Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sexy Symbiosis - Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Truffles

Sometimes, regardless of how delicious something is, I really wonder if I should blog about it.  I mean, just because *I* think it's "da bomb" doesn't mean everyone else isn't going to think I've gone completely mental.  Then I remind myself that I have already posted about Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches.  So I have probably already convinced everyone that I am a little off-centered. :)

There really is a madness to my method, though.  You see, I was poking around on the net trying to ferret out some information on the chemical make-up of brewed coffee.  (Yes, this is what I do for fun)   When I found what I was looking for, I was gobsmacked by the fact that coffee contains some serious quantities of  Glutamic acid.  I knew it contained several amino acids such as Valine, Leucine, Lysine, Arganine, Glycine, Thyrosine and Proline, but the 47.4 mg of Glutamic Acid really surprised me.  The next highest amino count was Leucine at a mere 11.7 mg and everything else was below 10mg.

This got me thinking about Glutamates.  No, I am not talking about the synthetically made Monosodium Glutimate, which is actually a sodium salt of Glutamic acid.  (meaning the amino acid has been bound to a sodium atom) MSG is very different from a free Glutamic acid molecule.

Which brings me to "What exactly is Glutamic acid?"  Glutamic acid, is an amino acid.  Amino Acids are the building blocks of Proteins and Lipo-Proteins. (which are what your cell membranes are constructed out of)  Glutamic Acid (GA) has a second function though, it also triggers your taste buds with, what the Japanese refer to as, Umami, or the "savory" perception.  I say perception, because it's not so much an actual flavor, like Salty, Sweet, Bitter or Sour; it's really more of a chemical trigger that makes you "think" you are eating meat.  In essence triggering the, "HEY, this is protein, you should eat it!" response in your brain.

This is where MSG comes in.  The sodium salt, that is MSG, activates your receptors and tricks your brain into thinking it's consuming meat.  That is why it is added to so many nutrient devoid processed foods.  It triggers the compulsion to eat more, since we are hardwired to crave protein just as strongly as we crave the sweetness of sugar.  Alas, in the case of processed foods, it usually isn't protein you are eating, but some form of filler. There is another shoe that needs to be dropped as well, because our bodies process this salt form of GA completely differently from actual free GA, which can lead to what is commonly known as "Chinese Food Syndrome" or the massive headaches that accompany large doses of synthetically created glutamate.

Now there are foods that contain tried and true "free" Glutamic acids.  The list of these is long, but the top contenders are, well, actual meats like steak or anchovies (anchovies are glutamic acid bombs, which is why you use only 1 or two in an entire recipe)  There are also many non-meat items that contain significant amounts of free GA, such as fermented soy products like Tamari and Black bean paste, tomatoes (which is why tomato sauce and paste are so popular) Seaweed and Kelp like Nori or Kombu, and the sharper Cheese; of which Parmigiano-Reggiano is the undisputed king, I think. Even grains such as Barley and Oats contain significant amounts of free Glutamic acid.  Now mind you, there is plenty of GA locked up in actual protein molecules of these foods, but it is only the "free" GA that triggers your umami perception.

OK, now that I have completely bored everyone with a science lesson on GA and umami I will get back to my original train of thought.

We never bat an eyelash at adding Coffee to Chocolate to "round" out and "deepen" the flavor.  When I saw the amount of GA in coffee, it all started to make sense.  Coffee acts as a "savory" backbone to chocolate.  Well, if this is true, then there should be absolutely no problem adding something like tomato paste or Parmigiano-Reggiano to chocolate.  Even *I* am not ready to jump into adding tomato paste to chocolate quite yet, so I decided on the Parmigiano-Reggiano this time.  (But I'm toying with Lemon and Black Pepper for the near future)  The flavor profile of the cheese has some added benefits as well.  Parm is slightly nutty, which is good, but it also lends some significant saltiness... I love Chocolate with Sea Salt.  So I came to the conclusion that this was a fairly logical, if somewhat shocking, pairing.  Besides, I think the idea is kind of sexy in a way.

Look at it this way, Mole sauce, which is AWESOME on chicken, is a savory sauce that adds not only some heat, but significant umami-ness to said chicken... It contains Chocolate.

