Making Truffles

The insides and the outsides

The insides and the outsides

There is a thread in my life, a theme that plays out time and again. It is a small part of who I am, a constituent in the definition of ‘Jerry’. This bit of Jerryness is manifest often, and was apparent on the Night of Truffles. Simply put, there is a gap (sometimes quite large) between my image of what I want to achieve and my ability to achieve it.

Take drawing, for instance. On the occasions I have set drawing implement to paper, my mind has produced vast scapes of color and light, form and structure, of a depth that could stir the most jaded soul. What comes out on the paper is, well, not that.

Topping off the Truffles

Topping off the Truffles

And so we come to the task for the evening: painting melted chocolate into the molds, so that it can be filled with different chocolate stuff and then covered with chocolate. It is important to avoid thin spots in the chocolate, lest the structural integrity of the truffle be undermined. Too thick, and the ratio of crunchy outside to smooth inside is lost. The walls of chocolate must reach the top of the mold in even thickness.

Of course, getting the chocolate thickness exactly right isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s not that hard. Yet, as I stood there using a kitchen knife to distribute the chocolate, there was always the platonic ideal of the truffle, haunting me, rendering my sorry efforts inadequate. As a result, the light of my life produced about two truffle shells for every one I made.

That's a keeper!

That's a keeper!

Then came the measuring of the inside goop into the shells. “This is really easy,” the beacon who guides my heart said. “You just have to fill them almost to the top, but leave enough space so the chocolate on top can seal up with the sides.” Yes, but exactly how much wiggle room does that leave me? I was a little better with this task, and occasionally even recognized that the tiny amounts of filling I was adding and removing couldn’t possibly make the slightest difference. In my gut roiled the fear of producing a truffle that cracked or leaked or was otherwise unsightly. When you consider how yummy the thing was going to be no matter what happened, it might seem like a lot of worry over very little. Still, the Ideal Truffle loomed, superimposed by my imagination over each still-incomplete confection.

Not All the Truffles

Not All the Truffles

The next phase of production was best done by two people: the chocolate-topper and the sprinkler. I was elected sprinkler and happily so. My sweetie laid the molten chocolate over the tops of the truffles, then handed them off to me, and I sprinkled peppermint and toffee fragments into the still-soft chocolate. I managed to make this more difficult than necessary (each truffle had to have a good distribution of fragment sizes, and the peppermint looked better with red stripes showing), but not debilitatingly so. (Crushing the hard candy had it’s own uncertainties. Fragments too large? Too much dust?)

Eighty-eight truffles later, it was time to start again.

Ultimately, all the worry was for naught; the truffles came out quite lovely, and tasty like crazy. A few even approached the Ideal Truffle.

Pfeffernüsse!

It’s been a week since we made these lovely balls of yum, so I’m just going to let the pictures tell the story.

Rolling out the blobs

Rolling out the blobs

My main job: rolling the rough blobs of dough into little spheres and laying them out on the cooking-stones.

 

The kitchen smelled great!

The kitchen smelled great!

Looking lovely in the oven.

 

Keeping the assembly line moving

Keeping the assembly line moving

They bake quickly, so it’s important to keep the stones moving from station to station in a constant rotation. 44 Pfeffernüses per sheet.

 

Some (but not all) of the cookies.

Some (but not all) of the cookies.

We made rather a lot of them. It was a couple of days later when my sweetie applied the powdered sugar coating.

The best part: naturally we had to eat the ones that broke apart during powdered sugar application. It’s all about quality control, you know.

An open letter to the retard driving a white compact car on Highway 17 in dense fog with no lights

You, sir, are a fucking retard.

Sincerely,
Jerry

Chocolate-Covered Date Balls

Rolling the balls in the confectioner's sugar

Rolling the balls in the confectioner’s sugar


The theory seems pretty simple: chop dates and nuts into little pieces, add some brandy, chill the resulting muck. Later, form the goo into little spheres, roll them in powdered sugar, and coat them with chocolate. Voila! A yummy treat to share and enjoy.

