Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting the Dirt on Truffle Making from Andrea Davis


Andrea Davis of Andrea's Truffles is your typical overnight success--in that while the San Diego food obsessed are now suddenly raving about her deeply rich chocolate truffles with the crazy flavor profiles, the San Diego native actually spent many years working in kitchens like The Prado, The Dakota, Pacifica Del Mar, and La Valencia. She started making truffles in 2003, and thanks to mentors and customers like Chef Hanis Cavin, Specialty Produce, and Catalina Offshore Products, now finds herself in wild demand.

Overnight success indeed.

Davis trained at the California Culinary Academy in the Bay Area and then returned home to San Diego, where she started her professional cooking life with The Cohn Restaurant Group. She worked on the savory side of the kitchen until she landed at Pacifica Del Mar. She initially was a line cook, working pantry and sauté, but when a pastry chef left, she took that on to learn those skills. She then went on to La Valencia to focus on pantry and pastry and get more knowledge before moving to Brockton Villa and its sister restaurant Beaumont's.

But Davis tired of restaurant life and escaped to Trader Joe's, all the while playing around with truffle making. She brought a batch to her yoga class, and was asked to make truffles for each shakra. It was a chance meeting with Cavin a couple of years ago that got her to consider starting her own business, making truffles for Carnitas Snack Shack. And the Pannikin. She made truffles for Chad White's initial pop up dinners.

Trader Joe's is now just a place where she shops. Davis's Andrea's Truffles has become a full-time occupation. She makes 500 to 800 truffles a week, calling Flor Franco's Indulge Contemporary Catering kitchen in Chula Vista home base. Now you can find her truffles at Carnitas Snack Shack, The Patio, Ripe, Specialty Produce, Mission Brewery, and, on occasion, Catalina Offshore Products.

I spent several hours with Davis this week, learning all sorts of great truffle-making tips. The first thing you'll notice about Davis's truffles is that, well, they're not traditionally truffle shaped--as in round and dusted with cocoa powder to imitate truffles rooted out from the dank ground. Davis admits she was watching Alton Brown on TV making truffles and when saw him pour the ganache into a tray, then slice them up into squares like brownies she had an aha moment. "For years I'd been scooping them into balls, but this was much better. Much less labor intensive," she says.

Davis works on several batches in different stages at a time--making the thick ganache that's the base of the truffle, tempering chocolate chunks for dipping other batches that have set overnight in the walk-in, prepping ingredients like her homemade raspberry jam that will go into a truffle variety she makes for The Patio, and reducing beers and red wines for still other varieties.

While I was there she was focused on three projects: a batch of Raspberry Jam truffles for The Patio, batches of Bacon Whiskey and Ballast Point Sculpin Caramel truffles for Carnitas Snack Shack, and a  batch of Spicy Cinnamon with Tequila truffles for the Specialty Produce farmers market bag. There was a double boiler holding chips and cocoa powder to melt and begin a ganache for the Raspberry Jams and another holding chunks of 72 percent chocolate that would be used for dipping the Bacon Whiskey and Spicy Cinnamon with Tequila. On still another burner, Davis was reducing the Sculpin to intensify the flavor.

Clockwise from top left: Melting the chocolate for the ganache, pouring the ganache into plastic-wrap lined aluminum trays, slicing the set ganache
For her ganache, Davis uses a combination of Callebaut and Valrhona chocolate, into which she blends butter and heavy cream, going low and slow with the heat. If she adds alcohol like tequila to the ganache, she take out an equal amount of the cream. To this batch, she added her raspberry jam. When it was thoroughly blended she poured the ganache into aluminum trays lined with plastic wrap. When the ganache has cooled and set, it's then easy to lift it out of the tray, unwrap and then slice into squares.

To make the Shack's pub-like truffles, caramel was called for. But not any caramel. Once Davis melted down the granulated sugar, she slowly stirred in the reduced Sculpin. Already she had arranged a layer of pretzel thins over the set ganache. Now, she poured the enhanced caramel over the pretzels. Back into the walk-in they went.


Then it was time to get messy and dip the truffles for Specialty Produce and Carnitas Snack Shack. With the temperature set to medium low, Davis was able to leave the chocolate over the double boiler to melt while doing other tasks. Once the chocolate tempered, she removed it from the heat and took it over to the station she uses to dip, stirring the chocolate to cool it down. Touching the bowl tells her when it's ready. If it's just comfortable to touch (as opposed to pulling back from the heat), she gets to work. She had me do some of the dipping, showing me how to place the truffle on a fork and quickly dunk, turn, and lift. To make it work, the ganache and tempered chocolate have to be cool enough so that the chocolate doesn't run and puddle around the truffle when it's set back down.


While it's still soft, Davis then adds the finishing touches. For the Spicy Tequila, she grated lime zest over the truffles, then a little cinnamon.


I thought that was it, but then out came a small container of gold dust. And a brush.


Next up were the bacon and whisky truffles. After dipping, she lightly sprinkled the tops with Celtic grey salt and brown sugar.



If this has inspired you to make truffles at home, Davis suggests using a basic truffle recipe that includes chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and cocoa powder. You'll often see recipes that include condensed milk. Davis frowns on that.

Here are half a dozen tips Davis suggests when trying this in your own kitchen:

1. When it comes to flavors, think about what works with what and remember that less is more. You don't have to mix them all together in the ganache either. You can always sprinkle some on top for an extra punch. For example, Davis made a green tea and white chocolate truffle but felt it needed a little something to round it out. So she sprinkled cinnamon on top.
2. With chocolate, use the best ingredients you can afford.
3. Layer your flavors. Don't mix everything together at once. Build the flavors as you're cooking the ganache or the caramel.
4. When using alcohol in the ganache, take out the equivalent amount of cream so it doesn't get runny.
5. When incorporating a dark stout or wine, reduce the liquid to half to capture more of the flavor when it's blended with the chocolate.
6. When using tequila you'll find that it actually makes the ganache sturdier, so take that into account and don't use a heavy hand. The tequila also keeps its flavor so, again, don't use so much that it will overpower the chocolate.



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