Introduction: Strawberry Balsamic Turtle Truffles

Picture of Strawberry Balsamic Turtle Truffles

When the candy contest came up, my wife and I went to Dean and Deluca to taste their fancy candies. One offering was a balsamic vinegar candy which, while tasty, lacked a distinct balsamic vinegar flavor.

Of course, this could be because balsamic vinegar has a strong and distinct flavor, one that is not necessarily conducive to candymaking.

When I think of balsamic vinegar, I think of salads. Specifically, the classic southern spinach salad with strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and pecans. I love the combination of the tart balsamic vinegar, the sweet fruity berries, and the roasted, almost bitter flavor of the pecans.

So, that's what we'll make. A salad-inspired truffle - strawberry jelly, on top of a strong, rich balsamic vinegar ganache, which rests on a pecan-praline flavored base. To top it off, a freeze-dried strawberry treat.

When it's done, you'll have a lovely and delicious snack. The first taste is of strawberries, followed by the sweet and sharp taste of balsamic vinegar in dark chocolate. Then, as the caramel melts, the sweet taste of roasted, candied nuts.

All ready? Let's go!

Step 1: Equipment and Ingredients

Picture of Equipment and Ingredients

You'll need the following ingredients:

For the strawberry pate de fruit:

About 500-700 grams of strawberries (see below)
500 grams of sugar
100 grams of corn syrup
15 grams of pectin (I used the Sure-Jell brand, in the yellow box)
8 grams of lemon juice

For the balsamic vinegar ganache:

150 grams dark chocolate
35 grams heavy cream
50 grams (good) balsamic vinegar
14 grams sugar
7 grams cocoa butter
7 grams butter (warmed to room temperature)

For the pecan caramel:

120 grams sugar
120 grams evaporated milk
1/4 of a vanilla bean
50 grams heavy cream
100 grams corn syrup
8 grams butter
30 grams freshly shelled pecans (not pictured)
A pinch of kosher salt

Equipment-wise, you'll require:

A kitchen scale, with a resolution of 1 gram.

I have to evangelize again. Cooking by weight is awesome. Everyone needs a scale!

An instant-read digital thermometer.

You'll use this a lot. Careful temperature control is paramount.

A tall-sided pot.

This is for the strawberry layer - it will foam. A lot. Skip ahead if you don't believe me.

A nonstick saucepan.

This is for the caramel - a nonstick pan will make cleanup a lot easier.

Three 6x6x¼ inch confectionary frames.

A long offset spatula, a ruler, or something else that can smooth down surfaces.

Parchment paper


Step 2: Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Background

Picture of Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Background

"Pate De Fruit" is a fancy way of saying "jelly," which are both non-fancy ways of saying "heteropolysaccharide gel."

A pate de fruit is a fruit puree that has been cooked with sugar and a bit of acid, and is "set" by the addition of fruit pectin. They differ from store-bought jellies by being higher in sugar (they are candies, after all), and therefore setting more firmly.

Pectin gels have an appealing texture and, unlike gelatin gels, are vegan-friendly. Pectin gels are not thermo-reversible - heating a cooled, set pectin gel will liquefy it, but it will not re-form again upon cooling.

Pectin gels are very sensitive to conditions, including pH, sugar content, and calcium content. Some experimentation may be required to attain the ideal texture with different fruits with different amounts of natural pectin. This recipe is a mashup of several I've tried, and seems to work fairly well with strawberries. This recipe is a little too soft to be used in candies on its own, but it's perfect for truffles.

Step 3: Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Pre-Preparation

Picture of Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Pre-Preparation

Gather together your ingredients:

About 500-700 grams of strawberries (see below)
500 grams of sugar
100 grams of corn syrup
15 grams of pectin (I used the Sure-Jell brand, in the yellow box)
8 grams of lemon juice

I used frozen strawberries, as it isn't strawberry season out here yet. If you use fresh strawberries, make sure you hull them (cut out the fibrous core bits from the stem end of the berry). If you use frozen berries, make sure they're more or less thawed.

Now, puree the berries. A blender or a food processor does the trick nicely.

At this point, you can strain the puree (or not) depending on the final texture you want in the jelly layer. Unstrained puree will leave the pulpy bits and the seeds in the puree, possibly resulting in a more "fruit-like" texture. I wanted my jelly smooth, so I left the puree out.

You need 500 grams of puree wither way - unstrained, you can just measure out 500 grams of berries; if you strain the puree, you'll need more like 700 grams of whole berries.

