the center.
Belgian-style truffles feature a moulded method of enrobing. Chocolate is placed in fancifully-shaped moulds with multiple cavities (which may be made of silicone or polycarbonate) and allowed to drain out leaving chocolate to set in each cavity. This is done often at least a couple of times to form a coating strong enough to withstand the filling of the cavities with ganache or some other center. For chocolatiers, a mould allows for interesting decorative techniques to be used such as spray painting the moulds with edible inks or paints prior to filling. The mouth experience when bitten is usually a hard crunch followed by the soft center.
The Swiss approach is to directly enrobe the ganache center with chocolate. This may be done manually through hand dipping with special utensils or an enrobing machine where centers are placed on a conveyor belt and passed beneath a chocolate waterfall! The coating is often very thin and in the case of hand dipping, to achieve a delicacy to the enrobing is part of a chocolatier's skill. A wide-range of decorative approaches may be applied often with a piping bag but may also include spray-painting after enrobing. The mouth experience when bitten is a delicate crunch followed by the smooth center.
There are many confections with the outward appearance of a truffle but if a confection doesn't include ganache within it, it's technically not a truffle. This includes those with nougat, praline or jelly centers. Confusion occurs when a Swiss enrobing style is used for truffles with a ganache formulated using Belgian chocolate!
There are many bonbons on the market that appear to be truffles but the center formulation is closer to candy. Again, this is non-judgemental. Candy is not a bad word! Despite working with some of the finest ingredients in the world I must confess a deep love of Peanut M&Ms! For me, no movie-going experience is complete without a bag to accompany me! But the difference between candy and truffles is an important one when shopping for chocolate gifts to treat yourself or someone special. There is an elegance to ganache that creative chocolatiers enhance through unique recipe formulations which lends itself more to an occasion.
A common bonbon often mistakenly referred to as a truffle are those with a liquid or syrupy center. The classic example here in Canada is Lowney's Cherry Blossom and in the U.S., Christopher's Big Cherry. Both of these products are technically cordials. A chocolate coating surrounds a liquid center and in the case of these old favorites, a maraschino cherry as well.