So, I have tried to explain how my thought process works, and how I came to this conclusion.  I have no idea if it justifies this little experiment or not.  You may still think that I have become totally unhinged.  That's OK... I am eating Chocolate Truffles right now, and enjoying every sweet, salty and savory bite... :)

Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Truffles

255g (9 oz) 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
237ml (8 oz) (1 cup) Heavy Cream
1 TB Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded (cause it melts a little smoother)
1 TB Unsalted Butter
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (instead of shredded)
optional - 2 oz 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate, melted (for rolling)

Truffles are nothing more than ganache that has been chilled and formed into balls to resemble the subterranean fungus they are named after.  Which brings me to another thing I need to point out.  When I first started making Chocolate Truffles back in like 2000, I was completely anal retentive about them being perfectly spheroid in shape.  I eventually realized that this is kind of silly, since truffles (the fungus) are not round.  Thus, I make mine a little more free form these days.  If I had "dipped" these, I might have made more effort to make them round, as it makes dipping a much less frustrating experience.

Chop the chocolate fairly finely and place in a medium bowl.

Pour Heavy Cream into a sauce pan and place over medium flame, then add Parmigiano-Reggiano and Butter.

Stir occasionally so until the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter melt.
When small bubbles appear around the edge, the cream is ready.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes.

Begin stirring, in the center.

Slowly, as you stir, the chocolate/cream mixture will begin to change....

Until it becomes uniformly dark and glossy.

Cover with plastic wrap on the surface, to prevent crusting, and chill in the refrigerator until set (2 hours or overnight)

Once the ganache has set, line a small baking sheet with waxed paper and grab a small scoop.

Scoop out 2 tsp sized balls of the ganache.

Press into a "spheroid" shape and set on the baking sheet and continue until all the Ganache has been used.

Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for another hour or two.

At this point, you have a 3 choices.
  • You can go to the trouble of dipping them, if you like, but I don't normally do that because I find the thick coating of chocolate to detract from the creamy smoothness of the Ganache within.
  • You can simply roll them, as is, in Cocoa powder, Confectioners' sugar or, in this case, Parmigiano-Reggiano (which I do fairly often... The Cocoa Powder or Confectioners' sugar, not the Parmigiano-Reggiano - This is a special case)
  • Finally, you can go ahead and melt some chocolate and "roll" them in your palm to place a VERY thin coating of chocolate on the outside, before rolling them in your final dry coating.
The last method is what I did with these, because it uses only about 2 oz of chocolate, as opposed to dipping which takes an additional 9 oz.
So, prepare your finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano by placing it on a plate to foster easier "rolling".

Place 2 oz of chopped 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate in a bowl and place it over simmering water...

Stirring until it is almost melted. (the residual heat will melt the remaining chocolate)

You want it fairly cool or it will melt the ganache while you are rolling.

Place a small dollop in the center of your palm.

Place a truffle in the center.

Roll your palms together to coat the truffle in a thin, even layer of Chocolate.

Move the truffle to the plate of Parmigiano-Reggiano and roll to coat.

Place it on a piece of waxed paper to set.

Once all the truffle have been rolled, move them back to the refrigerator for 1 hour to set.

And there you have it, Chocolate Truffles loaded with Umami and Salt.

Now you can present them to your guests...

Or place them in a box and give as a gift....

 Or just eat them yourself....  :)



Patti T. said...

This was like a roller coaster ride. I thought the name of the recipe was quite very odd, then as I read on I thought hmmmm maybe it is not so odd, until you came to the part of rolling it in the Parmigiono Reggiano, that is were I jumped off the roller coaster. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride though. Your cooking always intrigues me.

Aline said...

I do my truffles differently (I use butter and fluid cream so I don't make a ganache), but I always use salted butter in my chocolate cakes, so I get the point of Parmeggiano... until the rolling. It's a tad extreme for me.
On a side note, since you're considering the Black Pepper + Chocolate combo. I personally highly recommend it! But it HAS to be dark chocolate, like 65-70%.
Another idea you may like is white chocolate and lavender. I don't normally like white chocolate (I don't even consider it chocolate, but that's another issue), but I loved this when I tried it.