Saturday, November 21, 2009

Truffles Choices for Gift Giving

Sisters and Brothers, today we return to our friends at Astor Chocolates and a wonderful truffle gift box that you can purchase in a wide variety of prices and sizes.  It takes a while to get through large samples when companies send them, and each piece of a truffle assortment really must be revealed on its own, or your Chocolate Priestess cannot live by our motto of Moderation and Purposefulness.

Inside this delightful round box I found a collection of ten truffles. Unfortunately it did not come with a listing of flavors, but the folks at Astor sent me a list when I sent them back this photograph.  Now, I've heard repeatedly from chocolatiers that they want people to be surprised, but given the increasing number of food allergies, I really have to say I prefer the collections with clear listings.  I'm going to reveal these to you in a clockwise fashion and end with the central pieces, adding a few photos to give you some closeups every few pieces. As always, what you will be reading in a few minutes took me hours to compose, since I eat these in the same way that I preach — slowly, attuning my sense to the experience, and sharing it with all of you.  So get ready for a morning of truffles.

This first group of five truffles contains a coffee one, so I set that aside for our new Acolyte, who is picking up his items tomorrow and will need to just jump right in.  The first piece I try has light blue curved lines drawn all over its top, and according to the list, this should be a dark chocolate caramel.  All of the pieces are just over 1 inch by 1 inch in size; even the more traditional truffle half-globe pieces are over 1/2 inch tall.  This piece has a deep dark chocolate scent to it and more darkness inside along with a nice tangy caramel flavor, even though I only see and feel a soft chocolatey center.  Often caramel truffles just ooze out a yellow caramel center, but in this piece the flavors have been thoroughly combined and nothing escapes, so I can focus on the mild cocoa rush this creates and not on trying to avoid getting caramel on my fingers or shirt.  The shell makes a soft snap and feels cool and smooth to my touch.  The blue lines are just an edible ink transfer, but other truffles look like they will provide more textures to enjoy.

The next piece is a milk chocolate hazelnut, and as you can see, the lumps on this half globe certainly suggest some nice nut pieces inside.  The scent is basically milk chocolate, so I take a good bite.  Inside is a much lighter colored center topped with hazelnuts.  The center tastes exactly as I'd hoped from a combination like these nuts and the Sacred Substance, though the nuts' flavor and saltiness overwhelm the cocoa by the second bite.  A great truffle if you love this flavor combination, which I know many of you do, Sisters and Brothers.

The third piece is a dark chocolate again, and it has a very interesting top that I wish I could show you more closely.  It has two crossed lines offset to one side, almost marking it with an "X," and it looks ridged like leather might; it even feels like good leather might under my fingers.  It has a simple, strong dark chocolate fragrance when I take a good whiff of it.  Inside the shell is a slightly lighter center that has a bit of a spicy flavor to it, which I am not expecting.  It isn't unpleasant — it isn't too hot but rather more savory tasting, so this might just be the chocolate itself, since I can't clearly identify another essence.  The buzz is immediate with this piece, telling me this is a high cocoa content.

The next piece should be something called "Vendome milk chocolate," so I go do a bit of research while I wait for the previous truffles to leave my system.  Without consulting with Astor Chocolates, I discover that Vandome is a city in northwest France known for its chocolates, though a simple Google search isn't telling me what exactly makes their cocoa products particularly noteworthy.  Let's see if your Chocolate Priestess can figure it out, then.  The top looks a bit tortoiseshell-like with etched rectangles on it, and it has a clear milk chocolate scent.  The inside is crunchy and a bit nutty, with a hint of hazelnut, but not nearly as much as the earlier piece, so it lets the chocolate shine through.  In the Google search a Nutella-like flavor was mentioned in connection to Vandome, so perhaps this is the connection here.  This is more subtle, and if you want a stronger cocoa taste this is the better piece.  However, I do think this has nuts, so be careful if you have allergies.

I'll put in the Mocha Acolyte's impressions of the dark coffee flavor once he's had a chance to work.

