December 24, 2004

Shrunken Head Truffles

These candies were made as a Christmas present for Mom and Dad. They're more just really small heads than actual shrunken heads. The original idea was to see whether the facial expression had a noticeable impact on the eater's enjoyment of the candy. Is it more pleasant to eat a happy face or an angry face?

OK, so I wasn't really going for the wild native tribe punishes the self-righteous white man type of shrunken head, but that would be cool, too, wouldn't it? These were more just really small heads than actual shrunken heads. My original idea was to see whether the facial expression had a noticeable impact on the eater's enjoyment of the candy. Is it more pleasant to eat a happy face or an angry face? Does an excited face taste better than a sad face? In other words, does the emotion evinced by the candy translate into an equivalent emotion felt by the consumer? I still think this is a interesting idea to explore, but I don't think this project furthered my research much, mostly because creating a specific, distinct expression on each face turned out to be much more difficult than I had imagined it would be. I basically wound up just gong with whatever face emerged of its own volition. One of the truffles wound up looking like a retarded vampire.

My plan was to make two truffle heads of each of six flavors - two based on dark chocolate (red wine and wasabi), two based on milk chocolate (ginger and golden sesame), and two based on white chocolate (citrus zest and green tea). I got these flavors from a brochure for an upscale New York chocolate shop, which I got at the New York Chocolate Show. I didn't really have recipes, just descriptions, so I had to guess at all the proportions. For instance, all the instruction I had for the ginger candy was, "Milk chocolate blended with gin-flavored ganache and ginger."

All the truffles start with a ganache base, which is basically just chocolate (dark, milk, or white) mixed with hot cream and whisked until smooth. To these ganaches I added red wine, wasabi powder (I couldn't find any fresh wasabi root.), finely chopped ginger root with a little bit of gin, ground golden sesame seeds and a splash of brandy, orange zest (from an orange from Barbara May's own orange tree) and gin, or finely ground green tea.

They all wound up tasting very good, particularly the red wine, ginger, and citrus zest. I did, however, have a problem with the consistency of the white chocolate-based flavors and, to a lesser extent, the milk chocolate-based flavors. They were much thinner than the ideal for rolling truffle centers. I think I could solve this problem next time by using less cream.

The white chocolate-based flavors were so thin that I couldn't make them into hand-rolled truffles and would up using some nice molds I had lying around. I poured melted white chocolate into the mold, then set it in the fridge for one minute so the outer edge would set a bit. I then poured out the excess chocolate and set the mold back in the fridge to set. After a few hours the white chocolate shells were hard enough to pour in the citrus zest and green tea fillings. I then piped a layer of white chocolate on top of the filling with a #6 tip to seal off the tops. I put them back in the fridge and, once the white chocolate was set, those candies were done.

The milk chocolate-based and the dark chocolate-based ganaches were thick enough that I could roll them into centers, about 3/4" in diameter. I dipped these into tempered chocolate, corresponding to the chocolate used for the ganache centers. I then chose the nicest, roundest ones to draw faces onto.

At first I tried piping features on with straight chocolate. This proved problematic because the chocolate was too thin, making it difficult to create any detail. So I tried an experiment. Modeling chocolate is a putty-like compound made by mixing chocolate with corn syrup. It can be sculpted like clay or rolled out like dough. I thought that if I added just a smidge of corn syrup to my chocolate, I could make something in between modeling chocolate and regular chocolate, which would be thin enough that I could still pipe it with a pastry bag, but thick enough that it would hold its shape. The results of the experiment were as good as I could have hoped for! The chocolate / corn syrup combo not only held its shape better than the regular chocolate, it also set up faster and had a lovely sheen to it. The only drawback is that this can only be done in small batches because eventually it will harden inside the pastry bag and become unusable. There's also a danger of adding too much corn syrup to the chocolate, which results in the whole batch seizing up into a useless lump.

With my new discovery in hand, I piped facial features onto two of each dark chocolate flavor and two of each milk chocolate flavor. Naturally, I used milk chocolate for the milk chocolate truffles and dark chocolate for the dark chocolate truffles. At this point I did try to shoot for specific facial expressions, but to a large extent the chocolate simply did what it would. I think I could do better in controlling the chocolate with a little more practice.

With the major facial shapes done, I added hair, facial hair, and eyebrows using dark chocolate on the milk chocolate truffles and milk chocolate on the dark chocolate truffles. I then used white chocolate for details like eyes and teeth. It was at this point that one of them emerged as a vampire because the perimeter teeth came out longer than center teeth.

For some reason, one and only one of them developed blooms, a surface discoloration to which poorly tempered chocolate is prone, so he appeared to have some sort of skin condition on his forehead.

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