SMS: Peanut Butter Truffles

If you happened to read last week’s post chronicling my recent banana cupcake debacle, you can imagine how incredibly stressed I became when forced to shift gears under a time crunch, and come up with a quick and easy (yet still enticing, delicious, and somewhat impressive) substitute to bake for the very meaningful fund raising event I was contributing to. Thankfully, I could look no further than this week’s yummy SMS recipe, Peanut Butter Truffles, selected by one of our newer members, the highly talented and super creative Mara of Love Your Mother. Judging from the Hazelnut Truffles we made from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book last summer, I had a feeling that they would be similarly simple to assemble, but also rich, flavorful and unique enough for the bake sale. I am pleased to report that the truffles saved the day, and exceeded all expectations. Of course, I couldn’t help but complicate matters by adding extra steps to the project- but really, who could turn down a truffle dressed up with a caramelized candied peanut exterior? I called on David Lebovitz’s recipe (used to top my Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie with Pralined Peanuts), which never disappoints, and the added sweetness of his chopped nuts was the perfect counter-balance to the slightly bitter dark chocolate and salty peanut butter. That little bit of additional effort resulted in a combination that truly danced on the tongue! A few special touches with the packaging- some cellophane goody bags, colorful labels, and orange ribbon (more on the significance of that detail later)- and viola!, my truffles were ready for their debut at the 1st annual National Food Bloggers Bake Sale!

Isn’t it wonderful when you accidentally and totally unexpectedly stumble upon an exciting opportunity through your everyday blog surfing? That’s actually how I first got involved in SMS, and what a serendipitous discovery that turned out to be :)! Well a few weeks back, a digital banner caught my eye, advertising an upcoming event connected to the Great American Bake Sale. Sound familiar?- if you’re a food TV junkie like myself, you may have seen spokeswoman Sandra Lee discussing it on a Food Network commercial. Part of the phenomenal organization, Share our Strength, it’s a national campaign that mobilizes volunteers to host bake sales in their communities in an effort to help end childhood hunger in America. Although I’ve been interested in getting involved for quite a while, that banner convinced me the ideal time had arrived: on April 17th, food bloggers from across the country would unite to support the cause by holding bake sales in their states. I was filled with glee when I got in touch with the fabulous and super sweet Kathy-Ann of Mother May Have, who was coordinating for Massachusetts, and realized I could be a part of this extraordinary day, utilizing my baking to assist those in need. (I love on the Share our Strength website, they proclaim, “Together we can bake a difference!”)

Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 children in America struggle with hunger? That’s almost 17 million kids! With the weakened economy, poverty rates are on the rise, and every day, more and more children wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here’s a look at how Share our Strength is addressing this growing problem:

“Through No Kid Hungry, Share Our Strength funds the most effective anti-hunger organizations across the country, connects needy children and their families with nutritious food, teaches families how to cook healthy on a budget, and provides leadership that brings together public and private decision-makers to end childhood hunger, state by state. These funds help accomplish the following:

* Enroll more eligible kids in school breakfast, after-school snacks and meals, and their families in SNAP (food stamps).
* Bring community gardens and farmers markets to low-income neighborhoods.
* Bring affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables to urban corner stores.
* Teach at-risk families how to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy, low-cost meals at home.
* Help local food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens meet the pressing demand for more nutritious food.
* Increase awareness and understanding of childhood hunger and solutions to it.

Through all these means, [Share Our Strength is] working to ensure that all of America’s children have nutritious food where they live, learn and play.”

Since 2003, more than 1.7 million people have participated in Share Our Strength’s Great American Bake Sale, raising $6 million to make sure no child in America grows up hungry. But the big news? The first annual National Food Bloggers Bake Sale alone raised a grand total of over $16,500! Wow! Go baking bloggers! I felt truly honored to be a part of it, and am already looking forward to next year. I want to say a big thank you to Gaby of What’s Gaby Cooking for coordinating the entire event, and Kathy-Ann for leading us here in Massachusetts. Also- shout out to my new friend Carmen of Baking is my Zen, who just so happens to be a fellow SMSter! Her sale in NJ did amazing, raising more than $600- fabulous job Carmen! To see pictures from our sale in MA (including some of my goodies- the Peanut Butter Truffles and a selection of Coconut Jam Thumbprints made with 5 different types of homemade jams/preserves) check out this slide show.

