Cointreau Chocolates and Other Chocolate-Covered Things

A couple years ago, I took a class called “Truffles, Truffles, Truffles,” at the Institute of Culinary Education, and learned to make (You’ve got three guesses)…
…beautiful chocolate truffles! We weighed out chocolate from huge cardboard boxes of E. Guittard chocolate wafers, melted it with cream and added flavor: cinnamon and nutmeg for Milk Chocolate Spice Truffles, raspberry and passionfruit puree for fruity White Chocolate Truffles, Grand Marnier, steeped black tea, orange extract, and more.  Each truffle had a delicate dark chocolate shells filled with rich, perfectly smooth ganache. It was out of this world.
But back at home with my friend Naomi, I couldn’t replicate what we had produced in that air-conditioned classroom at ICE. After hours in the refrigerator, our ganache still wouldn’t thicken, we didn’t have a chocolate thermometer to temper the chocolate, and our “truffles” melted into chocolatey globs when we tried to coat them. I’m embarssed to admit that we tried to use a regular, sick people thermometer to temper the chocolate, and failed miserably (no worries, germophobes, we washed it for two full rounds of “Happy Birthday”). Disappointed, we rolled some of the misshapen truffles in chopped toasted almonds and called it a day.
I was set on truffles, but decided to wait for a cooler, more ganache-friendly day to try again. One day over spring break, I used the same ganache recipe from the class at ICE, but substituted Cointreau for Grand Marnier to make a delicious orange liqueur ganache. We let it set in the refrigerator, but even after a couple days the ganache wasn’t soft enough to roll. Molded chocolates were the perfect solution. We stopped by NY Cake & Baking Distribution—which would be my own personalized heaven if it weren’t so overpriced—to buy a chocolate thermometer and a set of plastic chocolate molds.
In retrospect, I probably should have gone with simpler molds, because the chocolate didn’t fill all the way into the little spaces. I had to temper the chocolate twice, because the first time I just couldn’t cool it to 85 degrees. It stayed stubbornly at 88, so I stuck it back on the stove and re-tempered: up to 115 degrees, down 85 with un-melted chocolate, then back up to 87-91.  I was so excited to see the chocolate I smeared on a sheet of wax paper begin to harden to a shiny finish. That moment was a close second to the first time my macarons grew feet.
Working quickly, I filled the molds with tempered chocolate, let the extra drip out, piped in the ganache, and filled in another layer of chocolate. It was a mess. Chocolate dripped all over my hands, all over the sides of the bowl and the sheets of waxed paper on the counter. When the chocolate in the molds had hardened, I scraped off the extra with a knife before unmolding, curling and shredding the hardened chocolate all over the kitchen table.
When the chocolates were finished I tried cleaning up the bottom edges by melting away excess chocolate on a hot plate (literally a plate I stuck in the microwave), but I gave up quickly; as the heat softened the entire chocolate, my fingers left chocolatey prints.
I had left over chocolate and a ton of ganache, but the molding process was so complicated that I decided to stick with one tray of Cointreau Chocolates. Instead, I searched through the refrigerator and pantry for anything dip-able: almonds, dried figs, strawberries, graham crackers, and Snyder’s honey wheat pretzel sticks (my favorite).
When I didn’t have enough chocolate left to dip anything else, I scattered salted blanched almonds on a sheet of wax paper and scraped the rest of the chocolate over it to make a freeform almond bark.

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