Next, whisk together the pectin with about 50 grams or so of sugar. This will keep the pectin from clumping upon addition.

As a final step, prepare the frame and overflow pan. The frame should be place on top of a piece of oiled parchment paper, and the pan should be lined with oiled parchment paper.

Ready to go? Make sure you have everything set out, easily available. 

Step 4: Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Cooking

Picture of Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Cooking

Add the fruit puree to a high-sided pot, and whisk in the sugar-pectin mixture.

Bring the puree to a boil over gentle heat. If you crank up the heat to high at the beginning, like a certain not-to-be-named instructable author, you will end up scorching the puree.

Once the puree boils, add the rest of the sugar. Return to a boil, and add the corn syrup. After the sugar and corn syrup are added, the mixture will start to foam aggressively. How aggressively? Refer to the pictures below - I used the largest pot I had, and was lucky that it was able to contain the foam. If the pot does boil over, the sugary, fruity, sticky mass will coat the outside of the pot, get on the stove, and immediately turn into an impenetrable black crust.

I speak from experience.

Return the puree to a boil, and cook it until it reaches 223° F (106° C). This will take a long time. Mine took about 25 minutes to reach the appropriate temperature.

At 223° F, remove from the heat, whisk in the lemon juice (beware of sputtering!), and spoon the hot pate into the frame. Pour the extra into the parchment-covered cake pan. Allow to cool!

Step 5: Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Bonus Round!

Picture of Strawberry Pate De Fruit - Bonus Round!

After the excess pate de fruit has cooled and set, you can can portion it out into extra treats! Basically, you're going to want to follow steps 4, 5, and 6 of this instructable by daenris.

You'll need extra sugar, and a bowl for tossing.

Coat the top side of the excess slab with sugar. Turn it out onto another piece of parchment, and liberally coat the backside with sugar.

Cut into squares (I used a pizza cutter), and plop them in the sugar. Toss lightly to coat. Eat, savor. Repeat.

Aren't you glad you made too much, now?

Step 6: Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Background

Picture of Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Background

Ganache is defined as a mixture of chocolate with heavy cream. More specifically, it is an emulsion - a stable suspension of fat in water. Typical flavored cream ganaches contain chocolate, cream, a sweetener (more for texture than anything else), a liquid flavoring agent (like a liqueur or fruit puree, which adds water), and butter (which adds extra fat, to make up for the water added by the flavoring agent).

This ganache is somewhat unusual, because it contains a very high amount of water-containing ingredients, and relatively little heavy cream. To make up for this, extra fat needs to be added. When I tried to do this with butter alone, the ganache tasted too buttery. So, some of the extra fat is added by adding additional pure cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter can be purchased online, or at many health food stores. The health food stores may sell it with the creams, ointments, and skin care products - don't be scared off by this! As long as the container indicates it's 100% cocoa butter, it is of a sufficient grade to be used in candies.

Ideally, the balsamic vinegar used here should be a good one. It should have clear fruity flavors to it, and be fairly expensive. Look for a bottle marked "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), which is a protected term (like "Champagne" or "Wall Street Fat Cat")  - this insures that you're buying traditionally-made long-aged vinegar.

If you need to get a medium-grade vinegar, make sure it is a tasty one. For this instructable, I'm using (shamefully) the Costco brand balsamic vinegar, which is tasty, but hardly the highest-quality. If this is all you have, don't despair - even the moderate to lower grade vinegars (marked "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena") will still leave you with a delicious final product.

Step 7: Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Pre-Preparation

Picture of Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Pre-Preparation

For the strong balsamic ganache, you'll need:

150 grams dark chocolate
35 grams heavy cream
50 grams (good) balsamic vinegar
14 grams sugar
7 grams cocoa butter
7 grams butter (warmed to room temperature)

If you prefer a milder balsamic flavor, this is what you'll need (adapted from the inimitable Giada De Laurentiis):

150 grams dark chocolate
30 grams heavy cream
8 grams balsamic vinegar (about 1.5 tsp)
4 grams butter (warmed to room temperature)

Stack the second frame on top of the first, making sure the interiors are aligned.

Step 8: Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Preparation

Picture of Balsamic Vinegar Ganache - Preparation

For the strongly flavored ganache:

Combine the cream, corn syrup, balsamic vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil (I did it in the microwave), and pour over the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to sit in the warm bath for about two minutes, then stir it to combine. Allow the smooth mixture to sit and cool to 95° F (35° C), then add the butter and cocoa butter. Stir it to combine, making sure there are no residual lumps.

