Christmas Truffle Tradition Grows Sweeter Every Year

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Note: Today we talk with Marta McKenzie and Pat Carlson, friends who’ve made literally thousands of chocolate truffles each year.  Such an endeavour begs so many questions.

Q: Can you describe your annual truffle adventure?

Marta: Over the years, the number of truffles that we have made has grown to over 3,000. Our children have moved from playing with Legos to active participants bringing their own truffle centers to the dipping. Pat and I generally meet for lunch in October, plan the truffle “center” flavors, and then get together in early to mid November to make the centers. The centers go straight into the freezer, and then they are balled up – usually by our trusty husbands – Fritz and Larry – over the next weeks until dipping day. They remain frozen until they are dipped in chocolate. We usually plan a Saturday or Sunday dipping date in early December – often in keeping with our children’s availability. We use Pat’s house to dip as she has two kitchens, and lots of garage room to set out the cooling truffles. Fritz makes a terrific lentil sausage soup, and we have dinner mid way through the dipping adventure.

Q: How did it start?

Pat: Long long ago, Marta taught some classes for Shasta College. Besides nutrition, Marta liked teaching cooking classes, and one that she taught in Corning was a “Creative Cooking” class. Since she was up for anything, she asked the class what they wanted to make. One of the items was chocolates. She had an old candy cookbook at home that had dipping chocolates in it and gave it a try in that class. The chocolates came out terrific – and so much fresher tasting than those that come from the store. Over the next few years, more and more chocolate truffle recipes made it into her cooking magazines, and she decided to try them out for Christmas presents. At some point, she probably gave me some, since I was her first boss at Shasta County Public Health, and wanted to learn how. The process evolved from here.

Q: Why truffles?

Truffles allow for maximum creativity, with variations in the center flavors and toppings, which make almost any flavor possible. They also seem so decadent and tasty.

Q: How many people are involved with this process?

Marta: Our wonderful husbands, and now our adult kids and their girlfriends and boyfriends. We each have two children. My son Cameron and his girlfriend Dezi Ratley made seven or eight flavors this year that they brought for dipping, and my other son Harrison made three with his girlfriend in Cal Poly, and handed them off at Thanksgiving. Pat’s children Hans and Char were busy finishing up a PhD (Hans) and interviewing for residency programs with near completion of medical school (Char), this year, and so we did not have any centers from them, but Hans did make it here to dip with his girlfriend, Rosalie, and a roommate. A few times we have had others join us for dipping who wanted to observe the process.

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Q: What kinds of truffles have you created?

Pat: All sorts of interesting flavors. Last year we made a bleu cheese truffle as Larry and Marta had gone to the Rogue Valley Creamery in Central Point Oregon, and their next door neighbor in Oregon is a chocolate-maker – and so they featured a bleu cheese truffle. So we replicated that truffle flavor. Not bad, and a few people lament that we did not repeat it this year.

Marta: We also have a pink peppercorn rose (flavored with pink peppercorns, rose water or rose syrup, and some great rose liquor that I found in Greece last year. Pat pioneered a maple flavored truffle using maple syrup from that one of her daughter’s friends made from trees on his family’s property.

Pat: This year, we made a limoncello (great), pomegranate, a wasabi lime, a green tea, rhubarb strawberry, violet, a chipotle, baklava, ginger, a marionberry buttercream, apricot champagne, Bailey’s, cappuccino, hazelnut praline, etc. We often make a truffle flavor based upon an experience or family relationship. For example, Marta made a date nut truffle with some date liquor and a citrus truffle with some citron liquor that she brought back Greece. Pat made Zinfandel and Merlot truffles from wine made using the grapes from Fritz’s family vineyard in the Dry Creek valley.

Q: Can you talk ingredient quantities?

This year was a record, I think we purchased 110 pounds of chocolate, and used 40 cups of whipping cream, and a few pounds of butter.

