Hailing originally from France, these delicate confectioneries are named after the famed fungi due to their physical resemblance. But, like so many delicacies, the history of chocolate truffles is wrapped in a layer of legend and some misunderstanding.
The classic chocolate truffle, a ball of ganache, chocolate, and cream rolled in cocoa, was said to have been created in the kitchen of the iconic French chef Auguste Escoffier. A wayward apprentice accidentally poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate chunks. As the mixture hardened, they were surprised to find the chocolate paste could be rolled into an (albeit lopsided) ball. Rolling the ball in cocoa powder, it bore a striking resemblance to the black subterranean mushrooms that have long been part of cultural lore. Thus, the name and the dessert were born. Over the coming years, the creation evolved as new textures, mixtures, and ingredients to the ganache were explored, from chopped nuts to Champagne.
Like any new species, the truffle continued to evolve as it spread into new kitchens across Europe. Migrating into Switzerland, the combination of melted chocolate in boiled dairy cream and butter was set into molds before sprinkling cocoa powder. In Belgium, the truffle was cross-bred with the Praline (a powder of caramelized nuts mixed with chocolate, cream, and butter and covered in a chocolate shell) to form an entirely new Belgian truffle variant. But it was after a chance encounter in 1972 in Paris with a young woman named Alice Medrich, a native Angeleno, that the truffle would be transported to the confectionary new world of America, a continent rife for colonization by this symbol of European decadence. Medrich, touched by her encounter with this chocolate anomaly, returned in 1973 to Berkeley, California, and began selling her truffles, which had a characteristically soft center and larger, lumpier outward appearance than their svelte Parisian ancestors. Eventually known as Californian truffles, Medrich’s creation found a ripe niche in the U.S. chocolate market, coinciding with the rise in chocolate, especially luxury chocolate, consumption in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1970s. helped her eventually launch the chain of famous Cocolat patisseries, described as “the Tiffany’s of chocolates”. Her book, Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts, remains one of the modern bibles of chocolatiers. Over time, the truffle spread across the continent and world, dominating bakery ecosystems and Valentine Day’s gift boxes to this very day lines. Of course, now, the lines are blurred on what is and isn’t a truffle and many modern-day “truffles” bare small resemblance to their forebears. But at their ganache-y, chocolate-y, creamy hearts, they remain like their mycological namesakes, simple and timeless.