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Artisan Chocolate truffles & the spices that love them: piper nigrum (black pepper)

by Chef Eric Cayton

Piper Nigrum is the botanical name for Black pepper. It comes from a flowering vine that is originally indigenous to Southern India. This spice has been utilized by humans for thousands of years, since long before recorded history, and so the origins of it's use have been lost to the mists of time. Today, the piper nigrum vine is cultivated in many countries, but Vietnam is by far the largest producer. The fruit of this vine, is called a peppercorn, and this is where the ubiquitous ground black pepper comes from that you will find on almost every spice rack in the world. It is so common, in fact, that in terms of monetary value, black pepper, along with other types of peppers, accounts for anywhere from 20%-40% of the entire world's spice trade. In many cultures, next to table salt, black pepper is the most popular seasoning for a wide variety of dishes, and even though you might never even dream of putting it in chocolate, there are many other dishes that just wouldn't be the same without it!

I am sure there are other professional Chocolatiers and Pastry Chefs out there reading this, that are cringing at the thought of adding black pepper into a chocolate truffle recipe, but the idea of adding this strong flavor profile into sweet desserts is not without precedent. After all, black pepper is just another seasoning spice, like any other, and you simply need to bring balance to the overall truffle formula for it to work properly. I will admit though, that black pepper, if not used sparingly, will quickly overwhelm all the other components to the formula, and render it inedible. So this is certainly a case where a little goes a long way.

Always start with fresh cracked black peppercorns. If all you are going to do is use that old dried out stuff in the little tin can, then just skip this, and go buy a convenience store candy bar, it will taste better, I assure you! So to begin the formula, take about 5 or 6 whole black peppercorns and crack them up slightly with a wooden mallet, or in a mortar and pestle. Do not ground them up into a powder, just crack them up a bit to release some of those wonderful volatile oils and aroma Do this just before you use it, as it quickly loses it's special magic within minutes of cracking it. Then chop up about 200 grams of excellent quality white chocolate into little tiny bits, and set it aside in a mixing bowl. Next place about 80 grams of fresh heavy cream into a heavy bottom sauce pot, and add the cracked peppercorns into the cream. Now bring this to a scald, and simmer it for a minute to infuse the flavors of the spice into the cream. Now pour the pepper-cream through a fine wire mesh sieve, to strain out the peppercorns, and add it immediately, while it's still very hot, over top of the chopped white chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a minute, then begin stirring it in small circles until smooth.

After all the white chocolate bits are completely melted, then add in about 20 grams of good unsaled butter, and stir the ganache until very smooth and shiny. Let this set up to the consistency of soft clay, for about 30 minutes. Then with a teaspoon, and clean hands with latex gloves on, roll the ganache into small 15 gram balls. I usually never advise this, but for black pepper truffles, I would advise coating these in tempered white chocolate, for striking effect, but if you're not sure how to properly temper chocolate, then simply dust these truffles with powdered sugar for an unusual, yet sophisticated sweet, that will have your friends and family scratching their heads about how you made this surprisingly delicious confection!


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