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Homemade truffles for Valentine's day

Love is in the air ... or is that the scent of panic?

Valentine’s Day is almost here, and surely, there are plenty of significant others out there who feel a bit frantic, wondering what they should do for their sweetheart for this special day. A card? (That’s a good start.) A romantic dinner out? (Always a nice idea.) Maybe lingerie? (Guys, don’t do it — we both know that gift is really for you, not for us.) Perhaps a big, heart-shaped box of chocolates?

Ah, chocolate. Chocolate and Valentine’s Day go together like turkey and Thanksgiving. And why not? After all, chocolate has long been rumored to be an aphrodisiac, and this is supposed to be a celebration of love.

Those are only rumors, though: Most researchers don’t think that the amounts of tryptophan (a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical tied to arousal) and phenylethylamine (a chemical released in the brain when you fall in love) present in chocolate are great enough to produce an aphrodisiac effect.

Then again, it might just be that giving someone something as delicious as chocolate makes them more happy and relaxed, which could lead to . . . well, you know.

If nothing else, chocolate is a great way to show that you care about someone. Most people love chocolate, and besides that, dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which can help prevent heart disease, and plant phenols, which lower your blood pressure. So if you give someone dark chocolate, you’re looking out for their health — these effects, however, haven’t been found from eating milk chocolate or white chocolate.

An even better way to show someone you care is to give them homemade chocolates, rather than just grabbing a box of Russell Stover candy off a grocery-store shelf. True, making some of those fancy- filled chocolates can be tricky and time-consuming. I’ve tried it, and while the results were good, they perhaps weren’t good enough to justify all of that work (not to mention scrubbing down every sticky surface in my kitchen afterward). But chocolate truffles are both decadent and simple.

You can make the filling in the microwave if you want, and you can even use chocolate chips instead of chopping up chocolate. Keep in mind that 1 cup of chips is about 6 ounces, so you’ll need about 1 1⁄3 cups of chips. And as for the coating, you can spare yourself the work of tempering chocolate so that it sets up perfectly hard and smooth and shiny; even chocolatiers sometimes roll theirs in cocoa powder instead. Or if you really want a smooth, chocolate-candy shell, use chocolate candy melts. These can be found in any craft store, are easy to work with and don’t taste too bad. If you’re using a thin layer over a ball of rich chocolate ganache, you probably won’t even taste the coating much anyway.

Chocolate truffles

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or another flavor of your choosing)
Cocoa powder or chocolate candy melts

Place the chocolate and cream in a bowl and microwave for 45 seconds at a time, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture comes together and is smooth. (You can also do this with a double-boiler if you’ve got one, but the microwave is a bit easier, as long as you make sure not to leave it in there too long at a time.) Stir in the vanilla extract (orange extract is tasty, too), then cover the bowl and chill the ganache until it’s firm but scoopable.

Now, spoon out the ganache and quickly roll it between your hands to form 1-inch balls.

You have two options for coatings. The first option is to roll the balls in cocoa powder, then chill them. The second is to chill them now, then microwave some chocolate candy melts in a bowl until melted and smooth (this won’t take too long). Take out your chilled ganache balls and drop them one at a time into the coating, using a fork to turn them over so they’re coated on all sides. Lift them out with the fork, then tap the fork on the side of the bowl a bit to let the excess coating run off. Then, place the truffles back on the waxed paper-lined tray and chill.

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