Food stylists, halp! Difficulty: truffle.
October 22, 2013 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be getting 2 truffles (one ginger and one peanut butter) in the mail by Friday. I need to photograph them, ideally each as a whole truffle and then the same truffle cut in half to show the ganache filling. Please help me not screw it up.

As the two truffles will be a ginger truffle and a peanut butter truffle, there will be no nuts to contend with. Looking for food photographers with tips on how to cut the truffle so it looks nice for the photo. Should the truffle be frozen? Room temperature? Should I use a hot knife? A razor blade? I only get one shot at the "inside shot", and Google isn't helping with something so specific.
posted by asranixon to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you google 'truffles' and give us an idea of what kinds of shots you like?

Sliced through the centre, or kind of crushed or pseudo bitten into could be ideas. It depends what effect you are wanting to achieve.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:04 PM on October 22, 2013

You could go out and buy a few truffles to experiment. Godiva in the mall has truffles as do other candy shops. I'd stay away from truffles sold in a bag or box.
posted by RoadScholar at 6:09 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If someone is hiring you to take photos of these, then they should really send you at least three of each, just to be safe.

Youremyworld - I think she's OK on display ideas, but isn't sure how to cut the truffle open without crushing or scratching it.
posted by amtho at 6:10 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

First things first: I'd go to the local convenience store and buy some cheapie Lindt truffles to practice on ahead of time! $2 will get you four test truffles. Second things second: I'd personally NOT chill the truffle - if it's dipped in good-quality chocolate, the chocolate may get "snappy" and flake/shatter off when it's subjected to pressure. I'd keep it at room temp and use a piece of piano wire or a micro-serrated knife to slooooowly slice through it... lots of little side-to-side motions, not too much pressure.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:12 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

A cheeseboard with a wire cutter
posted by hortense at 6:14 PM on October 22, 2013

I would keep the temps as cool -- not cold -- and stable as possible to avoid "bloom". That's the whitish (albeit harmless) film that can occur when the chocolate's temperature fluctuates.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:17 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the wire cutter or a cheese cutter -- you want them a little cooler than room temp, since truffles smoosh if they're too warm.
posted by spunweb at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2013

Depending upon how thin and how crisp the shells are, you may find a heated, sharp, non-serrated knife to be helpful in cutting the truffles in half. It may keep the tops from cracking into shards.
posted by xingcat at 6:22 PM on October 22, 2013

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I think I'll be cooling the truffle a bit, and going with a wire/cheese cutter. Has anyone heated up a wire/cheese cutter for cutting? I'm concerned about what xingcat mentioned (the tops cracking into shards), but feel like the knife might be a bit thick compared to what a wire cutter would be able to do. If anyone has anecdotes to share, I'd appreciate it.

If it helps, I'm looking to replicate what Moonstruck does with their truffle pics:
posted by asranixon at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2013

Has anyone heated up a wire/cheese cutter for cutting?

I'd test out dipping the wire in hot water and then wiping it off, like you would do with a knife.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:29 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

In those pictures they are cut off centre, so try that if you prefer.

I second buying some and testing first. It might turn out to be easier than you expect.

Just don't do them too cold, or the outside might shatter. Also a hot knife might melt the chocolate a little.

Good luck.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:43 PM on October 22, 2013

You definitely should practice with store-bought truffles. Make sure you have a soft brush (like a lip liner brush) to clean up the chocolate surface after cutting. A very sharp chefs knife should work well. I'd also experiment with just smashing it, if the client is ok with that style (much easier to deal with).

You want to make sure you don't bring the chocolate out of temper - don't heat above 90 degrees.

Edit: also, they should be sending you way more than one of each. A food stylist often makes/uses many (even dozens) of each item to get the right color, composition, texture, etc.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:49 PM on October 22, 2013

If you do only get one of each (and that is seriously crazy -- you need more to be sure you get this right) make your first cuts forward of the halfway point, so if you don't get a clean edge you can try again a little further back.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd betcha Moonstruck is using a slightly-chilled truffle and a slightly-warmed razor blade. Look at the vertical lines on the surface of the "Mayan" truffle: those were caused by grains of sugar that clung to the blade and were dragged down through the soft filling as the blade cut through. Also, the edges of the chocolate shell are SO crisp and slightly curled at the edges - definitely indicative of a razor cut.