Only, not so fast, there, Sparky. All those steps take time, especially if you don’t have a food processor. Our wonderfully-powerful blender just wasn’t up for date-chopping. Not at all. That left the head chef of the household to do the chopping the old-fashoined way, which is also the slow way.

Coating them with chocolate

Coating them with chocolate

My participation began the following night, and true to the theme of “give Jerry the jobs you would assign the ten-year-old”, I was put to work forming the mixture into little balls. After figuring out that when the ball seemed a little too small it was actually the right size my job got easier. Meanwhile my sweetie, the “adult” of our little operation, set to melting the dark chocolate.

slowly working through the batch

slowly working through the batch

Logistics were a bit tricky; in our little kitchen there is not room near the stove to work, so the chocolate had to be reheated periodically. (That also meant that the chocolate coating was a little thicker than it was supposed to be, but I’m counting that as a good thing.)

I rolled, my sweetie dipped, and slowly but surely we made our way through the double-batch of stuff. Chocolate-coating is a delicate process that takes time, and you have to pay attention to what you are dong the whole time. It becomes a mentally draining task.

Not all the balls came out perfect; sometimes, despite my sweetie’s best efforts, the sphere would break apart during dipping. Often the cause was a too-large chunk of pecan — obviously there couldn’t possibly have been any issues with the way the balls were rolled.

Some came out more aesthetically pleasing than others...

Some came out more aesthetically pleasing than others…

By the time we finished, the other project slated for the evening, cooking the pfeffernüsse, was regrettably postponed.

When we were finally finished, there were five date balls that did not pass Quality Assurance and regrettably were not pretty enough for holiday giving. The head chef and I relaxed and sampled a couple of the cast-offs. My sweetie took a bite and turned to me, her eyes round. I took a bite. “Holy crap!” I said. “These are good!”

2

Fruitcake Night!

Coook, my little pretties!

Coook, my little pretties!

The other night my sweetie and I sat down to plan which delectable treats we would be making this year. When she said “we” she really meant it; when fruitcake night rolled ’round I was given my tasks and I went at them with gusto.

My culinary skills do not match those of the light of my life, and the jobs I was given reflected that. No judgement required. I was a measurer and combiner of ingredients, the quantities dictated by the chef. There were several ingredient substitutions along the way. The head of the Operation Fruitcake prefers to use dried fruit rather than the candied fruits found in most fruitcakes. Then there’s the chocolate chips…

There were a couple of setbacks; fruitcake apparently calls for grape juice, and we had none. Not to be deterred, the woman in charge, showing the creative flair in the kitchen that I utterly lack, remembered juice boxes we had bought to drink on road trips. Not quite the same, but who knows? It might be a new secret recipe.

Some assembly required

Some assembly required


While I mixed the dry ingredients the chef concentrated on the wet bowl. (I was given the opportunity to break the eggs, but I declined. For all I talk about cooking eggs, this skill remains elusive for me.) Finally we worked together to combine wet and dry, and had approximately twelve pounds of sweet cakey goo. Mmm… goo.

Putting the goo into the cake pans required more finesse than I would have guessed, but finally we had ten little fruitcakes ready to go into the oven. Time required: fifty minutes. Time it usually takes my sweetie without my help: about an hour and fifteen minutes. Yes, my help was actually helpful, if only a bit.

Naturally, as the participant performing the tasks that one might delegate to a ten-year-old, it fell on me to lick the spoon. Sometimes this cooking business can be rough, but as a team player I had no choice.

And pretty cakes all in a row...

And pretty cakes all in a row…


A few hours later the cakes were finally done (long time at low heat is the way of the fruitcake), and we pulled out our lovely loaves. The finishing touch, the brandy, was lovingly applied by the chef, and the fruitcakes were done.

