Passion Tea Truffles

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Do you have certain routines that you look forward to every day? For me, it’s after dinnertime. My husband fills the tea pot and sets it on the stove before heading to the pantry. He breaks us each off a square of chocolate to enjoy while we clean up and wait for the whistle of the kettle.

Our tea of choice is Tazo Passion, which is a blend of hibiscus, rose hip, and orange. The chocolate is always dark and usually has a hint of sea salt or a slight crunch of almond. With tea in hand and melted chocolate on the tongue, we head to the living room to catch our breath and reconnect after a busy day.

I’ve long wanted to develop a truffle recipe that blends our love of tea and chocolate but tempering the chocolate for the shell evaded me time and again until recently.

In January, I was given the opportunity to take a course from Learning with Experts and it didn’t take me long to decide which one it would be: The Art of Chocolate Making taught by Paul A.Young. I learned how to make the creamiest ganache, how to temper chocolate, how to make filled chocolates, plus multiple decorating techniques.

Each of the four pre-recorded lessons included a hands-on assignment to practice the skills taught. I was always a little nervous to turn mine in! Once I turned in the assignment, the next lesson was unlocked. Paul always took the time to comment on the assignment with helpful tips and encouraging feedback.

I’ve taken online classes before but none that taught me as many skills as this series did. I’m so excited to be able to share some of the techniques I learned.

Yet maybe you want more than one blog post? I encourage you to check out the class for yourself and make the handmade chocolates you’ve always dreamed of.

What is a Truffle

A chocolate truffle (not the fungi) is a confection consisting of rolled ganache coated with tempered chocolate or cocoa.

How to Make Ganache

Ganache is chocolate mixed with liquid. The high liquid to chocolate ratio keeps the chocolate from seizing and instead creates a soft mousse-like texture. In the class, my instructor Paul, recommended starting with melted chocolate to help ensure a smooth ganache. After it cools and is chilled in the refrigerator, the ganache is rolled into balls to create the center of the truffle.

Tips for Rolling Ganache into Balls

Once chilled, ganache is semi-solid and a little sticky. Paul taught us to dip our fingers in cocoa powder and then roll the ganache in between our fingers. It works perfectly!

How to Temper Dark Chocolate

Two different methods: tabletop and seeding. I’m using the seeding method, which is the best method for tempering small amounts of chocolate. It works by adding tempered chocolate to a bowl of melted chocolate and then stirring continuously. Having a scale to measure the chocolate and an accurate thermometer for reading temperatures is crucial for success. Full instructions are below in the recipe.

Tips for Tempering Chocolate

  • Use a quality chocolate that tastes good. I like Ghiradelli.
  • Don’t use chocolate chips. I’m always tempted to substitute but I tried it with chips and it really did not turn out well.
  • Use a quick read digital thermometer (such as a Thermapen)
  • Use metal bowls for the best temperature control.
  • Temper chocolate when you have the time to work uninterrupted from start to finish.
  • Set a square of parchment next to the bowl and spread a little chocolate on it to check to see if it is tempered.
  • Stir continuously at a moderate rate.
Stir chocolate at this speed.

Working with Tempered Chocolate

In all honesty, this was the hardest part for me. I was always in a rush and thought if I worked quickly enough that I could skip this step. Wrong! By the fourth lesson of the class, I made my peace with the fact that I need to warm the chocolate before using it. The goal is to keep the chocolate between 86℉ and 88℉, but not above 90℉. This temperature range ensures that the chocolate is fluid and won’t set too quickly.

  • Use a hair dryer or heat gun to gently warm the chocolate for a few seconds.
  • Place a towel under the bowl to slow the cooling process.

Coating in Tempered Chocolate

For a professional-looking truffle, the trick is to coat the ganache balls in two very thin layers of tempered chocolate. Paul taught us to dip our fingers in the chocolate and roll the ganache in the chocolate on our fingers. The tempered chocolate sets almost immediately and then once coated, start at the beginning and give each a second coat. It really is quite satisfying to see shiny chocolate truffles lined up on a baking sheet.

