Chocolate: Making Ganache, Truffles, and Other Desserts
What (In the World) Is Ganache?
Ganache (pronounced gah-NAHSH) is what you get when you stir rich chocolate into hot cream. As the chocolate melts, fine droplets of cocoa butter are released into the cream, forming a shiny, silky-smooth mixture. This is the stuff of which truffles are made—truffles, frosting, glazes, rich sauces, and (yes) the best, most decadent hot chocolate in the world.
More than any other food, chocolate delights and enchants ... chocolate tantalizes and it comforts. Chocolate has soothed fretful children and welcomed tired travelers; mountain climbers have saved their last piece of chocolate to celebrate reaching new heights; suitors have given chocolate to show the depth of their devotion. Chocolate has been used as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, and [even] a form of currency.— Neva Beach, The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook
Why Do We Love Chocolate?
I did a Google search on "chocolate" and got 66,700,000 hits. That's a lot of interest in a mere bean.
I'm joking, of course. Referring to chocolate as a mere bean is like calling Handel's "Messiah" a nice little song, or Water Lilies by Monet a pretty painting.
I have had a love affair with chocolate for as long as I can remember (although some days that's not saying much).
But even as a child I didn't care much for Hershey bars. My tastes leaned more toward the dark chocolate of Sno-Caps or nonpareil wafers.
What Makes Chocolate So "Dandy"?
- 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine (aka caffeine): Excites the central nervous system in a way that mimics the “fight or flight” response (heart rate goes up and muscles contract).
- Cannabinoids: Closely related to THC-9, the active ingredient in marijuana. Gives a relaxed, intoxicated feeling.
- Phenylethylamine: Often called the "love drug," since it releases the same chemicals that are introduced into the human body when love comes to call. It acts on the dopamine receptors in the brain—pushing our happy button.
The Chocolate Family Tree
- Cacao (Cocoa) Beans: This is where chocolate begins. Cacao beans are the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree which grows in a very limited climate zone—only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
- Cacao Nibs: These are the "meat" of the beans. The beans are cleaned and then roasted in carefully controlled temperatures to bring out their full flavor and aroma. The outer shells are then removed and the nibs are ready for the next step.
- Chocolate Liquor: This is what makes all real chocolate products. The nibs are ground by a process that creates enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter, thus creating the liquor.
- Cocoa Butter: This is the vegetable fat that is extracted when the chocolate liquor is pressed under high pressure. This butter has a unique melting quality that gives chocolate its wonderful texture.
- Cocoa Powder: There are two types of cocoa powder. American Process is the what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the liquor. There are no additives or preservatives—it is 100 percent pure and has the lowest fat content of any chocolate product. Dutch Process cocoa is made from chocolate liquor that has been treated with an alkali agent. This makes a darker powder with a more intense cocoa flavor.
- Bitter Chocolate: This is commonly called unsweetened, baking, or cooking chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor, cooled and molded.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate: A combination of chocolate liquor with added cocoa butter and sugar. Technically it must contain 35 percent chocolate liquor. Available in bars and chips.
- Sweet (Dark) Chocolate: Combines the same ingredients as semi-sweet chocolate, but in different proportions. It has a higher sugar content and at least 15 percent chocolate liquor.
- Milk Chocolate: Again, like semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk or cream and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor.
One More Comment About Chocolate
Truly enjoying, savoring chocolate is much more than a mere moment on the lips (and 20 years on the hips). Experiencing chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. Just as wine grapes are influenced by soil and climate, chocolate picks up nuanced flavors from variances in altitude, terrain, and weather.
But, Let's Get Back to the Ganache
There are several theories of the genesis of the name “ganache.” This is my favorite:
One day, an apprentice of the famed French chef Georges Escoffier (1846-1935) was trying to make a pastry cream. He accidently poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate (instead of a bowl of eggs with sugar). Escoffier noticed that the accidental blend of cream and chocolate formed a glossy emulsion—a concoction that could be used to cloak fruits or (if toyed with like play-dough) molded into a delicious mound of chocolate bliss (what we now call chocolate truffles).
Yes, that's the ingredient list—just cream and chocolate. However, what ganache lacks in quantity (number of components) it gains with quality. This is not the place to skimp and use generic, bargain-priced chocolate.
There are just three things to remember about ganache—quality of ingredients, proportion, and temperature. Take care with those three and you can create a ganache that can be thin and pourable, thick and moldable, or somewhere in between.