Q: I’m sure you’re both busy enough already, and making this many truffles must be time-consuming. What keeps the tradition alive?

Marta and Pat: We use the truffles as Christmas presents for colleagues, and it seems the least we can do to say thanks for their work and support during the year. Once we retire, we will continue, but the quantities and number of flavors will likely decrease. This is uncertain since when we have tried to pare down in the past, it has been difficult to omit a favorite flavor of friends and relations.

Q: Any truffle disasters you’d like to share?

Generally speaking we always have a truffle center that is soft (the trouble with experimenting with different recipes/flavors) is that we are not precisely certain how far to stretch the cream chocolate ratio. For example this year, the high sugar content of the strawberry rhubarb, demanded a lot more white chocolate to firm up. If balling, which is the process of shaping the truffle prior to dipping, is a problem, then more chocolate needs to be added. We do hear from our spouses do most of the balling, if the truffles are too soft or too sticky. We have not had any significant disasters that we can remember.

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Q: How about a favorite recipe?

Cappuccino – generally a favorite with anyone who likes coffee.

Steep 8 tablespoons of high-quality ground coffee in 1-3/4 cups heavy cream over low heat. Once nicely colored, sieve out the coffee and add 2 pounds of white chocolate and melt together using a double boiler. When chocolate is melted, add pinch of cinnamon and 6 tablespoons of Kahlua, Tia Maria or other coffee flavored liquor. Freeze until firm, roll into balls and dip in chocolate. Sprinkle with ground coffee or place a coffee bean on top while chocolate is still wet.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Marta: The toppings are also a part of the fun and complexity. For example, Fritz grows the red peppers, and then Pat candies Fritz’s peppers to make the dried candied red pepper that tops the chipotle truffle.

Pat: Marta candies the rose petals to go on the peppercorn rose. We cut out dried apricots with miniature cookie cutters to put on top of the apricot champagne. The toppings are the window into the flavor, and so we try to make them match the center – and of course they need to look beautiful as well. This year the green tea has Genmicha tea – a beautiful green tea with toasted rice.

Marta McKenzie is a dietitian and director of the Health and Human Services Agency for Shasta County. She is married, the mother of twin boys, and has lived in Redding all her life (except a few years during college).

Pat Carlson is a dietitian and a Head Start nutrition consultant as well as an adjunct instructor of nutrition at Shasta College. She is married and has two children-a daughter and son. Pat has lived in the Redding area since the mid 1970s.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Janet says:

    As a Shasta County HHSA employee I have been able to enjoy these delights ~ they are both a joy to admire and to taste.

    I have to salute the pink peppercorn rose and the last year's chili.

    We are always amazed at the amount of work this must involve.

    thanks for the story, and Marta thanks for the truffles.

  2. Avatar Canda says:

    Talk about a mouth-watering article. YUM!!!

  3. Avatar Tammy D says:

    I can testify that Pat's truffles are not only delicious, but the packaging that she used makes the truffles look like a million dollars! Marta and Pat, thanks for sharing your joyous truffle story!

  4. Avatar Les Baugh says:

    Wow! I didn’t realize I was the recipient of “famous” truffles. Marta brings them by the office each year – and I just brought them home today. I always get a kick out of the fact that Marta delivers the truffles with a couple of tangerines… I think to balance out the healthy eating perspective.

    A cup of hot tea and a truffle as an after dinner treat. Yummy! Thanks Marta (and Pat).

    Thanks for the "delicious" story Doni… always a "treat"! 🙂

  5. Avatar Carla Clark says:

    My husband Ross and I have been the lucky recipients of a few of these truffles each year. We both agree that they are the best truffles that either of us has ever had. The flavors are so interesting and they're so finely made. I also like the fact that they're not overly large like some truffles tend to be. A little bit will do you since they're very rich. Thank you Marta and Pat and your families for this wonderful tradition.

  6. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    I think this is the most amazing story — I can't imagine making all of these, but what a labor of love for the families working together. What a generous gift!