Decorating Truffles

While these truffles are pretty enough on their own, it’s quite fun adding a little embellishment. Brush edible glitter on the dried chocolate truffle for a pop of color or pipe thin lines over the truffles with the leftover tempered chocolate.

It feels so good to finally have the chocolate skills needed to make my Passion Truffle dreams a reality! Tazo Passion Tea adds a slightly floral flavor to the creamy ganache, perfect for celebrating the beginning of Spring. I love the satisfying crunch that the tempered chocolate shell gives each bite. These bite-sized chocolates are satisfyingly decadent without being heavy and I hope you give them a try!

Passion Tea Truffles

Ganache

  • 160 g (6 oz) dark chocolate, melted
  • 160 g (scant ¾ cup) cream
  • 60 g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 Passion tea bag, tag removed
  • One strip of orange peel
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Tempered Chocolate Coating:

  • 300 g (11 oz) dark chocolate, divided and chopped
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, for rolling ganache

Make the ganache: Mix cream, sugar, tea, orange peel, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and let it steep for two minutes. Stir to thoroughly distribute. Remove the tea bag and orange peel and pour tea mixture over melted chocolate. Whisk to combine into a smooth homogeneous ganache. Pour into a wide container and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

Rolling ganache: Bring ganache out of the refrigerator and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour cocoa powder into a small bowl. Scoop a 1/2 tablespoon of ganache into your hand, dip fingers in cocoa powder and roll ganache into balls. Set on the baking sheet and continue until all the ganache is used. You should have between 30-40 balls.

Temper the chocolate: Fill a small pot with two inches of water and bring to a simmer. Fill a metal bowl with 200 g (7 oz) of chopped chocolate and set on top of the simmering water. Stir with a spatula and melt until chocolate reaches 140℉, about five minutes. Take the melted chocolate off the pot and dry the bowl with a towel.

Add the remaining 100 g (3.5 oz) of chopped chocolate to the melted chocolate, and stir at a moderate pace. Ensure that the bottom of the spatula is touching the bottom of the bowl and that the chocolate on the side of the bowl doesn’t harden. Stir continuously until the chocolate reaches 81℉, about 20 minutes. Test that the chocolate is tempered by spreading some on a square of parchment. Continue stirring and once the test is dry, shiny, and minus any swirling, the tempering is complete. Grab the heat gun (or hair dryer) and warm the chocolate to 86-88℉.

Coat the ganache: Dip fingers in tempered chocolate and roll the ball on your fingers to coat and place back on the baking sheet. Continue until all the balls are covered. Repeat for a second layer.

Decorate truffles: Brush edible glitter onto the truffles or pipe a simple decoration using any remaining chocolate.

Store: Store finished truffles in an air-tight container at room temperature for one week.

Mini Apple Pie(s)

How is it November already? Last I checked it was June and I was making mini cakes for two sweet little boys. Now it’s November and I’m making mini pies for Thanksgiving. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to Mini Baking with Rachel!

Yet, here we are, still at home and trying to make sense of a family holiday that requires social distancing. Hence the mini pies.

Are you spending Thanksgiving by yourself or know someone that is? Bake mini pies and take one to a loved one. Little acts of kindness go a long way during these trying times. By making four mini pies, you will have plenty for everyone!

If you are wondering what apples to use for pie, have no fear! I wrote a guide for Simply Recipes to help you decide. I prefer Honeycrisp or Pink Lady, but feel free to use whatever apples you have on hand. Ideally, you are looking for apples that hold their shape when baked and have a balanced flavor.

The apple pies can be wrapped and frozen unbaked or baked. Your choice! If unbaked, add 7 minutes to the baking time. If baked, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and warm in the oven at 350℉ for 10 minutes, until crisp and warmed all the way through.

Store baked pies at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for 4 days. Serve warm apple pie with a scoop of ice cream for a classic combination.