If you forget to soften the butter first, you might need to give in 10-15 seconds in the microwave to reheat it.

Follow the same procedure for the mild ganache (combine cream and vinegar, heat to boiling, pour over chocolate, stir and cool to 95° F, add butter).

Pour the ganache into the frame and smooth. Allow to cool!

Step 9: Pecan Caramel - Background

Picture of Pecan Caramel - Background

Caramel is a chewy, dairy-containing confection made from sugar, corn syrup, and some combination of fatty dairy products (typically cream, butter, and condensed milk). Caramel should not be confused with toffee, which is practically the same thing (but crunchy).

Caramel gets its flavor from the Maillard reaction, a delicious bit of chemistry that occurs when sugars are heated with proteins and amino acids. In culinary terms, "toasted" or "browned" flavors are usually produced by Maillard reactions. The characteristic color of caramel is also a product of Maillard chemistry.

In this caramel, toasted pecans are added at the end of the cooking time, to add texture and a nutty flavor. The pecans can also be added at the beginning of the cooking time, but I personally prefer the flavor and texture when they're added at the end.

Step 10: Pecan Caramel - Pre-Preparation

Picture of Pecan Caramel - Pre-Preparation

Collect the ingredients:

120 grams sugar
120 grams evaporated milk
1/4 of a vanilla bean
50 grams heavy cream
100 grams corn syrup
8 grams butter
30 grams freshly shelled pecans (not pictured)
A pinch of kosher salt

What's that hanging out in the background, you say? That's your medical support.

While cooking, caramel is basically sweet, delicious napalm. If it splatters, it's basically impossible to remove from you before it starts to burn. And oh, how it hurts.

Again, this is the voice of experience talking.

Whenever I make caramel, I have a bowl full of ice water standing by, just in case. Chances are that you won't need it, but you'll be glad it's there if you do.

Step 11: Pecan Caramel - Cooking

Picture of Pecan Caramel - Cooking

First, we need to do a little more work on the raw ingredients.

The vanilla bean needs to be cut and seeded - to do this, cut the bean lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with the tip of your knife. Save the seeds, the bean, and any juices that come out.

Next, toast the pecans. You can use a skillet on the stovetop (medium-high heat, toss until fragrant), you can toast them in the oven (350° F for about 10-15 minutes), or you can use a toaster oven (like I did). If you use a toaster oven, make sure you cover the trays with aluminum foil, because you've had this thing since before college and it isn't in the best condition anymore.

After toasting, chop the pecans into adorable little nuggets.

Now, place the sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, vanilla seeds and bean into a saucepan. I'm using a non-stick pan (instead of the usual pyrex pot) because scorching is a danger, and it's a lot easier to clean.

Heat gently to a boil. Add the corn syrup,. With gentle stirring, cook to 230° F (110° C), then add the butter and salt. Continue cooking, still with gentle stirring, to 239° F (115° C).

Remove from heat, remove the vanilla pod, then add in the toasted pecans and stir well. Allow the caramel to cool somewhat (to less than 110° F/43° C), then spread onto the top layer of the frame. Put a small piece of oiled parchment paper on the top, smooth the caramel (as much as is possible), and pop in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This will cool the caramel and help re-solidify the top of the ganache layer. Don't forget to take it out!

Step 12: Finishing - Bottoming and Cutting

Picture of Finishing - Bottoming and Cutting

Start by removing the parchment paper from the caramel. Temper some chocolate and apply a "foot" to the caramel layer. Allow the foot to cool and crystallized.

This is necessary because it makes the dipping step much easier, and prevents the base of the truffles from being exposed to the harsh-humidity filled outside environment.

Flip the slab over and remove the parchment from the strawberry jelly layer.

I wanted round truffles, so I cut my slab apart with one of these round metal cutters. If you're tired of bruising your hands (I was...), use the flat surface of a chef's knife to push the cutter in.

In order to remove the centers from the inside of the cutter, I used a small round piece of cardboard to push them out the backside. If you just use your fingers, it's too easy to break apart the bottom layers. Push the centers out, and flip them over (foot down, jelly up). Once you have no more room to cut out fully round pieces, the cutter can be used to cut out the star-shaped intersections of the holes.

The first piece you cut will be the most difficult to remove. After a piece or two, the inside of the cutter will be well lubricated with strawberry jelly and softened ganache.

