Vegan, Gluten-Free Spicy Chocolate Truffles, and Why You Should Have a Signature Flavor

August 7th will mark the 6-year anniversary of the first pie I ever baked from scratch.  Before then, my limit was pretty much box-mix brownies and Toll House cookies. So if my baking career were a person, it would be entering first grade this fall! That might not seem like a lot of time, in human years, but in baking years it’s quite significant enough that people have started to pay me to make desserts for parties. Maybe baking years are like dog years? But with more chocolate.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few tricks for how to take your desserts from home-baker to semi-pro. And no, “a few tricks” is not false humility – I’m still figuring things out as I go. But I have learned how to make a perfect ganache, which ingredients you should splurge on, and why the freezer is the most underutilized tool in a pastry chef’s arsenal. I’ve started making up my own recipes, and I have my very own scone template. The first secret weapon that I’m sharing with you today: my signature flavor.

Before you start giving me the side-eye at the idea of having a signature flavor, hear me out. Say you bring a bunch of cupcakes to a get-together and everybody loves them. One of the people there says, “You should totally bring these to the party next week!” Your first reaction is happy self-satisfaction that people like your treats. But that warm glow is quickly followed by panic, because you don’t really want to bring the same thing to two parties in a row, no matter how delicious it was.

A signature flavor will completely solve this problem. It creates thematic continuity between the desserts you bring to different events, but prevents boredom. My signature, right now, is spicy chocolate. It started with spicy chocolate truffles, but quickly I realized that almost anything chocolate benefits from the addition of cinnamon and chipotle. Brownies? Of course. Pudding? Yes please. Soufflé cupcakes with cinnamon whipped cream? I’ll take two. Ice cream? Obviously. Churro-inspired éclairs with spicy chocolate pastry cream? Just kill me now, and my taste buds will die happy.

So now, I’m the girl who brings spicy chocolate things to parties, and there are way worse things to be known as. I’m happy to share my signature flavor with you, but other options are endless. Salted caramel! Cookie dough! Red velvet! S’mores! (Actually, s’mores is about to become my new favorite. I made s’mores croissants with graham flour puff pastry last week, and they were amazing. Everyone I know who didn’t get to try one now isn’t talking to me.)

These delicious bites are halfway between a truffle and a brownie. Also, they’re vegan and gluten-free! Not exactly my specialty, but the flavor is still dynamite.

Makes: 15-20 truffles
Prep time: 30 minutes
very heavily adapted from Bon Appetit

For the brownie filling:

  • 12 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons raw cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For the ganache coating:

  • 8 ounces vegan chocolate chips
  • ½ cup full-fat coconut milk
  • red pepper flakes

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the filling ingredients. Pulse until a soft, sticky dough comes together. Roll a scant tablespoon of the dough into a ball. Repeat until all of the dough is used.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips in 30-second intervals, stirring well after each interval. It will probably take about 1 minute 15 seconds, but watch closely! When the chips are completely melted, add the coconut milk and whisk until completely combined. At first the mixture will look curdled, but just keep whisking. It will emulsify into a beautiful, shiny ganache.

Roll each ball in the ganache to cover completely. You can either place the rolled chocolates on parchment paper or put them on lollipop sticks and stand them straight up in a mug. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Allow them to harden, either at room temperature (it will take about 2 hours) or in the refrigerator (much faster). Serve to delighted guests.

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