Hazelnut Truffles / Reverse Engineering

I've been a bit crap at blogging recently - too many interests and not enough time.

I tend to go in phases, dedicating the little time I have mostly to one thing for several weeks/months, then move on. Recently I've switched attention to iPhone development - whilst I've a general dislike for Apple I find potential for an additional revenue stream through releasing apps quite appealing. I purchased a mac mini 2 weeks ago and am learning Objective-C, which is similar enough to other languages I 'speak' (I mainly code Java, Perl & PHP but have a working knowledge of Python, TCL, C, C++, C#, JavaScript and various others).

Programming and cooking are not too dissimilar. One of my interests is network protocol design and reverse engineering - figuring out how new applications talk over a network/the Internet so I can write my own code that captures, interfaces with or modifies traffic passing between them.

Reverse engineering ranges from trivially easy to insanely difficult. More often than not application programmers are not experts in networking, so use either an existing protocol their language has an API for (such as HTTP) or implement their own crude protocol in plain-text. Better programmers write their own protocols for efficiency, which makes the task a bit more complex. If encryption is used it's unlikely (though not impossible) that you'll get very far, though it may be that only the payload is encrypted and control data is still modifiable.

Recreating commercial food products is often easy too, following a similar process and pattern of logic. Start with facts (ingredients listing, literature about process etc) and informed guesses (has it been cooked?), write a plan (recipe) then move to testing. It's likely it was made using similar techniques to those you're already familiar with, modified only for preparation in bulk.

Product wrappers in the UK (and most places) list ingredients in order by weight. If a percentage is shown on an ingredient then you know that each ingredient preceding has a higher percentage and each afterwards has lower.

Knowledge of the chemical properties of ingredients helps, particularly how they interact with others. Figuring out why an ingredient was included allows you to guess at processes employed (such as an emulsifier), the stage in which it was added, perform substitutions (for a 'nicer' or more readily available ingredient) and omissions (we don't need preservatives or colouring agents). McGee on Food and Cooking is an excellent book and reference guide on the properties of ingredients. Wikipedia is good too.

Companies sometimes hide actual ingredients under another product or category, such as flavourings. It's not always easy to discover what the components of these are, beyond taste alone.

For sake of example (not gluttony of course) I'll introduce the concept with a nice (but chronically overpriced) vegan truffle that is widely available and doesn't need naming. They're easy to make and the ingredients cost a third of the finished item price.

The ingredients on the wrapper are: chocolate (55% cocoa), coconut oil, hazelnuts (18%), cocoa.

An observation test shows that the amount of cocoa (used for dusting) is negligible. Thus if we ignore it for now and know that 18% is hazelnuts then the rest must be coconut oil and chocolate, both in larger amounts than 18%. 18% coconut oil is a lot, so it's fair to guess that there's not a lot more than this in the product. Let's say that 20% is coconut oil and 62% is chocolate.

55% cocoa solid chocolate is cheaper and less bitter than higher concentrations. I'm choosing to use 70%, which I personally prefer and fairtrade bars of are readily available. It will make the end product slightly more bitter and less creamy, but given the amount of coconut oil in the product I really don't think it needs any more fat.

I'm going to use a 100g bar of chocolate, and guess that 20g of it used for coating. 100 / 62 = 1.61, so 1.61 * 18 = 29g hazelnuts and 1.61 * 20 = 33g coconut oil.

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. As it needs to melt before adding the first step is to place the bottle in some boiling water, then set aside until later.

Grind the hazelnuts to a fine powder - I made mine slightly too course. If sugar was an ingredient I'd guess that they'd been made into praline, but the company in question tends to favour raw products and I'll leave this step out.

If water were included it'd be possible that a hazelnut cream had been made, but as it's not just chop and melt the 80g chocolate, then stir in the hazelnuts.

Stir in the melted coconut oil and pour into a foil tray approximately the size of 10 truffles. As the chocolate won't be visible after coating and dusting (nor will it want to crack when bitten into), we don't need to temper it first.

Place the mixture in the freezer, then melt the remaining 20g chocolate. Adding some extra chocolate to it will help with dipping (I added another 30g).

I have every confidence that you can find an alternative use for any wasted chocolate (ours got melted again with golden syrup and marg, then poured on icecream with pieces of mazipan and maple syrup).

When set, turn the block out onto a chopping board and trim the sides. Cut it into 10 portions.

You can see that I left a few larger pieces of hazelnut in the mixture, which sunk to the bottom.

Dip each truffle in chocolate in turn, placing on a plate that has been dusted with sieved cocoa. As the chocolate solidifies sieve cocoa onto the surface. Place in the fridge to set, then roll each in further cocoa.

Keep in the fridge, but remove and leave at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before consuming for optimum consistency.


  1. Sarah said...:

    I know the feeling; I've been rubbish at blogging recently. I don't know how these people who constantly blog do it. Plus, i've been working on my new site- I'd love to know what you think since you're much more clued up on computer programming than I ever will be!

    Anyway, these truffles look delicious! Where did you get coconut oil from? I can never find any that doesn't cost the earth. Hope you have a good long easter weekend.

  1. Steven said...:

    Bought a huge tub of coconut oil for £1.99 in an independant health food shop earlier this week (Ganesha, Axminister). They had virgin raw cold pressed stuff for £4. The bottled stuff I normally buy (in picture) is about £2, again from independant health food shops (last purchased at Gaia in Leamington).

    Will check out your site shortly and let you know :)

  1. caitlingu.com said...:

    Didn't understand paragraphs 2-4 at all. =P But liked the rest! I didn't realize those truffles that shall not be named would be so easy to recreate at home.... Think I'll give this a go sometime.

  1. dropscone said...:

    Looking good! How do they compare to the bought ones, taste wise?

  1. Steven said...:

    Pretty similar, but a bit different (most likely due to different type of chocolate).

    Will give it another go with 55% cocoa chocolate shortly (Kinneton - got lots of bars on the cheap recently)

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