Sure, sugar cookies are classic. They can also be labor intensive and fairly easy to mess up; they burn, they break, they come out too crunchy or too soft. People are tired of pies after the onslaught at Thanksgiving. Cakes are a lot to take on when you’ve already got so much on your plate—and speaking of plates, many people are so overstuffed they don’t even want to think about dessert. But few can resist at least a single, perfect piece of chocolate. And if you’re looking for something almost effortless to make, pretty much foolproof, and always greatly appreciated, you’re looking for truffles.
In their purest form, they’re incredibly simple—just an amalgam of chocolate and cream, though they can be made more elaborate if you’re up for it—and even the most basic truffle is super impressive and immensely satisfying. They’re easy to adapt for vegans and dairy-free folks, and easy to infuse with a range of seasonal flavors—plus, you get to dress them up however you like, so you can feel like a kitchen alchemist without actually having to perform any difficult tasks. Best of all, even totally frills-free truffles are decadent and delicious, and a plate at a party is just as welcome as a box presented as a homemade Christmas gift. Basically, they can be your saving grace and secret weapon this holiday season. Here’s everything you need to know about making them:
The Classic Formula
Traditional chocolate truffles are basically just little balls of firm ganache. The classic recipe is simply to warm heavy cream and pour it over chocolate and vanilla (and sometimes a little butter), let it melt and mix it well, then allow it to set before scooping out little spheres and rolling them in some sort of coating, like cocoa powder or finely chopped toasted nuts. They take almost no skill and are nigh impossible to screw up—yet, like anything made by hand, they seem extra special and they’re definitely luxurious in taste and texture. No coincidence, then, that they were named for that other truffle, the high-end gourmet fungus that can fetch $200 per ounce. Louis Dufour, the inventor of the chocolate truffle, called them that because their irregular round shape and dark cocoa coating made them resemble black truffles.
Adding Other Flavors
You can tweak the classic formula without getting too elaborate by simply adding different flavorings. Use extracts, like peppermint; spices, like cinnamon or five spice powder; or splashes of booze, like orange liqueur, rum, or even beer (chocolate stout truffles, ahoy). You can stir in a little jam or orange marmalade for a fruity truffle, or a little crème de marrons (vanilla chestnut paste), even some harissa or curry paste for a kick. Or you can infuse the cream itself by steeping things in the pot; just place your chosen ingredient, like toasted dried chiles, pine needles, tea bags or loose tea leaves, or fresh herbs like rosemary or lavender in the cream while it’s heating and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, then remove or strain out the solids before mixing the flavored cream with the chocolate.
Get our Orange Marmalade Truffles recipe.
Special Equipment (Not Required!)
You don’t need any special equipment to make truffles, which only adds to their beauty! However, if you have a melon baller, they’re good for lots of other things, including scooping out truffles. This makes them more uniform, and can allow you to skip the step of rolling the chilled truffles between your palms to make them rounder if you really don’t want ganache all over your hands, although the variations in size and surface area you get from hand-rolling them only add to their charm. If you have a pastry bag, you can also pipe your truffles into place before you roll them. Otherwise, just use a teaspoon to scoop them out.
Coating Your Truffles
Once formed, roll your truffles in any coating that calls to you: confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, matcha powder, turbinado or other raw sugar for a bit more crunch (sanding sugar gives you lots of colorful options—even sparkling black if you’re going for the lumps of coal look). Other crunchy coatings include toasted chopped nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds…), toffee bits, and crushed candy canes. You could use sprinkles, shredded coconut (toasted or not), cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate covered espresso beans, pulverized gingersnaps or other crisp cookie crumbs, even toasted sesame seeds. For extra fancy presentation, consider luster dust, or if you’ve got a bigger budget, edible gold or silver leaf. Or, if you want to embrace the sweet-salty combo, you might try rolling your truffles in bacon bits, or crushed pretzels or potato chips…
Chocolate Covered Options
The easiest method of finishing truffles is to roll them in something and call it a day, but adding a chocolate covering makes for a sleeker look and a slightly more durable treat. You can take a shortcut to a proper shell by using chocolate candy melts, though they often contain artificial ingredients you may not want, and real chocolate always tastes better. However, if you want a high-quality shell that’s smooth, shiny, snappy, and melt-resistant, you will have to temper that chocolate. If you have a sous vide circulator, this is really easy, but the old-fashioned way is a bit more of a process, explained here. There is a far less fussy method here that requires no special equipment, although your results may not be quite so perfect, which is totally fine for many of us. There’s also a method that involves a hair dryer and a food processor if you want to look into that, but honestly, it sounds more like a neat party trick than a legitimate time-saver.
You can use non-tempered melted chocolate to coat your truffles, if the risk of blooming and smudging doesn’t bother you. If you go that route, you can also add a little coconut oil to the chocolate so it sets a little harder. Before the chocolate coating sets, you can gently press a few edible bits (like candied citrus peel, flakes of sea salt, dragées, or pretty much anything crunchy from the “coating” category) on top for flavor and finesse, or you can brush them with luster dust once they’re set.
If you are dipping your truffles in anything melted, this article has lots of great tips for doing it neatly–but if this is starting to seem too complicated and fraught with risk of failure, remember: rolling them in a coating is not only easier, it’s traditional (and allows you to get pretty creative too)!
