Richmond chocolatier shares secrets about boozy truffles

RICHMOND, Va. -- There’s something special about a chocolate truffle. A simple chocolate sphere, dusted in cocoa powder, may not seem very important, but Chocolatier Tim Gearhart knows there’s more to it than meets the eye.

"Most truffles are made by hand," Gearhart points out, "and that makes them pretty special."

Gearhart notes that while the bites are small, the nuance of flavor can be complex -- sweet, sour, bitter, fruity, nutty -- all in one or two bites and then it’s gone.

Gearhart suggests that the truffle is the perfect vehicle for subtle flavors, which mirror and enhance the natural characteristics of the chocolate, rather than masking them. Over the years, he’s created dozens of different varieties of truffles at Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates -- from the Mayan, with a surprising bump of spice from ancho chiles, to the Malted Milk Hazelnut, which achieves its nuttiness through the combination of whipped Gianduja, malted milk, and toasted hazelnuts.

Adding booze to truffles is always popular, and Gearhart has created truffles with all varieties of liquor and liqueurs, as well as wine truffles such as the ones in Gearharts’ Pod & Vine collection, which focuses on Virginia wineries including Barboursville, Kings Family Vineyards, and Jefferson Vineyards.

“This isn’t a cordial,” says Gearhart. “Nothing explodes on impact.” Rather, these boozy truffles are smooth, rich chocolates that start with bitter notes, take a detour following the complex flavors of the wine itself, and finish with a sublime sweetness.

Recently, Gearhart says, he’s been inspired to play with the complexities of beer.

“Wine is the obvious choice, but beer is quickly becoming a favorite to pair with chocolate,” he said.

That’s because, unlike wine which can overwhelm the palate, the subtlety of the beer allows the chocolate to shine in the forefront, with the flavor of the beer taking on a supporting role.

Gearhart uses Ommegang’s Rosetta Cherry Ale, a Belgian Tart Fruit Ale, to create a dark chocolate truffle with floral, fruity, and sour notes. The faint taste of malt and hops lingers at the end of each bite.

But if you’re looking for a chocolate to pair with beer, try the Malt Caramel, which combines tangy rye brewers malt and milk chocolate, dusted with a sprinkle of hop-infused sea salt.

Gearhart recommends pairing this chocolate with a Pilsner from Legend Brewing.

Unique and special as they are, truffles are still approachable for the home cook. The simplest truffles are essentially chocolate ganache, chilled and hand-rolled, and dusted with cocoa powder, nuts, or Gearhart suggests, even cookie crumbs.

Try out this recipe and keep a stash in the freezer to give as gifts throughout the holiday season. Or, you know, for yourself.

Va. Whisky and Pecan Truffle
30 Truffles

Ingredients

10 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate

1 Tbsp. Butter unsalted, softened

1 Tbsp Honey

½ cup Heavy Cream

1-2 Tbsp Whisky

2-3 cups Pecans

Directions

01. Toast Pecans in 350 degree oven until lightly brown. (5-10 min.) Cool and chop fine.

02. Melt chocolate slowly over double-boiler.

03. Bring cream and honey to a boil and remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

04. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and whisk gently.

05. Add butter and whisk till smooth.

06. Fold in whisky.

07. Pour into lined pan and refrigerate for at least one hour.

08. Cut into squares and roll into cocoa or pecans.

09. Keep at room temperature and will last up to 2 weeks.

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