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Top Ganache: A Confectioner's Obsession with Cocoa, Cream and Sugar

Honey Lavender. Rose Caramel. Let’s be honest, chocolate truffles are all about what’s inside. It’s a race to the middle as you sink your teeth into the chocolate shell, while visions of sugar-spun berries dance in your head.

Ganache takes center stage when you savor fine chocolate, with good reason. But ask about the secrets of mind-blowing ganache with Jacky Recchiuti, wife of renowned chocolatier Michael Recchiuti and chocolate extraordinaire herself, and you might be surprised to hear her take on the marriage of cream, cocoa and sugar.

Fat is flavor’s friend.

“To make ganache, the vehicle that captures flavor is fat,” Jacky says, so matter-of-factly that I barely grasp that by fat, she means cream.

To build a flavorful ganache, Recchiuti begins with an infusion in cream. For herbs, Recchiuti bathes the dried plants in warm cream; for teas, a cold cream soak overnight. When exacting flavor into cream, his goal is to balance the acidity of chocolate with that introduced by the ingredient, hence a hot, quicker infusion with the herbs and cold, slow infusion for the tea. And it works: this cream, when married to sugar and cocoa, transports flavors as complex as star anise to the center of a Recchiuti truffle.

Dirt is a good thing.

How can that be, when chocolate is involved? As it turns out, it’s a true marker of a farm-fresh herb. If the soil-covered roots are still attached, a confectioner knows that the plant is fresh and will offer more concentrated flavors.

To extract maximum flavor from every leaf of lemon verbena or peppermint that passes through Recchiuti, Michael and Jacky start with fresh herbs – live ones. Most confectioners opt for a dirt-free world, buying pre-dried material to the detriment of flavor. Recchiuti does it differently. Following Michael’s first experience selling chocolates alongside farmers at the Green Street Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, Recchiuti still maintains relationships with local growers – Eatwell Farms in Dixon, Calif., is its major supplier – to get the superior ingredients he needs. When the lavender and tarragon arrive “with the dirt from the soil in which it was grown,” he knows the herbs are as fresh as possible – and likely to hold their flavor as he dries them before the infusions take place.

But some herbs still don’t translate. Basil is a good example: Michael tried using the leaves themselves but found the flavor dissipated within a week. So he supplements with oils. However, for the most part, for a flavorful ganache, Michael starts with the plant: dirt, roots and all.

It takes years to combine grapefruit and tarragon.

The sheer creative prowess behind Recchiuti’s flavors is astounding. Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn? Sesame Nougat? How do they do it, while so many others don’t?

Like any other creative endeavor, ingenious chocolates require that the creator draw from experience. Recchiuti first worked as a chef and then a pastry chef, a savory-meets-sweet background that explains why he’s so adroit with flavors. His past is his ace in the hole. When I ask Jacky about the tarragon and candied grapefruit truffle, she laughs. Prior to infusing those flavors into a truffle, Michael tried them in a host of desserts, including grapefruit granita with tarragon garnish and a grapefruit cake with tarragon-infused cream. Genius came through years of work, not just bolt-of-lightning inspiration.

And childhood plays a part, too. His Piedmont hazelnut truffle is inspired by his Italian background, where Piemontese relatives visiting from Italy would bring back Gianduia, the Italian gourmet version of Nutella.

In the end, perfection requires a killer palate and confectionary practice. But without Recchiuti’s guiding principles of flavor – namely dirt, fat and time – ganache wouldn’t be the same.