Step 13: Finishing - Dipping and Decorating

Picture of Finishing - Dipping and Decorating

Have your dark chocolate for coating ready. I wanted to fancy mine up, so I got some freeze-dried strawberries to put on top.

Melt and temper the chocolate. You'll need about a bag and a half (about 450 grams-ish). I was lucky enough to receive a tempering machine as a wedding present, but if you need to do it yourself, I suggest using the microwave.

1. Melt about 3/4ths of the chocolate in 30-45 second increments in the microwave. Aim for a final temperature of about 105° F (41° C).
2. Add the other 1/4 of the chocolate to the melted batch, stir. Keep an eye on the temperature!
3. Allow the chocolate to cool to about 88-90° F (31-32° C). This is the typical working range for dark chocolate. If the chocolate drops below this range, heat it in the microwave for about 5-6 seconds at a time - if the temperature exceeds 94° F (34° C), it will go out of temper, and will need to be re-seeded.

Dip the centers in the chocolate. Make sure your dipping fork doesn't accumulate too much solidified chocolate, or it will be difficult to smoothly slide the coated chocolates off (they tend to fall over, instead). While the shell is still liquid, lightly press a dehydrated strawberry piece into the top as a garnish.

Allow the chocolates to crystallize for at least 12 hours. Handling them before this can encourage the formation of unsightly defects. If you don't want to leave fingerprints on the candies when moving or packaging them, wear nitrile (good) or cotton (better) gloves.

Enjoy!

Step 14: Troubleshooting

Picture of Troubleshooting

Sometimes, things just don't go right. Hopefully this section will help you avoid or correct some of the common problems found in these types of candies.

Strawberry Pate de Fruit:

Is the jelly too soft?

If the jelly is too soft, you either need to add more pectin, or cook the solution to a higher temperature. Pectin can be a fickle substance - once you find a formulation with a specific brand that works, stick with it!

Is the jelly too tough?

If the jelly is too stiff, do the opposite from the above. Use less pectin, or cook the jelly to a lower temperature. Also, excessive corn syrup can cause overstiffening, so you can also try cutting back on that.

Does the jelly sweat?

If the jelly leaks fluid, it might be The Blob.

Or, there could be too much acid. Cut back on the lemon juice!

Balsamic Vinegar Ganache

This ganache is a recipe I've tested, and it works pretty regularly. The main thing to avoid while working with ganache is stirring it once it cools below 86° F (30° C). This can cause the emulsion to break, and may result in a grainy and unpalatable texture in the ganache.

Pecan Caramel

Is the caramel not browned enough?

This is caused by not enough Maillard reactions occurring. The most common cause of this is cooking the caramel too quickly - fast cooking raises the risk of scorching, and it means that the sugars and milk proteins will have less time to react and produce those delicious caramel flavors.

Is the caramel too browned/scorched?

Again, if the heat is too high, the caramel can scorch or become too brown. If the heat is correct, not stirring the caramel often leads to scorching. Make sure the pan is over a moderate source of heat, and gently stir it once it starts to brown.

Does the caramel crystallize?

Crystallization is usually the result of agitation while cooling. Once the pecans are mixed in, avoid excessive stirring. If stirring's not the issue, crystallization can be prevented by the addition of a doctoring agent - in the case of caramel, this is the corn syrup.

Is the caramel too stiff/too runny?

The texture of the caramel is mainly controlled by the final temperature - for a firmer caramel, cook to a higher temperature. For a softer caramel, cook to a lower temperature.

Shelling fresh pecans takes forever/is very messy

This is true, and seems to be an inherent property of the pecan. If you find a way to remedy this, let me know...

Dipping and Finishing

Chocolate doesn't set right/has streaks

This means the chocolate went out of temper at some point - make sure that, once tempered, the chocolate does not exceed the maximum working temperature!

Shell is cracked/dull

Make sure the centers reach room temperature before dipping. Cold centers = bad juju.

Shell is too thick

Thin the dipping chocolate to thin the shell - either by heating (but not above 94° F (34° C)!) or by adding cocoa butter.

Comments

brooklynbrownie (author)2011-03-21

Wow! Beautiful! Great instructable!

canida (author)2011-03-14

Wow, these look fabulous! You always make the most amazing things.

kathrynl (author)2011-03-14

I love this idea, and it looks so delicious. Excellent instructable!

scoochmaroo (author)2011-03-11

Yay!!!!

kazmataz (author)2011-03-11

These look beautiful!

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