If I was going to be a good food tourist in Madrid, I got the sense that I would need to seek out chocolate con churros, preferably for breakfast. We went to Chocolatería San Ginés , just off Puerta del Sol, near our apartment. They have been serving hot, thick, rich, melted drinking chocolate along with stacks of crispy, crunchy, fried doughnut-y churros for dipping since 1894, so it seemed a good place to start. Drinking chocolate has been enjoyed in Europe since the 17th century, after the explorer Cortes brought it back from the Americas (and then sweetened it significantly). Churros originated a few centuries before that, almost certainly in Europe, created either by Spanish goatherds or Portuguese travelers who had seen something similar in China, depending on who you ask. When drinking chocolate came around, it seemed as though churros had found their lifelong partners. Chocolatería San Ginés was smallish but airy, with a long marble bar, blue and white tiling, and plenty of small tables indoors and out. We found a seat and then went right to the counter to order. I’m not sure if you could even order something else, but we kept it simple. It was a delicious, if extreeeemely rich breakfast, suitable for the world explorer or Aztec royal in all of us.
When I worked at a chocolate shop in Boston, the number two question we would get, after “How do you work here and not eat everything?” was, “Which is your favorite?” And for me the answer was always the lavender truffle. I would always get a quizzical look, or a “really??” but many people trusted me, and I think many people were converted. A creamy ganache made with 67% dark chocolate infused with lavender, covered with a thin shell of chocolate and painted with a shiny purple luster powder for pizazz. So, so delicious, and made all the more wonderful by the fact that it is unusual (not hazelnut or caramel, which are so obvious) and unexpected (floral flavors tend to be very cloying and perfumey, not so here). When I left the chocolate shop to go to France, visions of creating my own lavender truffle were already dancing in my head.
If you are thinking that this recipe is not exactly from the French Kitchen, you are right. I am cheating a bit, but lavender is so french, right? And so is chocolate, so I’m going with it. I’ve made truffles before, notably as holiday gifts in huge batches of many different flavors, and they are really quite simple, if slightly intense and find-chocolate-in-odd-places-for-months messy. At the shop we didn’t make the chocolates, so I had no recipe to go on, but it turns out that a very basic truffle recipe, with quality ingredients and a touch of real lavender, tasted exactly like my favorites.
- 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (Good quality, in whatever percentage you prefer. I used Scharffen Berger 70% and found it perfect.)
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (Grow your own, or purchase in a store or online, just make sure they’re organic and edible! I found mine at a natural foods store in the bulk tea and spice section.)
- 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa powder for rolling (optional if using chocolate coating)
- 4 ounces dark chocolate for coating (optional if using cocoa for rolling)
- Heat heavy cream in a small, heavy saucepan until boiling. Add lavender. Remove from heat and let steep.
- In a double boiler (or a makeshift double boiler: a metal bowl or pot over a larger pot of boiling water) melt 6 ounces of chocolate.
- Remove from heat and add 2 more ounces of chocolate. Stir until melted.
- Place a strainer over the bowl or pot of chocolate and pour the cream mixture over it, catching the little bits of lavender. Discard lavender.
- Stir the cream and chocolate mixture slowly with a whisk, working from center to the edge, being careful not to beat any air in, until it is a smooth, creamy ganache.
- Let ganache come to room temperature and then refrigerate for about an hour. Check on it periodically; you want it to be perfectly scoopable but not too firm.
- Line a baking sheet, tray or pan with parchment or waxed paper.
- Using a spoon, scoop a bit of the ganache and roll in your hands to form a loose shape, like the namesake truffles, and set on the tray. Size them how you like, but I think golf-ball sized makes the perfect bite.
- Refrigerate formed truffles for at least 15 minutes.
- At this point, the truffles should be coated. You can either coat in melted chocolate, or cocoa powder or both. Some people find the cocoa powder too intense, but the chocolate coating can be annoying to get just right. The chocolate coating is recommended if you don’t plan on eating them in a day or two, as it seals the ganache. It is also possible to roll the coated truffles in any other sprinkly material: more lavender, nuts, cocoa nibs, etc.
- If you are coating the truffles with melted chocolate, melt 4 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler.
- Set up an assembly line with your tray of truffles, your bowl of melted chocolate if using, a bowl of cocoa powder with a fork and a bowl with a sieve if using cocoa, and another empty tray lined in parchment or waxed paper.
- Smear some melted chocolate in your hand and roll a truffle in it, coating lightly, but entirely. Let set for a second.
- AND/OR Drop into bowl with cocoa powder and turn with fork to coat. Use fork to drop into sieve to get rid of excess powder. Lay onto tray.
- Repeat with all truffles.
- Refrigerate for one hour before packaging in an air-tight container or something cute for gifts. Store in refrigerator, but enjoy at room temperature.
Because my hosts (my parents) are vegan, and it is so rude to bring chocolate into a house that someone can’t eat, I made a cream-free version as well, using coconut oil. It came out well, although the coconut flavor somewhat overpowered the lavender. I might use closer to 2 tablespoons next time.
Vegan Lavender Truffles
- 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (good quality dark chocolate is usually dairy free, some of the other stuff isn’t)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1-2 tablespoons dried lavender
- 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)
Repeat recipe as above, replacing cream with coconut oil and water. Instead of boiling, heat gently to melt and let lavender steep. Continue from step 2.
*Recipes created from Bon Appétit, Robert Linxe’s recipe courtesy of Gourmet, Smitten Kitchen, Whole Living, and my previous experience.