Quality of Ingredients
- Heavy Cream: Ganache is usually made with heavy cream (36-40 percent butterfat). A ganache made with chocolate lower in cocoa butter will benefit from the fat in heavy cream. Alternatively, a ganache made with a chocolate high in cocoa butter may taste too oily if made with heavy cream. I'll discuss this in more detail in the actual recipe.
- Chocolate: Any chocolate with at least 32 percent cocoa butter can be used to make the ganache. There are many good brands on the market—Valrhone, Tobler, Lindt, Callebaut, and Nestle are a few. I don't advise using milk chocolate or white chocolate for your ganache. The amount of cocoa butter is simply too low.
The ratio of cream to chocolate will determine if your ganache is pourable, spreadable, pipeable, or can be molded to make truffles.
The proportions I give are based on weight. For example, a 1:1 ratio means 8 ounces chocolate to 8 ounces cream.
- Layer cake filling and thick glaze: 1:1, equal parts chocolate and cream.
- Chocolate truffles: 2:1, two parts chocolate to one part cream.
- Soft icing and pourable glaze: 1:2, one part chocolate to two parts cream
Cream does not need to be boiled to make ganache—all that is necessary is that the cream be hot enough to melt the chocolate.
You also need to think about how you will use your ganache—if it is meant to be a glaze on a cake or petit fours, use it while still warm but not hot. If it gets too cold it won’t pour at all. On the other hand, ganache to make truffles needs to cool until it is thick. But again, too cold and it will be stiff and beyond mold-able.
Be careful—keep an eye on your ganache. If too cold it can probably be slightly rewarmed in a double boiler. If too warm, just be patient.
We will begin with a basic recipe for ganache that can be used to make truffles. (Let's be honest, that is what you are here for, right?)
- 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (for this recipe I suggest a cacao content of about 60%)
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 tablespoon rum, or other liquor (optional)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for coating the truffles (or use chopped nuts or melted and tempered chocolate)
- Chop the chocolate. I break my chocolate into small pieces with a knife and then pulverize them in a food processor with on/off pulses.
- Warm the cream in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring it to almost a boil and then transfer to a round-bottomed metal bowl. (Note: Let's take a moment to talk about the fat content of the cream. Heavy cream is 36-40 percent butterfat. A ganache made with chocolate lower in cocoa butter will benefit from the fat in heavy cream. Alternatively, a ganache made with chocolate high in cocoa butter may taste too oily if made with heavy cream. If that is the case, you can reduce the amount of total butterfat by combining one part half and half—which has 11 percent butterfat—with two parts heavy cream; this would result in a total butterfat content of about 30 percent.)
- Pour the pulverized chocolate into the warmed cream, and then wait. Let the fine chocolate bits float for a moment on the cream.
- When you see that it is starting to melt at the edges begin to mix gently. Use a plastic or rubber spatula (rather than a metal spoon). Begin stirring at the center, and then widen your circles until all of the chocolate is captured and the mix is homogenous. The mixture should now be smooth, glossy, and tepid.
- To make truffles, you may need to set your pan in the refrigerator so that the ganache cools. Remove the pan every 5 minutes and stir so that the mixture cools evenly. As the chocolate begins to stiffen, stir it more frequently—it will go from soft to very hard quite suddenly. (If this happens, soften the ganache over gently simmering water, stirring until you've reached the right consistency again.)
- Once the ganache firm enough that it can be molded (it will feel like play dough or stiff frosting), scoop out small balls with a melon baller or spoon. Roll each one briefly in the palms of your very clean (or gloved) hands. It helps if you are in a cool room (or have cold hands like me).
- Chill the truffles briefly, for about 15 minutes, while you prepare whatever you’d like to roll or enrobe them in.
- Roll the truffles in cocoa powder, shaking off any excess cocoa. You can also roll them in chopped nuts or flaked coconut.
- Store them at room temperature for up to a week, in the fridge for two to three weeks, or in the freezer for two months. They taste best eaten at room temperature.
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There are two ways to add flavor to your ganache.
- Herbs such as mint or lavender blossoms, orange peel, vanilla beans, ground coffee, and tea leaves (green tea or Earl Grey tea are amazing!) can be added before the cream is mixed with the chocolate. Simply bring the cream to almost a boil, add the flavoring and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain and then continue making your ganache.
- Liqueurs can be added to the completed ganache before it hardens.
© 2015 Linda Lum