Is there such a thing as a "forensic chocolate analyst"? 'Cause I want to be that.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:01 PM on October 22, 2013 [22 favorites]

I don't think a cheese-cutting wire will do it, unless the truffle is so warm it's almost melting. Cheese is a lot softer than most chocolate.

I'd almost be tempted to try a jeweler's saw, if you think you can get it to cut straight enough. julthumbscrew's razor idea is probably a good one; maybe get some pliers to hold the razor blade so you can have a firm, steady grip.

I wouldn't be too disappointed if you can't get as perfect a cut as those Moonstruck images - a slightly melty/uneven looking center can, I think, look more appetizing.

Also, try chilled truffles if you want, but a warmer truffle might be better for cutting. Just make sure you have a really good, grippy surface (rough wood?) rather than a slippery surface (ceramic plate) - you don't want the truffle slipping while you're cutting it, but at the same time, you can't hold it with your fingers too much because they'll leave marks.
posted by amtho at 7:22 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd check out an art store and try a long exacto knife. A wire does not have a serious edge. And definitely practice. Depending on how delicate the top of the actual truffles are I'd consider starting on the bottom, but for a clean cut you kinda just have to go for it, with care and a calm zen attitude.

Long ago I remember a food shoot where the food was rendered quite inedible after being "made up" with oils to get it quite gleaming. But if you don't know the trick I'd just keep a cool environment and light as far away as possible to avoid melting. I'd have insisted on a dozen each, one chance is crazy.

Hmm, surgeons scalpel? Very sharp! Got a doctor friend?
posted by sammyo at 7:44 PM on October 22, 2013

It seems really crazy that they're not giving you more than one of each to work with, but definitely try some sacrificial test subjects that are as close as you can find to what you're really going to get, not just cheapo prepackaged stand-ins. You want something with a chocolate shell that is as similar as possible to what you'll be trying to slice. The off-center observation is helpful, especially since if you plan it right you might be able to manage a second chance if the first cut goes awry.

I'd probably use the longest, thinnest razor-sharp blade I could find, and try to start the slice through the top of the shell with a continuous lateral motion and very slight downward pressure to avoid crushing it, then smoothly transition into a direct downward cut as you get into the filling. And definitely experiment on your test subjects with different temperatures, but I bet the results will be best at room temp or ever-so-slightly warmer. Or, maybe chill for a while, then apply very very very gentle heat to the top and sides (hair dryer on low from 4 feet away?) so the shell softens up while the filling stays firm.
posted by contraption at 11:45 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of your suggestions! I survived! If you're interested in the rest of the story:

They actually sent a whole box of truffles, which was just fabulous and unexpected and delicious. The truffles were room temperature, as my co-workers did not put them in the fridge as I requested. I used a large razor blade from a utility knife, warmed a little under water and dried off. I also sliced it forward of the halfway point, which did give me a few more tries with each truffle. I had tried with a jeweler's saw, but that made more "saw marks" than the razor blade.

I did run into some problems with sweaty nervous hot hands, which made me get some fingerprints on the outside shell, but by gently brushing it off with some latex gloves (which I should have worn from the beginning), I was able to make it relatively smooth again. (However, there must be a better way to make it as shiny as it was before. The brushing smoothed out fingerprints, but left the shell less glossy.)

Photoshop was my final friend, as there were still some imperfections in my cutting (the top did do a little cracking) as well as the outside of the shell. It looked like they got a little beat up in transit, even though they sent them in a box in a HUGE box with packing peanuts.

Looking at my final pictures and comparing them to the photos that this company had of their other truffles, I am very pleased to say that I surpassed the quality of their own images, thanks to you guys!
posted by asranixon at 9:31 PM on November 1, 2013

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