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Artisan Chocolate truffles & the spices that love them: star anise
Star anise is a very unique star shaped seed pod derived from a small to medium sized evergreen shrub, which is a member of the magnolia family. Grown primarily in Southern China, Japan and Vietnam, it is used extensively in Asian cuisines, and to a lesser extent, also makes an appearance in many Indian dishes as well. Star anise is also one of the main ingredients ingredients found in most chai tea recipes as well. It has a very pungent licorice flavor and aroma, similar to anise seed, only stronger. The assertive flavor of this unusual spice lends itself well to bittersweet chocolate truffle recipes, because it's plenty strong enough to stand up to even the highest percentage cacao chocolates. In fact, it's best to use a cautious and restrained hand when adding ground star anise to any dish, including chocolate truffles, because it can easily overwhelm the formula, and throw the overall flavor out of balance.
As always, when purchasing spices to add into chocolate truffle recipes, make every effort to find the particular spice in its whole form, as any spice will quickly lose its punch within days, or even minutes in some cases, after grinding. Therefore, star anise should always be purchased either in whole seed pods, or broken into pieces, if you can find them... not ground. Star anise will also benefit from a light toasting before grinding, so start your recipe by taking 2-3 whole seed pods and placing them in a hot, dry skillet to toast for a few moments to toast them up, and begin releasing the volatile oils. As soon as you start smelling the licorice notes (2 minutes maximum) take them out and put the seed pods into a coffee grinder. Grind them up a bit, but not too fine, so that you can strain them out later. Then chop up about 200 grams of 70% or higher bitterseet chocolate, until very fine. Place the chopped chocolates into a mixing bowl, and set aside. Then place about 100 grams of good fresh, heavy cream into a heavy bottom sauce pot, and add in the chunks of toasted star anise. Bring the cream and spice to a scald, and then immediately pour it through a wire mesh strainer to remove the spice, right into the chopped chocolate. Let the hot cream and chocolate sit for a minute, and then stir it together, until smooth, with a rubber spatula. After the gananche is very smooth, add in about 30 grams of room temperature unsalted butter, and stir the mixture until it becomes glossy. After the chocolate sets up to a firm, yet still pliable consistency, use two teaspoons to form small elegant quenelles. Drop the truffles directly into a bowl of fine cocoa powder, and then sift the truffles out. Arrange the star anise truffles on a pretty serving platter and serve them with some nice creamy chai, or strong black tea for a sophisticated presentation that is sure to impress. You can also try my personal favorite...strong black coffee with a shot of Sambuca and a star anise pod floated on top!