The following night the resident culinary genius made a batch of her signature white chocolate fruitcake, but alas she had to do so without my mixing-things skills. Somehow I don’t think the quality of the cakes suffered as a result. The cherry booze we got to anoint the white fruitcakes wasn’t very cherry-ful, so we added some Grand Marnier to fruit it up a bit. It’s this sort of improvisation that turns out great for my sweetie. I’m looking forward to tasting how it turned out this time.

A Sign of the Season

I was sitting at my desk, working away, when my sweetie got back from the store. Being the heckuva guy I am, I offered to help carry supplies up to the apartment. I hauled a box up the stairs that contained, among other things, nine pounds of semi-sweet chocolate, ten pounds of sugar, twenty pounds of flour, and various dried fruit (including 4.5 pounds of raisins). Also included on this shopping trip was a few pounds of butter and some other yummy supplies.

Soon all this will be cookies!

Soon all this will be cookies!


Yep, there’s going to be some baking going on!

NaNoWriMo Wrapup

Well, November’s in the books and another noveling adventure is over. On the strength of a 7000-word Saturday and an 8000-word Sunday, I flashed across the finish line in a blaze of mediocrity, with 22 hours to spare.

woo hoo!

woo hoo!

The first draft of almost every novel ever written is terrible, which is one of the reasons I like NaNoWriMo. I can spend a month and spew out a draft that is 81% crap, or I can spend months of hard work and craft a first draft that is 73% crap. (Of course that assumes that at the end of the month I have a complete draft, which I haven’t managed to pull off lately.)

So after that exercise in long-winded blathery, I’d like to give you a long-winded summary of the results. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Before I get to that, though, I would like to share a lesson I learned this year. It’s not the first time I’ve learned it, but it really hit home this time around. There I was, off on a tangent with a secondary character who didn’t like his job and wasn’t doing it well. Meanwhile I was recognizing that there was no way I was going to finish the story by the end of the month. I stopped right in the middle of the scene and told myself out loud, “Get to the action!” I had a lot of events mapped out in my mind, conflict and death and love and all-out vampire smackdown. Why was I writing about Troy being a whiny little jerk?

Get to the action. I really need to do that more, in everything I write. I think I will write a little program that will flash “GET TO THE ACTION” on my screen every hour whenever Jer’s Novel Writer is the front application.

I got to the action. Here then are some notes about the fruits of my labor.

**** Minor spoilers ahead! That probably doesn’t matter, unless you want to read a sloppy partial realization of the following. Much of the vampire world backstory is never explicitly stated. ****

The Vampire World

I borrowed from extant vampire literature, of course, and I took many of the ideas you guys supplied and ran with them. Should this book ever see the light of day, some of you will be able to point to bits and say, “that was my idea!”

Modern vampire culture is tightly regulated. Vampires must get a permit to hunt, and creation of new vampires is carefully regulated. There is a council of nine vampires that rules on the authority of the charter, a document that spells out the political structure of vampire society. Theoretically, the members of the council are also bound by the laws of the charter.

Since the council members are immortal, there’s not much room for advancement for younger, ambitious members of society. The council is isolated from humanity (many of them feel walking in a city the way we would in a stockyard), and some members are quick to abuse their power. This has led to a volatile situation.

There is a handful of old, powerful vampires who existed before the charter, who enjoy a degree of autonomy within their own territories. These vampires can hunt and convert new vampires without the blessing of the council, but they know that they cannot push things too far. Some members of the council wish to end their special status.

Vampires are truly immortal. Sunlight causes them enormous pain and harm, but given enough time even a vampire with a full ‘sunburn’ will recover completely.

Hunting permits specify a grade of human, from grade zero – drug addicts and bums, the equivalent of a human eating out of a dumpster – to grade five. Grade five humans are rare and tend to be missed when they are killed, so most vampires go their entire lives without tasting a grade-five human. Such delicacies are one of the perks of wealth and power in vampire society.