The second set of five truffles from the Signature collection also contains an assortment of milk and dark chocolates, which I tried to capture by getting closer for a photograph.  Hey, my photos aren't perfect, but I think you get an honest appraisal this way without all the food posing that professionals use to make things look their best, which sometimes leads to disappointment when you get the product.  We'll start on the upper left side and go across, then move to the lower left side and go across, which will continue the order in which the truffles were originally arranged in the box.

The first piece has raised ridges of milk chocolate on its otherwise smooth surface and a very strong cocoa scent for this type of confection.  Biting into it, I encounter a sort of sugar coating over the soft milk chocolate center that makes a soft crunch with each chew.  I can even see that dusting of sugar around the outside under the hard shell.  The sugar does not overwhelm the cocoa at all but explains the intensity of the cocoa, since this may be the only place where sugar is added to this truffle.  The flavor is unique and a bit tricky to explain, going from cocoa to sweet and back to cocoa again; I like it a lot, and I am very surprised by what was inside this simple looking piece.

This sugar surrounded piece is followed by a dark truffle topped with crystals of sea salt that have a yellowish or orangish tint to them.  Sea salts do come in a variety of colors depending on where they are collected, and they can even taste different.  The crystals give this truffle's dark scent a definite salty edge when I take good sniff of it.  The chocolate itself is smooth and very dark, cool to my fingers, and has an unexpected weight to it, making me curious about what is inside.  A pink, soft center with a fruity flavor is revealed when I bite, but I didn't think the raspberry flavors would come until the center pieces, according to the flavor list from Astor.  I think this might be a strawberry center, though the combination of fruit, salt and dark chocolate make it difficult to be certain.  A touch too much salt, I think, and that is not uncommon in this new "sea salt" trend I'm noticing in gourmet chocolates.

The next piece is "Tiramisu," and here I run into a potential conflict.  We have a new Mocha Acolyte, but while tiramisu has coffee as one of its principal ingredients, I actually like the flavor, so, since he has so much to do already, I'm going to test this one; I'll make the sacrifice for you all.  The piece is graced with raised spirals on top and has a nice cream and cocoa smell with a hint of coffee.  Inside is a light tan colored solid cream center with a flavor that is more sugar and cream, though there is a coffee essence much like the hint in the fragrance.  This piece makes me think that restaurants and bakeries that don't add cocoa to their tiramisu are missing out on a great idea.

The first of the two center raspberry truffles is a milk chocolate with little bumps on top that remind me of the quilted cushioning on mattresses or pillows.  There is a raspberry scent to it along with the milk chocolate.  It is very soft inside and seems to have two layers.  The top is a chocolate cream, while the bottom is a raspberry jelly that is surprisingly sweet and not sour, as I often find raspberries to be.  The result is an interesting taste and texture in my mouth without the tiny seeds that also often accompany raspberries.

The final truffle is a dark chocolate with a red ink transfer in an almost bricklike pattern.  Like its milk chocolate companion, its fruit scent emerges along with the chocolate scent before I even take a bite.  Inside it is exactly like the milk chocolate version, but with the bitterness of darker chocolate.  So if you like raspberries, these are two very nice truffles for you to enjoy.

If this sounded good to you or you think it might sound good to someone this holiday season, I note that on the Astor website you can now get the Signature collection in a variety of sizes: a seven piece version for under $10 here, this circular 10-piece collection (or a Trio of them for under $40) here, or if you don't like the circular box you can go more traditional and rectangular here.  Whatever you decide, buy soon so you don't get caught in the holiday rush.  I'm already getting party invitations and planning our own celebration, and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet!

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.


Michele said...

Ok, my mouth is watering! I love truffles and know so many other do to. But these truffles are delacacies. They are truffles in the yummiest of presentations.

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Thank you for reading and commenting, Michele.

I can't say these are the best truffles I've been sent in 2009 but they are good and very pretty. I try to remain objective during the Sacraments and hopefully I give you each enough information that you can decide what you want to try.

If you haven't all ready, Michele, please do check out the other Sacraments we've done.

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