If you’ve stepped foot in a grocery store some time in the last few weeks, you’ve probably realized that it is, once again, Valentine’s Day in Japan.
Maybe it was the altars honoring the dark and milky gods of Meiji and Ghana. Maybe it was some indefinable despair rising within you, triggered by a primitive, biological affinity with corporate holidays that is yet beyond our ken.
Or maybe it’s the fact that half of Japan’s $11 billion (USD) annual chocolate purchases are made in February, and it’s kind of hard not to notice the people around you buying that much freaking chocolate. But for those of us wishing to participate without spending 2000-5000 yen, there is another way.
Valentine’s Day, Japan-Style
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making chocolate, now is the time to do it. With 100-yen supplies and ingredients available at your local Daiso, you have nothing to lose (except for a few 100 yen coins and some measure of time). Making chocolate is surprisingly easy and unsurprisingly tasty, and here in Japan, it might just be the best and most delicious way of assimilating.
Valentine’s Day is a bit different here. Instead of just one day of sharing a heart-shaped waffle with the love of your life or wondering if you’re doomed to die alone, Japan gives us two days of love and/or crying ourselves to sleep at night.
Girls give chocolates to that special someone in their lives on February 14th, and on March 14th—White Day—said special someone reciprocates. Chocolates given in the spirit of romance like these are called honmei choco, or “true love chocolate.” However, girls also give chocolate to friends (tomo choco, or friend-chocolate), and even coworkers and bosses (giri choco, or obligation-chocolate). And since we are bearers of internationalization, guys should feel free to pass out treats this week as well!
Store bought chocolate is fine, but to really demonstrate the strength of your passion and/or co-worker appreciation (and save a bunch of money), handmade chocolate is the way to go. This practice is in no way obligatory for any of us, but if you bring in chocolates for your teachers, you will obviously win major points.
To help you on your journey towards winning the love and admiration of all those around you, here is a very simple guide to making chocolate truffles. Before beginning this quest, think about the kind of truffle you want to make. What flavors do you like? Do you want anything to go on the outside? Read through my suggestions or explore online to get ideas. Get creative!
Super Simple Truffles
Makes about 30-35, depending on size…and your self-control
250g dark chocolate (about 5 standard bars)
200ml heavy cream
flavorings (e.g. rum, tea, vanilla extract)
Coatings (e.g. cocoa powder, chopped almonds)
200g milk or dark chocolate for chocolate shell
2. Pour cream into a small pot or saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Don’t put the heat on too high, and be sure to stir to avoid burning. You can also add a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter at this point if you want an extra bit of richness.
3. Once the cream boils, remove from heat and slowly pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir while you do this to make sure all the chocolate bits melt. Once the cream is in, keep stirring gently until the mixture is smooth. If you’ve managed to do this without the chocolate splitting or spilling everywhere, congratulations! You’ve made a ganache.
4. At this point you can stir in flavorings. Just add a teaspoon at a time, stir in fully and be sure to taste along the way. Liquor and liqueurs like rum, Kahlua and Amaretto work well, and Daiso sells a nice selection of extracts like vanilla, almond, and rose.
5. Put the bowl in the fridge to allow the chocolate to cool and firm up. This should take about 30-60 minutes. Once the chocolate is firm, you should be able to spoon a chunk of it out and roll it in your hands without it immediately turning to goo all over the place. If it’s not set after an hour, check your fridge settings or move the bowl closer to the back.
6. Now it’s time to roll your chocolates! This part always gets a bit messy, so be sure to have some paper towels on hand. Lay out a piece of parchment paper. Using a spoon/tablespoon/melon baller (all the websites suggest a melon baller, but who actually has one of those), scrape up a truffle-sized chunk of chocolate. Roll it into a ball in your hands, adding or subtracting to get the size you want. Briefly roll the chocolate in the center of your palms until it’s a smooth sphere of yummy goodness, then place on the parchment paper. Repeat until you have row upon row of deliciousness before you.
Note that if you get too enthusiastic about rolling the chocolate, you risk it overheating and melting all over you, so try not to get toooo into it.
7. At this point you can either chill your chocolates and call it a day, or add a final layer of awesome. Try rolling the chocolates in cocoa powder or chopped nuts. If you want to go the extra hundred miles, you can coat them in a chocolate shell. Check out the instructions below on how to do this. For everyone else, once your chocolates are done, place them in a sealed plastic container and let them cool in the fridge until you’re ready to hand them out!
Optional Chocolate shell:
Chop up about another 200g of chocolate. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and set over a pot of water. Slowly bring the water to a boil, stirring the chocolate constantly as it melts. Chocolate burns easily, so make sure the bowl is never in contact with the water. Depending on the vigorousness of your stove, you may even want to hold the bowl slightly above the pot, though be sure to use a towel or oven mitt to protect your hand.
Once the chocolate has melted, quickly remove from heat. Use a spoon (or a melon baller?) to dip each truffle into the chocolate, then place back on the parchment paper. Try to do this quickly as the ganache will begin to melt if left in the chocolate lava too long. If the melted chocolate becomes too firm as you are doing this, just pop it back over the pot on the stove and stir until smooth again. When all the chocolates are covered, put them in the fridge or leave them sitting in a cold room for a while until the shells harden. Once the chocolates have chilled, they are ready to be eaten, boxed, or thrown at your loved ones.
- I’ve used both Meiji and Ghana chocolate bars successfully, and these usually run between eighty and ninety yen a piece (50g each). There is also chocolate available at Daiso. Shop around!
- If you’re really fancy you can also add chunkier flavorings like teas or herbs. Simply add these to the cream before boiling and strain before adding to the chocolate. Bear in mind that more subtle flavors should probably be infused overnight in the fridge.
- If you’re short on time and you want the ganache to firm up faster, give it an ice bath. Put some ice and cold water in a second, slightly larger bowl, then place the ganache bowl inside. Put these in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.
- If the ganache is too hard and crumbly after you chill it, simply leave it out until it approaches room temperature again.
- If you want to show up your coworkers EVEN MORE, try drizzling a second kind of chocolate over your chocolate shells. Daiso also sells chocolate pens!
There you have it! I hope this guide inspires you to great things, be it making your own truffles or searching online for a better guide on how to make truffles. There are a lot of methods out there, and there is no one right way of doing it (though there are a number of wrong ways). Experiment with techniques and flavors. You might mess up a batch here and there—chocolate burns, it separates, it gets spilled all over the kitchen floor—but such is the price of science.
No matter your feelings about Valentine’s Day, it gives us the (honestly unnecessary) excuse to make all the chocolate we can fit in our faces. If that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.