Friday, February 24, 2012

Truffles in the sandbox

Summer truffle macarons
My boyfriend, Octavian (yes, he has a name!), has a knack for fixing things. Mostly, he tinkers with vintage audio parts, but he's pretty handy with a hammer or a hacksaw too. It's not too uncommon to find him over at a friend's putting something back into working order or assembling something new. Most recently, he's been helping some friends of ours re-arrange their kitchen's layout--basically, breaking down a cluster of wall cabinets and converting them into serviceable base cabinets (hooray for more counter space!). The job's almost done, and it's looking great. Though this sort of thing is just what Octavian likes to do in his spare time, our friends wanted to thank him for his help. So, late last week, they put together the most wonderful box of gourmet goodies for us. Quail eggs! Foie gras! A bottle of summer truffles! It was like Christmas.
I was more than a little giddy, but I wanted to play with something straightaway, jump right into that sandbox. It was hard to know where to start. Quail eggs first? Or truffles? Or both? I'd never worked with (or tasted, in fact) either before. So, I started a little research, thinking I'd carefully weigh my options. But then it hit me: Hermé has a recipe for black truffle macarons; I have a bottle of truffles. Conclusion: I have to make truffle macarons.
Truffles and ganache
Grey piped macaron shells
Macaron bowl
Now, I still don't know that much about truffles, but I can tell you this. The black truffles you've probably heard of--the ones that can go for $100 or more apiece fresh--are Périgord truffles (Tuber melanosporum) and come mostly from the south of France. These, I'm told, are the mother of all black truffles, the most fragrant and flavourful of the lot. They're available late in the fall through early winter and go for something like €1000 per kilo (that's just over two pounds) at farmers' markets. Unsurprisingly, it's some of these that Hermé expects you to be able to get your hands on for the macarons. All I have to say to that is: yeah right.
My truffles were summer truffles (Tuber aestivum), which, apparently, are a good second to the Périgord (like Robin to the Périgord's Batman?). And though these in particular were bottled (a lot of people, it seems, have been disappointed by bottled truffles, i.e. have found them to be completely flavourless), my friends and I thought that they were extraordinary--wildly deep, earthy, and aromatic, unlike any other mushroom we'd ever had. Bottled truffles might not compare to fresh specimens (again, I'm not in a position to say), but I was more than happy with these.
Baked macaron shells
Macaron crosscut
Oh, and if you're balking at the thought of mushrooms and white chocolate together...well, I did too. In fact, I was pretty convinced mid-way through the process that the macarons were going to be abhorrent, a terrible waste of truffles. But Hermé proved me wrong. Black truffles make for an incredible macaron. Somehow, all that milky sweetness just works with them. Their mushroomy earthiness blooms out of it and leaves you a little bewildered, a little awestruck. These macarons are unexpectedly marvellous. Hermé does it again.

Summer Truffle Ganache
Adapted from Pierre Hermé's Macaron
Note: About the truffles. Truffles are sold in a number of ways--fresh, frozen, bottled, and canned. I can't speak to the differences between them, but I'll say a little about the bottled variety. People tend to be disappointed with bottled truffles, and maybe it's warranted, but it might also have to do with the fact that the bottled ones lose their aroma especially quickly (or so I'm told). One place suggested that you add them immediately to whatever you're planning to cook them with and leave them in an air-tight container for a few hours to lock in their aroma. That's what I ended up doing--I chopped up my truffles, added them to the heavy cream, and let them sit together overnight. Of course, people also warn you not to overheat truffles and advise adding them at the end of cooking, which you can't do here if you've already added them to the cream. So, I don't have anything conclusive to say on the matter, only that I didn't note any serious loss of flavour after bringing the cream to a boil. One last thing--I left the ganache piping to Octavian, and he reported having some trouble keeping the ganache the right consistency. It warmed up very quickly in the pastry bag and made for some very sloppy-looking macarons. He even gave it a few minutes in the freezer when it got really runny. I don't know what to make of this. I added the little bit of truffle juice from the bottom of the bottle to the heavy cream before boiling. I don't know what effect that had. It might have just been an execution problem with the ganache. Macaron shells. For these macarons, I made some pretty standard Hermé Italian-meringue shells done up with 7 g or so of black gel food colouring. You can get a sense for them here. If their feet don't look particularly impressive, it's because I didn't check my new oven's temperature settings against any thermometer readings. From the looks of the shells, my oven's burning a little on the cool side.

