Shrunken Head Truffles


These candies were made as a Christmas present for Mom and Dad. They’re more just really small heads than actual shrunken heads. The original idea was to see whether the facial expression had a noticeable impact on the eater’s enjoyment of the candy. Is it more pleasant to eat a happy face or an angry face?

OK, so I wasn’t really going for the wild native tribe punishes the
self-righteous white man type of shrunken head, but that would be cool,
too, wouldn’t it? These were more just really small heads than actual
shrunken heads. My original idea was to see whether the facial expression
had a noticeable impact on the eater’s enjoyment of the candy. Is it more
pleasant to eat a happy face or an angry face? Does an excited face taste
better than a sad face? In other words, does the emotion evinced by the
candy translate into an equivalent emotion felt by the consumer? I still
think this is a interesting idea to explore, but I don’t think this
project furthered my research much, mostly because creating a specific,
distinct expression on each face turned out to be much more difficult than
I had imagined it would be. I basically wound up just gong with whatever
face emerged of its own volition. One of the truffles wound up looking
like a retarded vampire.

My plan was to make two truffle heads of each of six flavors – two based
on dark chocolate (red wine and wasabi), two based on milk chocolate
(ginger and golden sesame), and two based on white chocolate (citrus zest
and green tea). I got these flavors from a brochure for an upscale New
York chocolate shop, which I got at the New York Chocolate Show. I didn’t
really have recipes, just descriptions, so I had to guess at all the
proportions. For instance, all the instruction I had for the ginger candy
was, “Milk chocolate blended with gin-flavored ganache and ginger.”

All the truffles start with a ganache base, which is basically just
chocolate (dark, milk, or white) mixed with hot cream and whisked until
smooth. To these ganaches I added red wine, wasabi powder (I couldn’t find
any fresh wasabi root.), finely chopped ginger root with a little bit of
gin, ground golden sesame seeds and a splash of brandy, orange zest (from
an orange from Barbara May’s own orange tree) and gin, or finely ground
green tea.

They all wound up tasting very good, particularly the red wine, ginger,
and citrus zest. I did, however, have a problem with the consistency of
the white chocolate-based flavors and, to a lesser extent, the milk
chocolate-based flavors. They were much thinner than the ideal for rolling
truffle centers. I think I could solve this problem next time by using
less cream.

The white chocolate-based flavors were so thin that I couldn’t make them
into hand-rolled truffles and would up using some nice molds I had lying
around. I poured melted white chocolate into the mold, then set it in the
fridge for one minute so the outer edge would set a bit. I then poured out
the excess chocolate and set the mold back in the fridge to set. After a
few hours the white chocolate shells were hard enough to pour in the
citrus zest and green tea fillings. I then piped a layer of white
chocolate on top of the filling with a #6 tip to seal off the tops. I put
them back in the fridge and, once the white chocolate was set, those
candies were done.

The milk chocolate-based and the dark chocolate-based ganaches were thick
enough that I could roll them into centers, about 3/4″ in diameter. I
dipped these into tempered chocolate, corresponding to the chocolate used
for the ganache centers. I then chose the nicest, roundest ones to draw
faces onto.

At first I tried piping features on with straight chocolate. This proved
problematic because the chocolate was too thin, making it difficult to
create any detail. So I tried an experiment. Modeling chocolate is a
putty-like compound made by mixing chocolate with corn syrup. It can be
sculpted like clay or rolled out like dough. I thought that if I added
just a smidge of corn syrup to my chocolate, I could make something in
between modeling chocolate and regular chocolate, which would be thin
enough that I could still pipe it with a pastry bag, but thick enough that
it would hold its shape. The results of the experiment were as good as I
could have hoped for! The chocolate / corn syrup combo not only held its
shape better than the regular chocolate, it also set up faster and had a
lovely sheen to it. The only drawback is that this can only be done in
small batches because eventually it will harden inside the pastry bag and
become unusable. There’s also a danger of adding too much corn syrup to
the chocolate, which results in the whole batch seizing up into a useless
lump.

With my new discovery in hand, I piped facial features onto two of each
dark chocolate flavor and two of each milk chocolate flavor. Naturally, I
used milk chocolate for the milk chocolate truffles and dark chocolate for
the dark chocolate truffles. At this point I did try to shoot for specific
facial expressions, but to a large extent the chocolate simply did what it
would. I think I could do better in controlling the chocolate with a
little more practice.

With the major facial shapes done, I added hair, facial hair, and eyebrows
using dark chocolate on the milk chocolate truffles and milk chocolate on
the dark chocolate truffles. I then used white chocolate for details like
eyes and teeth. It was at this point that one of them emerged as a vampire
because the perimeter teeth came out longer than center teeth.

For some reason, one and only one of them developed blooms, a surface
discoloration to which poorly tempered chocolate is prone, so he appeared
to have some sort of skin condition on his forehead.

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