For more information about Share our Strength and to find out ways you can help, visit their website, http://www.strength.org/. And don’t forget to check out the myriad of truffles whipped up by the other lovely ladies of SMS by exploring the blogroll!

Oh, by the way, the orange ribbon stands for hunger awareness… fitting right?

SMS: Hazelnut Truffles

Hazelnut Truffles

My first introduction to the world of gourmet candy was the classic Lindt milk-chocolate truffle and it was love at first bite. I pulled both ends of the glossy red wrapping to reveal a humble chocolate sphere, unadorned, unexceptional, and vaguely reminiscent of the ubiquitous Hershey’s kiss. But with one taste, I realized that this sophisticated treat was in a class of its own. When the hard outer shell (also known as couverture) gave way to a silky smooth, melt-in-your-mouth, luscious center- I was pleasantly surprised to discover a novel chocolate eating experience. This heavenly confection remains one of my all time favorite sweets, but with a lack of homemade candy making knowledge and familiarity, I’ve never attempted to produce a batch of my own. So I was very pleased to discover that Annie of Living Life Foodcariously selected Hazelnut Truffles for this week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe. Transforming from baker to chocolatier for a day was a delightful change of pace, and I was amazed by the ease and simplicity of the candy making process.

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A French creation, the original chocolate truffle was merely a ball of ganache, made of chocolate and cream, and often flavored and rolled in cocoa. According to legend, it was invented in the kitchen of French culinary legend Auguste Escoffier during the 1920s. One day, his stagiaire, or apprentice, attempted to make pastry cream, but he accidentally poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate chunks rather than the intended bowl of sugared egg. As the chocolate and cream mixture emulsified and hardened, he found he could work the chocolate paste with his hands to form a bumpy, lopsided ball. After rolling the new creation in cocoa powder, he was struck by its resemblance to the luxurious mushroom truffles found in the forests of the Périgord region of France and the Piedmont area of Italy. This resemblance gave the chocolate truffle its name. Because the actual truffle was very expensive and eaten only by the royals and extremely wealthy, the shared name gave the new chocolate creation elevated status.

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Today, French chocolate truffles epitomize the finest and most luxurious candies in the world. What’s more, truffles are taken so seriously in France that an annual contest is held to judge the best from each individual region of the country. In many French chocolate production factories, the finest and freshest ingredients are reserved exclusively for making truffles. By making my own truffles, I can understand the importance of quality ingredients- especially when there are only four components to speak of.

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Chocolate. Cream. Liquor. Nuts. That’s it! And if you can chop up the chocolate, heat up the cream, combine the two, and then stir in the liquor and nuts, you can make delicious truffles too! All you need now is a little patience- 2 hours for the mixture to firm up in the fridge- but then you’re all set and ready to roll. Literally. Form that decadent ganache into balls and roll around to coat in whatever you fancy (hazelnuts were called for in this recipe, but any other nut could easily be substituted, not to mention the traditional cocoa powder, less conventional coconut, or even trendy spices) and you’re ready to open up your very own chocolate shop. Generally, the ganache used for truffle filling is made with a 2:1 ratio, two parts chocolate to one part cream, but by switching up the liquor or extract, and outer coating, the same basic recipe can be adapted to produce countless flavors and variations.

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The hazelnut truffles from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book exemplify the ultimate chocolate sweet. The textural contrast of the rich, creamy, almost velvety core and the crunchy bite of the toasty hazelnut exterior allow these truffles to dance on the tongue. They are luscious little nibbles that are sure to impress your family and friends… that is, if you decide to share! And bonus! If something happens to go awry in the kitchen, just remember, it may be the next remarkable culinary discovery of the century :)

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Head on over to Living Life Foodcariously for the recipe, and see what all the other SMSers did with their truffles by exploring the blogroll. Thanks Annie- what a great pick!

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