Melissa Quinn and her husband Zach hadn’t expected to become the owners of Chocolate Gems, the sweet shop on Broadway in downtown Asheville, but sometimes opportunity just comes knocking. In their case, opportunity came sailing over the backyard fence — their next-door neighbors, Andrew and Sue Chisolm, were the store’s previous proprietors.
With the couple’s purchase came an ad-hoc apprenticeship in chocolate making. “We learned how to make everything Andy and Sue made by practicing, messing it up repeatedly, and eating all the mistakes. Disposing of the evidence, as I like to call it,” explains Melissa. “Chocolate is a finicky ingredient, and I swear that even your mood can affect it.”
But chocolate’s occasionally frustrating temperament also gives it versatility. At Chocolate Gems, Melissa and Zach use the brown stuff in all types of candy, handmade gelato, and baked goods such as cookies and brownies. “You’ve got so much potential with one simple bean,” Melissa notes.
The shop’s specialty is its truffles, ranging from classic milk chocolate to more exotic varieties like the Orient, infused with fresh mint and green tea. Starting this summer, they plan to offer truffle-making classes where participants each make a different flavor, taking home an assorted box and the knowledge to make more.
For now, Melissa offers this recipe for Chocolate Gems’ espresso truffles — just in time for Valentine’s Day.
By Melissa Quinn
This basic truffle recipe can be modified to suit your tastes. Prefer tea to coffee? Skip the espresso beans and steep the cream with tea leaves instead. Feeling festive? Replace the espresso beans with two tablespoons of pumpkin-spice mix. Try it once to get a feel for it, then have fun experimenting.
380 g cream
50 g butter
35 g espresso beans (coarsely ground)
1 pound 64% chocolate, finely chopped
1. Put the chocolate into a glass bowl and place it on a potholder to insulate the bowl from your countertop.
2. Combine your cream, butter, and ground espresso beans in a pan and heat until the mixture just begins to simmer. Allow it to sit for five minutes, then reheat over medium heat. As soon as it begins to simmer a second time, pour the cream through a fine strainer onto your chopped chocolate.
3. Leave the bowl to sit for five minutes, then stir into a smooth ganache. Using a rubber spatula, stir gently in small circles until all of the cream and chocolate are mixed together.
4. At this point, you have two options. Option one (our approach at the shop) is to cover the bowl loosely and stir the ganache every half hour until firm enough — this yields a wonderfully soft-yet-scoopable texture but can take several hours. Option two is to stir intermittently until the ganache reaches room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until firm.
5. When your ganache is firm, use a small cookie scoop or spoon to portion out your truffles. As each truffle is formed, roll it in cocoa powder to keep it from sticking and lay it on a baking sheet.
In the shop, we use a 40 percent fat cream from our friends down the road at Mills River Creamery, but any heavy cream or heavy whipping cream can work.
You can substitute a medium- or dark-roast coffee for the espresso beans, but whatever you choose, make sure they are freshly ground.
Finally, you can experiment with different percentages of dark chocolate — if all you can find is 70 percent dark chocolate, give it a shot!
Chocolate Gems, 25 Broadway, Asheville. For more information, call 828-505-8596 or visit chocgems.com.