Appetite For Instruction: Spicy Chocolate Chile Truffles

Demonstrated by Chef Rhonda Ruckman

Listen up, guys--this one's for you.

Any muscle-shirted mini-millionaire can make a fancy reservation, but the man who gets his hands dirty (kinda meant figuratively) will really score points on Valentine's Day. A handmade gift featuring a certain melting mood enhancer will put her in just the right frame of mind for a visit from that short, chubby guy with love on the brain. (Cupid, duh.) So tie on your apron, 'cause it's time for a little chocolate show and tell.

Today's lesson comes from chef Rhonda Ruckman of the late, great Doughmonkey Bakery. These days she can be found working her magic behind the scenes at Zanata Restaurant and Square Market in Rockwall, and these truffles capture her signature sophisticated style. You'll need to source a few special ingredients for this recipe, but a trip to Central Market is a small price to pay for such bliss.

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon honey
1 vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon ground chile de arbol
½ teaspoon ground chipotle
pinch of sea salt
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Ruckman recommends Valrhona's Guanaja)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 oz. cocoa nibs, ground (optional)
pinch of cinnamon

Step 1: In a saucepan, combine cream, honey, vanilla bean (split and scraped), salt and both ground chiles. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and steep for five minutes. Ruckman: "You can control the heat of the truffles by adjusting the amount of chile de arbol and the smokiness by adjusting the chipotle." Ground chiles are available in the bulk spice sections of better grocery stores, or you can purchase whole dried chiles and grind them in a coffee grinder.

Step 2: Strain mixture and pour over chopped chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl. Stir gently until chocolate has melted. If necessary, place bowl over warm water to aid the melting process.

Step 3: Cover mixture with plastic wrap, placing wrap directly on the surface of the chocolate. Rest at room temperature until somewhat firm, two or more hours. Refrigeration will speed the firming, but Ruckman cautions that you'll be trading texture for time. Cooling at room temp will yield a smoother, silkier truffle.

Step 4: Combine coating ingredients in a bowl. Using two teaspoons, scoop out small rounds of the chocolate mixture and drop them into the coating mixture. With another spoon, retrieve the truffles, making sure they're completely coated.

Truffles will continue to harden at room temperature. Leftover truffles will keep for five days in an airtight container. But we doubt you'll have leftovers.

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Lisa Petty