The idea of Valentine’s Day evokes many images. Red hearts. Red roses. And chocolate. Next to Halloween, it is the holiday most identifiable with chocolate. But few countries have Valentine’s Day down to such a ritual as Japan.
Though one could argue that many Japanese traditions are highly ritualized, the intricate system of who receives what type of chocolate, how it should be given, and how it should be made is really fascinating. What takes the cake? Only women give romantic gifts to men on Valentine’s Day – not the other way around. What a different sentiment than in the U.S.!
What makes this tradition so lovely, though, is not the inherent sexism, but the idea that for people who are important to you, you should only give homemade chocolate. Not even the best chocolate at the most expensive store in Tokyo can provide (and they have accumulated the creme de la creme from the rest of the world) will do, only homemade. I love the idea that there is no better way to show your love than with something made by hand, from scratch.
My favorite, super-simple chocolate truffle recipe is below, but there are infinite variations. The coordinator of the Japan program at MIT passed on this recipe, which she said is very close to the truffles used to profess one’s love in Japan.
Prep time: 25 minutes (active time, plus 2-3 hours of refrigeration)
- 1 pound bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 confectioners sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
- cocoa powder
- Set a large pot filled with an inch and a half to two inches of water on the stove to boil.
- Remove the butter from the fridge and microwave for 10-15 seconds. Let it stand at room temperature or in the microwave, so it will continue to soften.
- If the chocolate is thin, break it into pieces with your hands, otherwise, use a large knife to chop it into chunks.
- When the water is bowling, set a metal or glass bowl (or a smaller saucepan) in the pot, and add the chocolate to the bowl.
- Over very low heat, stir the chocolate occasionally until it is completely melted (5-7 minutes).
- Remove the bowl from heat and beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth.
- Refrigerate for two to three hours.
- Dust a surface and your hands with cocoa powder and roll into one inch to one and a half inch diameter balls.
- Store in an airtight container with wax paper between layers until ready to serve (or give as a gift).
- For vegan truffles, try a soy or cashew based recipe.
- For alcohol-flavored truffles, add 3 tablespoons of liquor after the butter and do not refrigerate the mixture.
- For nutty truffles, either add chopped nuts to the cocoa powder before rolling the truffles, or shape the truffle balls around a whole nut.
- For gluten-free truffles, here is a very rich recipe.