Directions:

Yield: 4 mini 5 inch double crust apple pies

Active time: 30 minutes

Chilling time: 2 hours & 20 minutes

Bake time: 25-30 minutes

Double All-Butter Pie Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (1 ¾  if using Morton)
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks butter), cold and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • ½ cup cold water

Apple Filling:

  • 4 tart medium apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Lady
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

To Finish:

  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sparkling sugar or raw sugar

Supplies:

Directions:

Add flour, sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade. Add cubed butter and pulse 5-8 times, until butter is the size of small peas. Drizzle in water and cider vinegar and pulse for a few seconds until the mixture starts to clump around the sides of the bowl. Dump onto a floured counter and knead for a few times to shape into a ball. The ball should be firm with butter visible. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Shape into balls and saran wrap. Press slightly to form disks and put in the refrigerator. It is usable after two hours. If frozen, pull and put in the refrigerator the night before making pie.

Peel, core, and slice apples. Cut the slices in half for shorter pieces. Put all the apples in a large bowl. Gently mix in sugar, flour, lemon juice, salt, cinnamon and cloves.

Take 1 pie dough disk out of the fridge and cut into 4 equal pieces. Sprinkle the counter with flour. Roll out one piece of dough into a 7 inch circle. Flour the dough and rolling pin as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough into one of the pie pans and press gently to form the dough to the bottom of the pan and allowing the excess to drape over the edge. Repeat with remaining 3 pieces of dough.

Heap equal amounts of filling into each pie, creating a slight dome shape.

Take the remaining disk out of the refrigerator. Flour the counter again and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll one piece at a time into a 7 inch circle. Choose your own adventure for the top crust! It’s important to work quickly so that the dough stays cold. Feel free to keep the other pieces of dough in the refrigerator if you need more time to allow your creative, perfectionist self shine.

  • To make the lattice top crust, cut the circle into equal strips about ¼ inch thick. Place the center strip horizontally in the middle of the pie. Space the next strips to the left and right of the middle strip  ½ an inch apart. Continue adding horizontal strips until you reach the end of the crust (usually 5 strips total). Weave the remaining strips laterally, alternating to create a basket weave.
  • Alternately, use a small cookie cutter or donut hole cutter to cut circles out of the rolled out top crust. Shingle the circles around the top of the pie.
  • For a third option, place the rolled out dough on top of the apple filling and cut steam slits in the top.

Once the top crust is on the pie, use scissors to trim the excess dough to 1 inch overhang. Roll the excess up onto itself so that the dough is at the edge of the pan. Flute or crimp edges to secure the top crust to the bottom crust.

Refrigerate pies for 20 minutes, or until the dough is cold. Heat the oven to 375℉. In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the egg yolk and cream. Use a pastry brush to brush on to the top crust. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar or raw sugar, if desired.

Place pies on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes . Check at 15 minutes and rotate pan for even browning. The pies are done when the crust is deeply golden brown and the filling is slightly bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature for best flavor.

Strawberry Smash Cake

Anyone feeling like smashing things? The dirty dinner dishes? Your child’s phone? Racial injustice? I have just the cake for you. The Smash Cake.

Typically smash cakes are small cakes given to babies for the first birthday. This trend must have started sometime in the last decade because my children were unfortunate enough to have cupcakes for the first birthday. My friend’s twin boys hit the jackpot. The birthday boys each had his very own cake to smash. It was glorious! I made a three-layer version of this cake for each of them plus a regular size cake for the parents. The boys smashed and ate and then smashed and ate some more. I’m still smiling at the pictures. I can totally see why this is a thing.

Maybe you need a mini cake to celebrate or a fun baking project to tackle but I implore you to make this cake! I can can go on and on about its good qualities. Its the perfect size for two and uses a mere half cup of flour for those of us finding flour hard to stock. The cake is tender and sturdy and being butter-less, it pairs perfectly with rich cream cheese frosting. Also, the cake holds up quite well without drying out. The strawberry filling is literally pureed strawberries which I love this time of year.

Overhead view of vanilla cake for two with a slice on a plate.

A sponge cake gets its structure from whipped eggs and sugar. A dash of flour, baking soda and salt is all that is needed to finish. Though easy to make, a sponge cake differs from most American-style butter cakes. Butter cakes start with creaming sugar with butter, adding eggs and then altering the addition of dry ingredients and milk. The finished butter cake is heftier and denser than the light and springy sponge cake.

