Ganache — pronounced guh-NAHSH — is one of the basics of the Western dessert kitchen. It originated in France around 1850 and is, essentially, a mixture of chocolate and heavy cream. Besides its fabulous flavor and texture, ganache is very versatile. It’s often used for frostings and fillings, as well as for truffle centers.
Ganache is made by pouring hot heavy cream over very finely chopped chocolate and stirring those together with a heat-resistant spatula or whisk until the mixture is silky-smooth. The thickness of the ganache can be varied by the amount of cream added to the chocolate. So, to make thick ganache (used for tart filling, truffle centers, and as filling and/or icing for cakes and cupcakes), you add less cream. To make thin ganache (used for glazing cakes and pastries), you add more cream.
Ganache can be made from any type of chocolate: dark, milk, white, or gianduia (hazelnut-flavored chocolate). Also, the flavor of ganache can be enhanced by adding liqueurs or extracts to it right after the chocolate and cream are stirred together.
Once the chocolate and cream are stirred into a smooth mixture, the mixture needs to thicken if it will be used for anything other than a glaze. The best way to do this is to tightly cover the bowl so a skin doesn’t form on top, then chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it becomes thick but not firm, which takes about an hour. The mixture can also stand at room temperature to thicken, but this takes longer than chilling in the refrigerator.
Ganache can be stored tightly covered in the refrigerator, away from strongly flavored food, for up to a month.
If the ganache is very firm when taken out of the refrigerator, let it stand at room temperature to warm up. Look for the consistency of “thick pudding,” which means that the ganache is soft enough to hold the indentation of a finger, but not so soft that it is liquid. If the ganache is too cold, it’s too difficult to pipe it out of a pastry bag, spread it between cake layers, or spread it on top of a cake or cupcake.
Ganache can also be whipped to make it fluffier and slightly lighter in color. The easiest way to do this is in the bowl of an electric stand mixer using the flat beater attachment. Be sure the ganache is soft before beating, or it will break and curdle.
You can also add softened butter to the whipped ganache to make an even richer mixture, as I do in the recipe for Dark Chocolate Cupcakes. This ganache also makes a great filling for pre-baked tart or tartlet shells. I like to fit a pastry bag with an open star tip to pipe the ganache into the shells in swirls. Using this type of pastry tip gives the ganache three-dimensional texture.
I use ganache in many recipes, but I would say that I use it most often to make chocolate truffles. To do this, simply use a small (1-inch round) ice-cream scoop and scoop mounds out of the ganache mixture onto a lined baking sheet. Dust your hands with cocoa powder and roll the mounds into balls. Sift some cocoa powder into a small bowl and roll the balls in the cocoa to cover them completely. Place the truffles in pleated candy cups and serve them at room temperature. These are great served at the end of a meal with coffee, tea, or wine.
If you’re going to use ganache as a glaze, it needs to be poured over the cake or pastries as soon as it’s made, otherwise it will begin to thicken or “set up.” Place the cake or pastries on top of a cooling rack set over a lined baking sheet. The lining will catch the excess glaze as it drops off. Hold the bowl a couple of inches over the top of the cake or pastries and pour the glaze in a steady stream. If glazing a cake, move the bowl from the center to the outer edges of the cake so the glaze will cover it evenly.
Once the glaze on the cake or pastries is set, carefully move them to a serving plate using a spatula to get underneath. Be careful of bumping your fingers into the glaze, because it will hold their mark. Scrape up the excess glaze that’s left on the baking sheet, put it into a container, and save it for another use — such as pouring over a scoop of ice cream.
In French, the term “ganache” means fool. It is said that it originated from a mistake that a chocolatier’s apprentice made when he spilled cream into liquid chocolate that he was stirring. The chef called him “ganache.” But how fortunate it was for all of us that he made this mistake.
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