Not always a dessert in itself, it’s not unusual for ganache to be part of something a little more. Sure, there are chocolate truffles, but to cakes and tortes, drinks (hot chocolate comes to mind), fruit and croissants, ganache can provide an aspect that can bring the dessert to a transcendent level.
It just has to be made well. And it’s known for being difficult to make well.
Fortunately for us, though, Zach Townsend believes that much of the difficulty in making a good ganache has been exaggerated – that it’s really not a terribly difficult task to do properly. And he would know – as an assistant to Rose Levy Berenbaum and a contributor to one of her books (Rose’s Heavenly Cakes) – as well as owning his own dessert company, Pure Chocolate Desserts by Zach – Townsend has worked with the best in the business and seen just about everything the world of desserts.
So when Zach Townsend says anyone can make ganache, we’re inclined believe him.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Zach. Let’s start at the beginning: what exactly is ganache?
Well, Ganache at its most basic element is simply a mixture of emulsified cream and chocolate. But even at its most basic it still depends on what kind of chocolate you use, what kind of cream, and how much of each you use that determines mouth feel, texture and taste. From there you can go in the right kind of way to get the best result for your purpose – that means it gets a little more complex, because you can add a little bit of butter – which gives it a melting quality. And of course you can add strong liquors, cognacs, Chambord, Grand Marinier – Kiersch really comes out very well, especially dark chocolate ganaches – and single malt whiskeys; one of the best things you can mix with ganache is single malt whiskey.
Now, some people add glucose, but I don’t normally ever add it to my ganaches, because I don’t find it a necessary component. All it really adds is sweetness and maybe a little bit of flow – where the chocolate flows out a little better. I prefer to keep ganaches more minimal; if you can find a superb chocolate and if you mix it really well, you can have a perfect ganache. But you’ve got to find a really good quality chocolate – you can’t skimp if you’re really wanting to make a good product.
Other than quality of the chocolate, what makes a ganache particularly good?
It really all depends on the application for it. You can make a ganache from everything, from a white chocolate to a milk chocolate, all the way through the semi-sweets and bittersweets. What’s really important is the balance of cream to the cacao content. What I mean by that is the sweeter the chocolate gets, the less cacao percentage, like when you get into milk chocolate and white chocolate, then the less cream you need because those chocolates have milk in them, they have a creaminess to them because they have fewer cacao solids.
So it’s all about proportion of cream and chocolate. When you get into the chocolates that have really high percentages, like 70 percent (cacao) and above, then it’s a little more difficult to make the ganaches because the large percentage of cacao solids – it’s just easier for it to break. I would say the best thing for people who are trying to make a ganache is stay between 55 and 65% cacao. And then they can make a ganache based on their flavor preferences. Some people like a semi-sweet and some people like a bittersweet.
So say you’re talking to someone a little anxious about making his or her first ganache. Where do they start?
Yes, there is a basic starting point. Start with 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate – such as 60 percent – with eight fluid ounces of heavy cream. This is sometimes called the “master” ganache; bring the cream just to the boiling point on the stove then pour over the chopped chocolate, let it sit for one minute, and then stir until smooth.
If you want the ganache softer, for a cake spread or a glaze, then add more cream. If you want the ganache firmer, say for truffles, add less cream. The ratio of cream to chocolate (as well as the percentage cacao you choose) will be where you can experiment with the right type of firmness you’re looking for for your application.
From there, you can add a little butter and or flavoring, such as liqueurs. Generally add around one tablespoon of butter for the master ganache ratio and one tablespoon of liqueur. Always add the liqueur at the very end, and always make sure that with each addition the ganache is blended well before adding the next ingredient.
All right, that seems easy enough. Let’s go a little more in-depth, though, as you’ve offered to walk us through the process.
Well, this ganache is for a dessert I’m making for a friend who wanted it for his family – it’s the Intense Black Forest Cake.
I really like this ganache a lot because of the Vanilla bean. We get this out with a knife and then add it to the cream, which you’ll want to scald on the stove.
Now, there’s two ways to make ganache. One way a lot of chocolatiers do it, is to heat the chocolate at the same time that you heat the cream, and you heat them to basically the same temperature. That ensures a really fine emulsification. And I do that a lot with the larger quantities. But because this is such a small amount, we’ll just take the basic approach to it, which is to heat the cream up just to scalding – to scald means to bring something just below boiling – and then pour it over the chocolate. You do have to watch the cream carefully, because if it boils it could lose too much of its water. Now, if it boils for 5 seconds, that’s no big deal. But if you turn away from it and you come back and go ‘Oh my gosh, my cream is boiling!’ then you’ve lost some of the water and, that water is really important when it hits the chocolate. Because what ganache is, is a suspension of fat and water.
And let me get my spatula.
As you’re stirring, it’s really important to make sure that you don’t have any air bubbles, because you can increase the shelf life if you can maintain the liquid with a lower amount of air.
And I always add room temperature butter because it just helps it to melt faster, and it keeps the ganache kind of at a constant temperature rather than shocking it with something cold – also remember it should be smooth before you add it; you don’t want chunks of chocolate still in it.
And then when you add the liqueur, it sometimes looks like it will break, but keep stirring and it won’t – just keep going. I always watch the sides because if it becomes slimy or oily looking, that’s that butter separating. That will tell you that it’s probably going to break.
So what I do after I’m done stirring is to wait until I know it’s cool. Then I’ll cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit out overnight at room temperature and fully crystallize. So then tomorrow when I get up, I’ll take my little spatula through it, and it will just be this really awesomely creamy, spreadable consistency. And that’s ganache.
All right, now that we’re wrapping up, we know you’re using this one for your Intense Black Forest Cake, but what are some other applications?
The thing that ganaches are known most for are truffles, because that’s what a chocolate truffle is: ganache. It can be dipped in chocolate and have a hard shell over it, or it can just be served plain – rolled into a a rugged-looking ball because it’s supposed to look like a truffle. The next most popular place you’d find ganache is in the center of a chocolate, like when you bite into a chocolate there’s a ganache center. Of course, ganaches can also be used for fillings or as glazes for cakes. Really, though, you can use them pretty much anywhere. I use a lot of ganaches in my darker, more decadent desserts.