There are many different ways to make a sponge cake. Some recipes add melted butter to the batter, some warm the eggs and sugar before whipping, others separate the eggs. I love this one because of its pure simplicity.

Slice of layered strawberry mini cake on a plate.

If you are new to sponge cakes (or cake baking in general), here are a few tips to ensure success. Knowing when the eggs are whipped sufficiently and when the cake is completely cooked are essential.

  • Pull eggs, butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator an hour before starting so that they have a chance to warm to room temperature.
  • Clean mixer bowl and whisk with soap and water and dry thoroughly before starting. This will help the eggs whip properly.
  • Check that the batter is fully whipped by letting it drip from the whisk into the bowl. If the drips don’t immediately incorporate into the rest of the batter, then you know its ready to add the flour.
  • When baking, test for doneness by gently pressing on the top of the cake. Your finger should not leave an impression when done. The cake will feel slightly “springy”.

I hope this mini layer cake brings a smile to your face and joy to your heart.

Mini Strawberry Vanilla Smash Cake

Makes one 4- layer (or two 2- layer) 5 inch cakes

Adapted from Natasha’s Kitchen

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (half if using table salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Green food coloring

Strawberry Filling:

  • 1/2 pound strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired

Cake Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 for convection). Spray two 5×3 round pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.

Two mini cake pans on parchment.

Whisk flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment and whisk on medium to combine the eggs for one minute. Turn the mixer to high and add in the sugar and vanilla extract. Continue for a minute and then stop and scrape the bowl with a flexible spatula. Return mixer to high and continue for 8 minutes. The mixture will be very thick and look like stiff whipped cream. Stop the mixer and test to see if the batter is ready. Drip batter off the whisk and in the mixer bowl, look to see if the impression is visible on top of the batter for a couple of seconds or if it’s completely absorbed. If completely absorbed then mix for another minute and test again.

Take bowl off mixer and sift 1/3 flour mixture over whipped eggs. The salt may not fit through the mesh so just pour on top. Use a flexible spatula and gently stir in flour. I like to fold from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Once combined, sift another 1/3 flour over bowl and fold in again. Finish off with the rest of the flour and do a final fold to make sure all the flour is combined. I found this to take longer than I thought so be patient. It may take as much as 15 folds each time. The flour tends to hide so make sure to work your way around the bowl.

Scrape into pans and set in middle of oven. Shut door and don’t open again until the cakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes, check cakes. They are done once they gently spring back when pressed. Could take as long as 25 minutes. Remove pans from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a small spatula down and around the sides of the pan to release cake. Turn out cake onto cooling rack and let cool completely, about an hour.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Add all ingredients to the stand mixer and mix on medium for about 5 minutes or until thick, fluffy and easily spreadable. To make the green leaf decoration on the top of the cake, scoop 1 tablespoon of frosting into a small bowl and add a few drops of green food coloring to achieve the desired green.

Matcha frosting with blue food coloring added.

Strawberry Filling:

Look through strawberries and pick out the prettiest one and set aside. Hull the rest of the strawberries and cut large ones in half. Process in a food processor until the consistency of thick applesauce. Mix in a tablespoon of sugar to taste.

Cake Assembly:

Once the cakes are completely cool, use a bread knife to cut each cake into equal rounds. On a small plate or cake board, set one cake layer with the cut side up. Use a slotted spoon to spoon strawberry mixture to the edges. Take a second layer and spread cream cheese frosting on cut side. Lay cream cheese side down on top of strawberry filling. Continue by adding strawberry filling to the top of the second round and cream cheese to the bottom of a third round. Add strawberry filling to the cut side of the third round and cream cheese to the cut side of the fourth round. The top of the cake should be the bottom of the fourth round.

Get on eye level with the cake and adjust until straight and center it on the plate. Using an offset spatula, scoop frosting on the top and spread to the edges. Scrape off spatula to remove crumbs and continue adding frosting to the sides, scraping off crumbs as you go until the whole cake is coated to desired thickness.

Use a spoon to make a swoop of green frosting in the center of the cake and set the prettiest strawberry on top.

Serve or cover loosely in saran wrap and refrigerate. Let cake come to room temperature before serving for best flavor and texture. Refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.