Really remarkable

Indulge in the truffles at Dean's Sweets
By BRIAN DUFF  |  March 18, 2009

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DEEP CHOCOLATE Just part of the selection. 

Dean's Sweets, with its Americana name and its modest storefront, does not prepare you for the sophisticated chocolates you find there. A truly great chocolate truffle, like a great life partner, is so rarely discovered that the smart thing to do is to stop looking for it. 
DEAN'S SWEETS | 88 Middle St, Portland | Sun-Mon, Wed-Thurs 11 am-6 pm; Fri-Sat 11 am-7 pm | $17.50 for 8 truffles, $27.50 for 16 | 207.774.7779
Social economists suggest that to find a life partner one should have seven relationships, and then marry (if it's legal) the next companion who tops the first seven. With truffles you should give up more quickly. Grab one of those Lindt balls you they have near the register at Target, register your disappointment, and then stick to chocolate bars.

So I was surprised to find that the truffles at Dean's Sweets are genuinely remarkable. The key is that, despite the shop's name, chocolatier Dean Bingham only makes one thing — dark chocolate truffles — and they are not particularly sweet. While the truffles come in many flavors, these amount to minor variations on a specific theme. Such specialization is wise because working with fine chocolate is no simple matter. It requires an alchemist's setup — with flame, steam, cool stone, pots and vats, and multiple thermometers — and a sensitive touch. Due to the fragile and fickle nature of cocoa butter, getting the right look, flavor, and texture out of chocolate requires the sort of delicacy and obsession shown by the men who transport nitroglycerin in Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.

You can tell that Bingham is deeply attached to his process because he won't leave the home kitchen where he developed it over the years. The shop he and his partner opened four months ago has the facilities to make chocolate, but it remains empty back there. The front looks just great however, with plate after plate and elegant boxes of dark truffles, bulbous and misshapen like little brown smurf-houses.

Each truffle's dark shell is made with a 70-percent cocoa Belgian chocolate that remains nameless — one that Bingham used to buy at the Rosemont Market when he first started experimenting. Perhaps he fell in love with the same Dolfin bars that I used to snatch up from the Greengrocer? The shells are thin but not delicate, and bear the chaotic markings that result from hand-dipping.

The bitter-richness of the dark chocolate shell is terrific, but it would not matter much if the ganache filling were not just as good. This is where most truffles go wrong, with a filling that is both too firm and too sweet, giving you flashbacks to the nougat in a 3 Musketeers bar. The Dean's ganache is soft, velvety, and deeply rich. It appears to be a simple heavy cream and chocolate recipe with hardly any extra sugar. The result is a truffle that is decadent, but appeals to the adult palate.

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