Who doesn't love chocolate truffles? They are the essence of chocolate, and a sure-fire mood enhancer. Pop even one into your mouth and see if you don't get happy.
Given the richness of a chocolate truffle — a blend of chocolate, sugar and cream — it's nice that chocolate has been found to be good for us. Still, assuming you wanted to jettison some of the calories in this treat without sacrificing a molecule of its lush flavor, where would you start? Cutting the chocolate or sugar would be a bad idea. Both are needed. But how about the cream?
The trick to cutting cream is that you don't want to sacrifice the creaminess of the truffle in the process. The solution? Chestnuts.
This brilliant work-around was discovered years ago by Sally Schneider, the author of a great healthy cookbook called "The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking." In fact, this recipe is my adaptation of Sally's recipe for chocolate truffles. She found that roasted and pureed chestnuts provide a super-creamy texture for treats such as truffles.
And because chestnuts don't actually taste like much, they don't compete with the truffle's chocolate essence. Added benefits? Unlike most nuts, chestnuts are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates.
Of course, chestnuts — or at least those roasted on an open fire — have figured in Christmas lore for ages (and got a boost when Nat "King" Cole recorded his hit version of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" in 1946). And indeed, during winter you still could buy that treat from street vendors in New York when I was growing up.
Though street vendors selling roasted chestnuts have disappeared from 21st century New York, peeled and roasted chestnuts are now widely available in grocers everywhere during the holiday season. That's what I've used in this recipe. But be sure to properly simmer the nuts in water as directed in the recipe. This guarantees they'll puree smoothly. You don't want chestnut chunks in your truffles.
You'll notice instant espresso in the list of ingredients. It's there to amplify the chocolate flavor while adding a hint of coffee flavor. But you can leave it out if you don't like coffee. Likewise, I suggest adding a couple of teaspoons of any of several different liquors, all of which pair up nicely with chocolate. But feel free to swap in any of your favorites, or none at all if you prefer. Either way, you'll be happy, guaranteed.
SPIKED MOCHA CHESTNUT TRUFFLES
Start to finish: 4 hours (25 minutes active)
Makes 20 truffles
5.2-ounce package roasted and peeled chestnuts, medium chopped
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup low-fat evaporated milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, medium chopped
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or 1 tablespoon instant coffee
Pinch of table salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons Tia Maria, Kahlua, Baileys, brandy or rum
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the chestnuts and water. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the chestnuts are very tender and all the water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.
Add the milk and heat the mixture until it just comes to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, then recover the pan. Let stand off the burner until the chocolate is melted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir and transfer to a blender along with the espresso powder, salt, corn syrup and liquor. Blend until very smooth.
Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until very firm, at least 3 hours. Form the mixture into small balls (about 2 teaspoons each) and roll the balls in the cocoa powder until they are coated, shaking off the excess. Chill until ready to serve. Will keep, refrigerated, for 2 weeks.
Nutrition information per truffle: 50 calories; 25 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 1 g protein; 15 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."