Big Little Recipes

A Holiday Dessert for Anyone Too Tired to Make a Holiday Dessert

That’s all of us, right?

December 14, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now. Like, right now.

Don’t save room for dessert. If the glazed ham is sweet enough, if the latkes are crisp enough, if the spinach is creamy enough, go back for seconds. Go back for thirds. Go back for fourths. You deserve it.

There is a running gag at my family festivities, maybe yours, too, that by the time the pie or tart or cake joins the party, everyone is already so stuffed, they only want “a sliver—just a sliver—no, no—even smaller than that.” So instead of making a pie or tart or cake, why not make something sliver-sized to begin with?

I’m making chocolate truffles.

Though chocolate truffles are named for their resemblance to the “edible subterranean fruiting body of several European ascomycetous fungi” that costs hundreds of dollars a pound, these candies are relatively humble. You don’t need a pig to hunt them down. Nor do you need a lot of money or ingredients or time or effort.

One of the earliest recipes for them, from Rigby’s Reliable Candy Teacher in the 1920s, instructs: “Dip a plain vanilla cream center, one as small as possible in milk chocolate coating, then before the coating dries, roll each piece in macaroon coconut so that the coconut sticks to the chocolate. Now lay them on a sheet of wax paper and allow to dry.”

Modern truffles are even simpler. The cream center and chocolate shell have streamlined into a creamy, chocolatey orb. Every recipe is different, but also the same: Make a ganache (chocolate plus cream). Perhaps add butter or shortening, and maybe vanilla, too. Chill until firm. Scoop into portions. Roll into balls. Dust with cocoa.

Vanilla is a no from me. No disrespect to vanilla, which I love—say in vanilla ice cream or vanilla pound cake. But did you know that most commercial chocolates already include it? They do.


Butter or shortening, also a no, also no disrespect. With enough cream—my golden ratio is equal parts cream and chocolate by weight—the flavor is rich enough, the texture is silky enough, and that butter can be saved for toast.

The only catch? We actually aren’t using any cream. At least, not heavy cream. Instead, enter crème fraîche. This French-style cultured cream has the tanginess of sour cream, butteriness of labneh, and happiness of a lazy Saturday morning. Plus, it can be heated without curdling, a godsend for melting chocolate.

It’s a little swap that makes a big difference. While heavy cream can be just that—heavy—crème fraîche is lively, like a cup of coffee after rolling out of bed. Coupled with bitter chocolate, the tartness is so subtle that someone might not be able to name the ingredient (in fact, none of my relatives could), but compelling enough that they’ll ask, “Why is this so good?”

So good you can’t help but eat one or three. Even if you didn’t save room for dessert.

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Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


[email protected] December 24, 2021
Hi! Can these be made a day in advance? Maybe store without toppings until ready to consume?
Jessica December 24, 2021
Definitely! Keep refrigerated, then roll them gently between your palms, if needed, to warm them a little for the toppings to stick.
Jessica December 22, 2021
So intrigued! Would sour cream work? I panic bought extra for Hanukkah! Lol!
Emma L. December 22, 2021
Probably! But you would need to adjust the way you incorporate the two ingredients so the sour cream doesn't curdle. The instructions for the frosting for this cake are a good guideline:
Paul M. December 15, 2021
I was thinking - roll the truffles in crushed peppermint candy... almost pulverized. SOOO GOOD with really DARK chocolate (>70% cacao)
Also: would this recipe work using really dense greek style yogurt vs creme fraiche?
Emma L. December 15, 2021
Yum! I haven't tried Greek yogurt and could see a few things going awry: Heating the yogurt might cause it to curdle, so you'd have to melt the chocolate separately, and then combine the ingredients when they're both at a similar temperature.
Mm December 14, 2021
All of a sudden, there are annoying pop-ups on this site!
Jennifer H. December 14, 2021
CRACKED UP at the surprise on how good the first one turned out! Winning!