Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ganache takes the Cake

Nothing says "I love you" or "You are the best" or "Let's be friends forever" than an over-the-top, chocolicious multi-layer cake.

I'm talking four layers of rich, moist dark chocolate cake and three layers of perfectly sweetened chocolate whipped cream all covered with whipped dark chocolate ganache; finished with a silky dark chocolate glaze and topped with bittersweet chocolate curls. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about a Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake. How many times did I say chocolate right there? Well, who cares, I'm going to say it three more times....




....add about three scoops of Moosetracks ice cream and this would be my last meal.

We celebrated my best friend's birthday this past weekend and with this tall, dark and handsome cake, I told her how great of a friend she is. Being quite a chocolate-lover like me, she was very happy. And, soon after we all dug into our slices of Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake, we were all very happy. This overdose of chocolate made us all giggly and ridiculous. I swear, we must have burned off all the cake calories from the insane laughter. Hmm...I bet chocolate could bring world peace....

Ganache is a wonder in a baker's world. It can be used in many ways:
  • When slightly warm, it can be used as a glaze.
  • Let it cool to room temperature with frequent stirring and it can be used as a creamy dense frosting.
  • Bring on the beaters at room temperature and it transforms into a light, whipped frosting or filling.
  • Or, let it firm up without agitation and form blissful balls of silky smooth chocolate to make decadent chocolate truffles.

    Ganache is an oil-in-water emulsion of cream and chocolate. The continuous phase is composed mostly of water from the cream and the oil phase is composed of both milk fat globules from the cream and cocoa butter fat droplets from the chocolate. Cocoa particles are also suspended in the water phase and some of their components can bind water. Ganache can be made from anywhere between a 1:1 ratio of cream to chocolate to a 1:2 ratio. The latter ratio will produce a firmer texture, and the extent of firmness depends on the cocoa content of the chocolate. Couverture chocolate is a high quality chocolate that is ideal for making ganache due to is increased cocoa butter content, which gives it good melting properties.

    Here are the steps for making ganache:

    1. Very finely chop the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl.
    2. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it comes to a boil so that small bubbles begin to form around the edges.
    3. Pour the hot cream over chopped chocolate.
    4. Let mixture stand without stirring for about 10 minutes.
    5. Gently stir mixture in a circular motion using a rubber spatula, starting from the center and working your way out to the sides, until it is smooth and glossy.
    6. Pour mixture into a shallow glass baking dish and let stand at room temperature until firm.

    Although this process seems fairly simple and straightforward, there are some technical points to remember.

    Finely chopping the chocolate allows for rapid and even melting.

    Letting the mixture stand for 10 minutes allows the hot cream to slowly and gently melt the chocolate. It also allows the mixture to cool down, preferably to about 110 degrees F, before stirring. This helps to form a homogeneous, smooth ganache as it lets the chocolate and cream come to the same temperature, making it easier for the two phases to form an emulsion. A proper emulsion will prevent separation of the oil phase once the mixture is set.

    Chocolate is very high-maintenance and requires gradual heating and cooling. Over-mixing can cause a rapid decrease in temperature, which may result in a coarse texture. Gentle stirring is all it takes to reduce the fat to tiny droplets suspended within the water phase, helping the mixture come together and form an emulsion without separation or graininess. Too much agitation can introduce air bubbles into the mixture and break the emulsion.

    Remember how I mentioned that cocoa particle components can bind water? Well, this attribute is one of the reasons why a smooth, glossy ganache can set up into a grainy, separated mess. A ganache made with a high ratio of chocolate to cream, especially when using bittersweet chocolate, is more susceptible to developing an unappealing texture. As the mixture rests, cocoa particles bind moisture from the water phase of the emulsion and swell up. This makes less room in the water phase for the milk fat globules and cocoa butter droplets to remain individually suspended, causing them to coalesce or merge together to form a single droplet. These larger fat droplets cannot sustain their suspension and separate from the mixture. Eventually, the water-logged cocoa particles can stick to each other and cause the ganache to coarsen or become grainy.

    Pouring the stirred ganache into a shallow dish exposes the mixture to a larger surface area and helps it to mature evenly at room temperature. Maturing ganache refers to the gradual and complete crystallization of cocoa butter, which creates a sinfully smooth, melt-in-your mouth texture. I do not recommend immediate refrigeration of ganache because it can develop an oily or greasy consistency as it warms back to room temperature.

    Geez. What once seemed like the easiest recipe in the world with only two ingredients - a simple mixture of cream and chocolate - now seems like a trick! But, like all things, practice makes perfect and patience is definitely a virtue!

    I'm going to go make some ganache now....If you see me in a few hours don't be shocked if I'm in a chocolate coma.
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