Throughout most of history, vampires were very selective concerning which humans they would bring into their ranks. This had benefits for both races, but vampires have always been more technologically advanced than humanity. There was a period, however, when many of the more powerful vampires assembled harems. Over the period of two centuries the population of vampires spiked, while the new vampires were selected for physical beauty and special skills (ahem) rather than intelligence of personality traits. Eventually the council cracked down on this practice (once they all had their own harems), and since that time it has been almost impossible for the council to agree on a new conversion.

As in the Ann Rice (with Buffy Extensions) World, there is a special bond between a vampire and their ‘parent’, the vampire that created them. However far apart they are physically, they can always feel the presence of the other. Also from the AR(wBE)W and earlier stories, vampires have the ability to mentally compel others, including other vampires. Most of the harem vampires are under compulsion of their masters.

That’s the world in a nutshell; of course there are far more details in my head that may or may not make it onto the page. Still, it’s a good setting for lots of conflict, especially with the sudden wild card that our friend Deek stumbles across…

The Charcters

Deek is a classic slacker, a nobody, a burden to society. He is also a grade-one meal, but he gets lucky and finds himself with a dismembered vampire under his bed. He knows he has to get rid of it somehow, but whatever he does the vampire will eventually reassemble and come for him. In desperation he eats a small portion of the vampire. It almost kills him, but as a result he absorbs a tiny portion of the vampire’s power. Deek has stumbled on a way to truly kill vampires. He also becomes addicted to vampire flesh. When he finishes the one, he must go find another.

What little Deek knows of the opposite sex he learned in Maxim magazine, and he’s frustrated that his new powers haven’t helped him get laid.

One side effect of his new-found mojo: The aura he radiates makes him appear to vampires as the most delicious-looking human they’ve ever met. He’s like super-concentrated life.

Agatha is one of the youngest vampires. As a human she was a genius without peer, and the vampires converted her. She’s a little odd, however, and no vampire can understand why. The identity of her parent is a secret closely guarded by the council; she has never met her parent and doesn’t feel the same connection that other vampires do. In fact, she is an orphan, a concept completely foreign to vampire thought. She never even considers the possibility, and no one else does either, except…

Igon is the senior member of the council, a wily and corrupt vampire whose power has been growing steadily over time. Igon also knows how to bring true death to a vampire, and has more than once resorted to cannibalism. He is a champion of Agatha, and he killed her ‘parent’ moments after she was converted so he would not be a rival for her attention.

Lumír would be Julius Caesar if this was ancient Rome. He is an ambitious young vampire with a mean streak, and he thinks it’s time for the council to be swept aside. Modern technology should allow vampires to control humanity like never before, turning the world into a giant food factory filled with ignorant, sated, masses following the vampires’ lead blindly. At the 48,000 word mark Lumír crosses his Rubicon, and he engineers a crisis in the council that leads to violence, while Lumír waits in the wings with his outsider friends. When I was telling myself ‘get to the action!’ I was telling myself that Lumír was ready to stir the pot.

Yvette was originally converted to be part of a harem, but her intelligence and personality were strong enough for her to carve her own life. She loves to play with her food. Filled with a lust for life, she is one of Agatha’s only friends. Yvette’s parent was Agatha’s lover for a while, but that didn’t end well at all. Yvette has angered a council member and as a result has not been granted a hunting license in a long time. She is starving.

Jody is a waitress at a local pizza joint, who is increasingly impressed by Deek’s maturation as he is forced to get a job, move out from his mom’s basement, and get his act together. He has risen in her estimation to the “good enough for my friend” status. Deek has a serious crush on her, and has come up with an idea for separating her from her boyfriend. His plan may have complications. I’m just saying is all.

So there you have it! A partially-realized partial idea for a novel. Not all the characters make it to the end, and others come in now and then to mix things up.

When you’re the leader of the vampire council and you’re on the wrong continent when conflict breaks out, time zones can be a real bitch.