If you walk into a fantastic chocolatier like Jacques Genin in Paris and ask for a truffle, they’ll point you to one particular type of sweet rolled in cocoa powder. But maybe you wanted the square ones with Szechuan peppercorn and the rectangular ones with bergamot instead? That’s when it pays off to know: What is the difference between a truffle and a bonbon?
C’est Si Bonbon
In the U.S., we pretty much call every bite-size confection a truffle. But the proper name for most of these sweet treats is “bonbon.” The word translates to “candy” in French, but it’s come to mean any type of confection filled with ganache, praliné, salted caramel, nougat—the list goes on. Most tend to be filled with ganache, an emulsification of chocolate and heavy cream, and chocolatiers often experiment with different types: Think oolong tea and even doughnut ganache.
Bonbons can be round, square, cone-shaped, and so on, and they are often decorated with bright colors, cocoa nibs, and freeze-dried raspberries—or even in one desperately-seeking-millennials move to look like tattoos. They are almost always enrobed in a thin layer of chocolate.
La Maison du Chocolat 14-Piece Box, $38 at Neiman Marcus
Chocolate bon bons made in Paris.
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Some of my favorite places to snag a bonbon or two (or 24) are Soma Chocolatemaker for bean-to-bar-to-bonbon treats like Roasted Cacao Bean (a whole cocoa bean enrobed in dark chocolate), Recchiuti Confections for single-origin varietals and the famous burnt caramel truffle, and Ginger Elizabeth for their wildflower-honey-and-yogurt bonbon, made with local artisans’ dairy and honey.
“We wanted to pack as much yogurt flavor into this bonbon [as possible], so we formulated the ganache recipe to only use yogurt, no cream,” says founder Ginger Hahn. “Balancing different types of dairy with chocolate—buttermilk, crème fraiche, yogurt—and not limiting ourselves to the traditional use of cream is all part of what makes our bonbons special.”
A truffle, on the other hand, is a particular type of bonbon that is filled with ganache and usually rolled in cocoa powder. One of my favorite truffle makers is La Maison du Chocolat for its strict adherence to the classical style. Truffles must be kept cool and are extremely perishable—so you won’t find many available online. But they’re easy to make at home.
Whether you’re looking for bonbons or specifically truffles, they should have:
Smooth and silky centers. The ganache shouldn’t be grainy or watery, and caramel or praliné centers shouldn’t be “too blond or dark/burnt,” says Hahn—and shouldn’t be grainy or stick to your teeth.
Short shelf life. Think weeks, not months. “A longer shelf life means the bonbon is packed with a high percentage of sorbitol and any number of other moisture-binding sugars,” she says. (So look, too, for a short ingredients list that only includes things like cream, cocoa butter, sugar, etc.)
Thin coating of shiny chocolate, decorated tastefully. The chocolate shell around a bonbon should be as thin as possible, without chocolate pooling around the bottom (called a foot). Truffles may simply be rolled in cocoa powder.
Now you can be trufflin’ every day!
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