For those that don’t eat dairy, truffles are still totally doable. Simply use a dark, dairy-free chocolate and melt it with heated coconut milk instead of heavy cream. You’ll still get that rich, creamy, dense-yet-smooth texture and deep chocolate taste, and have a lot of options for coating and flavoring the truffles as you please. Just be sure to use a thick, full-fat coconut milk, or even coconut cream, and not light coconut milk. You can also try soy cream, though you’ll need slightly less of it.
Classically, “truffles” are little balls of semi-firm ganache and nothing more (or less!), but the term has evolved to encompass other filled chocolates in various shapes, and when you search for truffle recipes, you’ll get results that include variations like Nutella truffles, Oreo truffles, and other things more akin to cake pops sans sticks. Peanut butter buckeyes and fudgy Brazilian brigadeiros are both similar enough to truffles to call them cousins, and would be totally at home in a box or on a plate with them. Rum balls and cream cheese truffles? Equally welcome to the table. We even stand behind goat cheese-chocolate truffles; try our Chèvre Truffles recipe and you will too. Then there are the myriad vegan, paleo, and raw truffle variations with ingredients like dates and avocado. We’d try any truffle (and by any other name), but some of them do stray farther from the simplicity and ease of the original. Still, if you’re willing to take on more of a project, try making an assortment of truffles and truffle-adjacent sweets. The recipes below cover a whole range of these.
Storing and Shipping
Truffles are a food best eaten as soon as possible (generally not an issue), but once the chocolate-cream mixture has fully solidified, you can store them in a cool, dry, dark place for up to two weeks if you must. Heat and light, both natural and artificial, are their enemy, so if in doubt, pop them in the fridge, but bring them back to room temp before eating them for the best flavor and texture. Since they’re a relatively delicate perishable item, you might not want to ship them, although you can chance it with ice packs, precision packing, and express shipping. Chocolate-covered truffles are a little hardier (at least when the chocolate coating is tempered), and the “truffles” that are made from cake and cookies are even sturdier, so those might be a better option to mail–still, be sure to pack them well and ship express.
Now all you need to do is decide which kind to make. Here are some holiday options to inspire you:
Okay, so this is technically termed a bon bon recipe, but it follows the classic truffle formula pretty closely, replacing some of the cream with Baileys liqueur, and coating the outsides of the sweets in Christmas sprinkles. Get the recipe.
Here’s a prime example of the cake pop truffle style, where cookies and cream cheese form the centers, which are generally always covered in a melted chocolate (or almond bark, or candy melt) shell. These are obviously perfect for the holidays, and a great way to turn any too-fugly-to-serve-to-company sugar cookies into something both cute and delicious, though they’re also worth making a fresh batch of cookies for crumbling up. Get the recipe.
Chocolate and mint are a classic duo, and especially great during winter (aka candy cane season). If you don’t like semisweet, you could try a white chocolate Oreo truffle take on these instead. The polished appearance of these chocolate-shelled treats is certainly striking, but if you prefer an easier route, just roll them in finely crushed candy canes instead. Get the recipe.
Winter white truffles with the iconic flavor of eggnog, these use cream cheese and white chocolate, so they’re not traditional, but they are definitely festive. Feel free to replace the rum extract with actual rum in these for extra holiday cheer. Get the recipe.
All the warm, spicy-sweet flavor of gingerbread men without the hassle of rolling and cutting them into humanoid shapes? Plus the addition of chocolate? Yes, please. You could also make a more traditional truffle with a touch of spice and a coating of crushed gingersnaps, or try a raw, vegan version with bourbon, but these are made from actual gingerbread cookies and cream cheese, with an extra dose of cloves, cinnamon, and ginger to warm you up. Get the recipe.
Covered in a snowdrift of powdered sugar, these white chocolate truffles are speckled red and green inside from cranberries and pistachios, which give them extra texture in addition to the perfect combo of festive colors. Get the recipe.
If you can’t resist these adorable little truffles (which aren’t technically truffles either but are just so charming), you’ll want to use a delicious fruitcake, of course—and that is not an oxymoron. We have a few good recipes for it, but you could use the same technique with gingerbread or spice cake if you prefer. The melted chocolate is mixed directly into the cake crumbs before they’re formed into balls, and a bit of white chocolate joins glace cherries for the holiday decoration on top. Get the recipe.
For a beautiful example of the raw/paleo style of truffles using dried fruit and nuts, check out these treats made with raw walnuts, toasted pistachios, and dates, with a dark chocolate shell. Get the recipe.
Wine is a year-long favorite, but many people appreciate its effect even more around the holidays. Why not work it into your diet in the form of dessert as well? For a more traditional cocoa-coated version, try these dark chocolate red wine truffles, or make especially seasonally appropriate mulled wine truffles. These are covered in a chocolate shell with a festive yet subtle sprinkle of red sugar. Get the recipe.
If you can’t be trusted around an entire cheesecake, make cheesecake truffles instead (and then be sure to give most of them away ASAP, before you find you’ve nibbled them all). These add chocolate, pecans, and caramel sauce to the mix for a turtle twist. Toast the pecans to amp up their crunch and nutty flavor. Get the recipe.
These are more classical cocoa-coated truffles that perfectly illustrate how you can easily add extra flavors to the standard recipe. Here, the warmly welcomed newcomers are salted caramel sauce and whiskey. These would be a great gift for your chocolate and booze loving friends and fam. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Anne's Kitchen.