Tuesday, 10 January 2012

truffle-esque: date and espresso truffles

date and espresso truffles
in the world of confectionary truffles are cherry sized balls of soft chocolate paste. sometimes they are encased in a shell of harder chocolate or dusted in a bittersweet cacao. my date and espresso truffles only partly fit this description as they aren’t crafted from soft chocolate paste. they are made from a paste of dried fruit and nuts (dates and almonds) hydrated in espresso and kahlúa. i rolled the paste into cherry sized balls and then dusted them with an extra fine and dark cocoa courtesy of la maison du chocolat. 
dates are a staple natural dessert at my place. i am particularly partial to the soft-fleshed ones. soft-fleshed dates have a varied texture, the fibrous ones are chewy like a toffee or the less fibrous ones dissolve slowly on the tongue. i never cared much for the hard or semi-hard kinds some of which have a drying effect on the palate. i was recently at bateel, which is a date boutique that specialises in gourmet date sweets where i learnt that there are around six hundred varieties of dates in the world. bateel carries a select range of dates that one can buy in little gauze sacks. my favourites here are the dates stuffed with candied peel and nuts. equally delicious are the chocolate enrobed dates and the date pastries that the middle east is well known for. i bought a small box as a christmas gift but decided against getting anything for myself. instead, i was inspired to create a date based treat that was rich and sophisticated by myself. 

dates and chocolate have a natural affinity. i think this is the case because dates have a caramel sweetness that can be tamed with a bittersweet chocolate. because it was holiday season i wanted to use a liqueur as well as a hint of espresso for aromatics. the first batch, which i created for new years eve, were made of dried figs, dates and ground almonds. they were a great hit with friends who had come over for new years eve drinks. i then made a second batch, which we gifted to o’s boss as a thank you for a lovely dinner that him and his wife had taken us to in twenty-eleven. i much preferred the second version if only because figs have a slightly crunchy texture which i felt detracted from the truffles. this may be a matter of preference though so i would suggest that you experiment as appropriate for you. there is no need to buy expensive dates like mejdool for this recipe. i used whitworth’s block dried and stoned dates for the second round. for the first version i used loose stoned dates from waitrose. they both worked just as well. also, do check the dates as sometimes you will find a stray stone. 

500 grams of dried stoned dates 
two espressos (or an equivalent of filter or instant coffee) 
100 grams skinned almonds 
2 tablespoons kahlúa (optional) 
a good quality cacao powder for dusting 

cut the dried stones dates into smaller pieces. don’t be tempted to skip this part as it will make the later task of processing the dates much harder. place the chopped dates in a lidded saucepan with the espressos and gently heat. you want the dates to plump up with the espresso. leave the dates to cool before you process them to a relatively smooth paste. 

place the almonds in a loaf tin and toast in a pre-heated oven at a hundred and eighty degrees celsius for 10 to 15 minutes. stir them once at the midway point. i did use ready ground almonds in the first trial of this recipe and found that they don’t firm the paste in the same way as coarsely ground almonds do. once the almonds are toasted let them cool before blitzing them in a food processor until they are like fine breadcrumbs. 

in a bowl combine the date paste, ground almonds and kahlúa. mix the paste until the ingredients are well combined. i know that this isn’t easy but eating the truffles will make this labour worthwhile. refrigerate the paste (preferably overnight). it will still be quite sticky and on the soft side but will be easier to roll into balls once cool. 

before you start rolling the paste into balls take a shallow tupperware. place a couple of tablespoons of cacao in it. take cherry sized amounts of the paste and roll into a ball. place the ball in the cacao powder and shake the tupperware gently so that the ball is coated evenly. these will keep in the fridge for at least a fortnight. o and i had some whilst watching how to cook like heston last night. they tasted even better than the first day as the flavours had time to meld and mature. the bittersweet la maison du chocolat cacao really drew out the buttery and caramel notes of the dates. 

they do make a perfect gift for a food-loving friend or family member. put them into a pretty jar or bottle and dress with a bit of curling ribbon. make sure to include a note or tag about how to store the truffles. 

a gift jar of date and espresso truffles

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