Chef AJ held her 4th Ball-Off Contest on the evening of May 1, 2010, engaging her cooking class students in a wild and raucous competition to see who would win the two top prizes for having the best balls (confections). It was the destiny of six fortunate and discriminating judges to taste 19 amazing entries and arrive at a consensus to choose only the top two winners who would wear the royal crown until the next Ball-Off.
The challenge the students were given involved creating a confection approximately 1-inch in diameter that included only natural, healthful ingredients. The only restrictions were the balls could not contain any animal products, refined, processed ingredients, oils, or refined sugar.
Judges devour balls
I was among the lucky six on the judging panel, whose task it was to award the two top prizes. Judging was based on three factors: creativity, taste, and appearance. It probably sounds like a snap, but can you imagine cramming in 19 confections in approximately one hour and retaining one’s sanity? Assessing that many balls for extraordinary qualities is a challenge for anyone, even the judges who each have discerning palates and years of experience in the food arena.
While some were easy rejections because they lacked desirable taste, others were shunned because they were so mushy it was nearly impossible to pick them up. However, the six-judge panel formed a team of stouthearted souls who persevered until the last morsel was consumed.
In addition to the contestants and judges, there were several others who came to cheer on the winners or console the friends or spouses who put forth a grand effort. It was a lively bunch contributing to the scene with plenty of shout outs and no shortage of humor.
Finally, the judges decision gave the 1st place award to the very deserving Michelle Wolf, a creative and conscientious home chef who submitted her Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles, a truly inspired creation with a surprise in the middle. Brenda Cohen took second prize for her Almond Overjoy Balls whose almond-rich chocolate confections made the judges ecstatic.
Following are the two winning recipes and Michelle’s inspiration for her entry:
At the age of sixteen, I had the unique opportunity to take a student trip to Europe. While the museums and architecture were feasts for the eyes, the cuisine was a feast for the taste buds. During our stay in Rome, my friends and I discovered a new love, named gelato, and proceeded to dine on this rich Italian ice cream six times per day! One of my favorite flavors was Gianduia (pronounced: zhahn-DOO-yuh) which was a blend of chocolate and hazelnut. The memory of this delicious flavor was my inspiration for the “Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles” that I created for Chef AJ’s Ball-off competition.
CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT GIANDUIA TRUFFLES
Two great tastes, that taste great together!
Recipe by Michelle Wolf Consulting Taster: Husband, Alan Raz
Yield: 25 truffles
1-1/2 cups raw hazelnuts, divided
18 (or more for added sweetness) Deglet Noor pitted dates soaked overnight in unsweetened chocolate almond milk.
2 Tablespoons Ultimate brand Raw Cacao Powder (for dark chocolate flavor)
Alcohol-free Vanilla Extract (optional)
Alcohol-free Almond Extract (optional)
1. Place 1/2 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder. Place into a bowl and set aside. (To be used later to coat the outside of the truffles.)
2. Place remaining 1 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder.
3. Add cacao powder and the soaked dates (without excess soaking liquid). To enhance the subtle flavor blend, you can try adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Process until the mixture becomes a thick paste.
4. Remove by rounded teaspoon and place a whole hazelnut into the center of the chocolate nut mixture. Roll in palm of hands to form small round balls approximately 1-inch in diameter. (To avoid sticking, slightly wet palms of hands before rolling each ball.)
5. Roll each ball in bowl of ground hazelnuts until outside is even coated.
6. Place into container and store in freezer until ready to serve.
Definition: Gianduia is the name given to a European style of chocolate made from chocolate and nut paste. Hazelnut paste is most common, but gianduia can also be made with almond paste. It comes in milk or dark chocolate varieties. Alternate Spelling: Gianduja
ALMOND OVERJOY BALLS
By Brenda Cohen
Yield: 35 one-inch balls
2 cups raw almonds
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
2 cups pitted deglet noor dates
1/4 cup raw shredded coconut (macaroon cut)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (or to taste)
Equal parts cacao and shredded coconut for rolling
1. In a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, process the almonds until they are almost nut butter consistency. Add cacao powder and process again until fully incorporated.
2. Add dates and process again until mixture almost comes together. Add coconut and process again until thoroughly combined.
3. Add raisins and extracts until the mixture will stick together and form a ball if rolled (clumped) in your hand. Roll into balls, and then roll in cacao and coconut mixture. Enjoy!