175 g heavy cream
35 g summer truffles (see notes above)
219 g good quality white chocolate, finely chopped

Put the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water to melt. Stir occasionally.
Bring the cream to a boil. Chop the truffles finely. Add the truffles to the cream and mix with an immersion blender or in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. The truffle pieces will still be visible. Pour the cream in three rounds over the melted chocolate, stirring with each addition. Pour the ganache into a wide, shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap, touching it to the surface of the ganache. Chill in the refrigerator until thick and creamy, 3-4 hours.
Makes enough ganache for 36 macarons.

P.S. Has anyone ever tried the black truffles grown in Oregon? Though they're still expensive, they aren't prohibitively priced like the Périgords. And from what I've read, some people really like them. I'm tempted to order just enough for another batch of macarons while they're still in season. Can anyone recommend a vendor?
P.P.S. An English translation of Pierre Hermé's classic book, Macaron, was just released at the end of 2011 in North America, so now, you don't have to beg a friend going to Paris to scour the city for a copy and then struggle with your grade-school French translating recipes. I hear that the translation isn't great but still passable.



    Holy wow I wanna taste one of these; your macaroon skills are approaching Ninja levels!

  2. Ooh I love when boys are handy with fixing things. That may be completely stereotypical and gender biased, but it's true! I think it's so unattractive if a guy can't do basic labor handiwork. Plus your boyfriend has such a nice name! (Love how I'm just flattering your boyfriend here?) Sorry, had to mention this haha.

    I must admit I was a little bewildered when I realized what you were presenting us with. But you've sold me, I think I can really see all the flavors working well together. So cool to see! Your macarons always turn out flawless it seems.

    And my boyfriend got me that exact bottle-brand of black truffles last year while in europe. I put them in a pasta and found them really deep and flavorful, too. I think I'm like you though--I'm not really in the position to really judge or know better, but all I can say is I liked them!

    Haha sorry for such a long comment... loved this post, Katie!

  3. Allen, if you and Sarah do end up coming to Chicago for Next or Alinea, there are two truffle macarons in my freezer with your names on them!

    Amy, I'm definitely lucky to have Octavian around! His name, by the way, is, like a lot of good things mentioned around here, very Romanian.
    I'm glad that you're not completely weirded-out by the mushroom-dessert thing. It's not that crazy. I had a shiitake mushroom ice cream with a slice of chocolate cake at a restaurant here in Chicago (The Girl and the Goat) last year. Totally awesome.

  4. I only had (summer) truffles once in my life (and the truffle oil and flavour they tend to add to just about anything to make it fancy), sauteed in some butter over pasta. I loved it, and I kind of like the idea of truffles in a dessert. But the thought of making macarons kind of scares me. But a challenge never hurts, right? (Still, scared)

  5. This is a crazy recipe. The best. I can't wait to try them. They are so black and beautiful!

  6. What an awesome recipe. If I ever find myself with a jar of truffles, I'll definitely make these. Your macarons look fantastic!

  7. Lena, truffles and pasta sounds great. Maybe I can justify buying another bottle to myself the next time I'm at a super-fancy grocery store...I'll have to work on it. As for macarons--I understand the intimidation; they just involve a decent amount of organization and precision. My advice, if you're going to start baking them, is to read up as much as you can on them--there are lots of little tricks that can help make it easier/give you a better chance of success. And if they don't turn out the first time, not to worry. It's really a matter of practice, getting a feel for things. I posted with some macaron tips awhile ago here. And here's a post with detailed instructions for the Italian meringue method. Feel free to ask questions too!

    Oana, it's good to be a little crazy in the kitchen, right? Things would get too boring otherwise!

    Thanks, Courtney. I think you can find bottles of truffles like these at gourmet specialty stores. Do let me know how they turn out if you make some!

    1. Thanks for the links, I guess I have to do my homework first, and then give them a try. There are still so many things, especially in baking, that intimidate me.

  8. Ganache with truffles?! That plain spells out d-e-c-a-d-e-n-c-e. I love how mercury-ish the ganache mix looks in the photograph...more exotic than weird, isn't it?

    Brand new to your blog and loving it already!