8 ounces (227 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy (optional)
Ganache: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized heatproof bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. (Can also heat the cream and butter in the microwave.) Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand, without stirring, for a few minutes. Stir gently (as you do not want to incorporate air into the ganache) with a spoon or whisk until smooth. If desired, add the liqueur.
Makes enough ganache to cover one - 9 inch (23 cm) cake or torte.
To Cover a Torte or Cake: If the cake you are covering needs to be refrigerated, first chill the cake. (This will ensure that the ganache will not lose its shine when the cake is stored in the refrigerator.)
First, brush any loose crumbs from the cake. Using a cake spatula or knife, cover the sides and top of the cake with a thin layer of ganache. (This is called a crumb coat and seals in any cake crumbs so that your cake will have a smooth finish.) Refrigerate the cake for about 5 minutes or until the crumb coat has set. Then place the cake on a wire rack, and put the wire rack on top of a large baking sheet (to catch any excess ganache that drips from cake.) Then pour the ganache into the center of the cake. Working quickly, spread the ganache with a large metal spatula or knife, using big strokes to push the ganache over the sides of the cake. (This will create an even coating of ganache.) If there are any bare spots on the sides of the cake, cover with ganache. Let the ganache set before covering and storing the cake.
Leftover ganache can be strained to remove any crumbs. It can be used to make chocolate truffles. Cover and refrigerate the ganache until firm (several hours or overnight). Roll into small balls and then roll in cocoa powder, confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar or chopped nuts. You can use your hands to form the truffles, a melon baller or small spoon. Truffles can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks or else frozen for a couple of months.
Ganache is a French term referring to a smooth and velvety mixture of chocolate and cream. Its origin is a little unclear, but it is believed to have been invented around 1850. Some say it originated in Switzerland where it was used as a base for truffles. Others say it was invented in Paris at the Patisserie Siravdin.
To make Ganache, hot cream (cream with a 35-40% butterfat content) is poured over chopped semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate, and the mixture is stirred until smooth. The proportions of chocolate to cream can vary depending on its use, but the basic form is equal weights of chocolate and cream. Dark, milk, or white chocolate can be used to make ganache and different flavorings can be added such as liqueurs and extracts. Butter, oil, or corn syrup can also be added when a dark shiny glaze is desired.
Ganache is widely used in the pastry kitchen. When barely warm and liquid, ganache can be poured over a cake or torte for a smooth and shiny glaze. If cooled to room temperature it becomes a spreadable filling and frosting. Refrigerated ganache can be whipped for fillings and frostings or formed into chocolate truffles.
The taste and quality of the ganache is primarily dependent on the quality of chocolate you start with. Remember not all chocolates are the same. It is important to use a 'pure' chocolate, that is, chocolate that contains just chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and lecithin. You do not want to use a chocolate that has vegetable fat listed as an ingredient. Chocolate begins with the beans from the tropical tree Theobroma which translates to "Food of the Gods". There are three types of cacao beans (Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario) and the type and/or blend of beans, their quality, and where they are grown all contribute to the quality and taste of the chocolate. Other factors affecting taste and quality are how the beans are roasted, how the beans are ground into a mass called chocolate liquor, how much extra cocoa butter is added to the chocolate liquor, quality and amount of other ingredients added, and how long the chocolate liquor is conched (processed). But most importantly, choose a chocolate that you would also enjoy eating out of hand. A chocolate with a velvety smooth texture will produce a ganache that is velvety smooth. If you like semi sweet chocolate, then you would probably want to use a chocolate with no more than 58% cacao content. The cacao percentage tells us the amount of cacao, that is, chocolate liquor and cocoa butter, the chocolate contains in relation to the amount of sugar. Therefore, a chocolate with a 58% cacao means that it has 58% cacao and 42% sugar. (As a side note, the cocoa butter gives the chocolate that melt-in-your-mouth consistently.) Some brands I have used and liked are Valrhona, Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Lindt, and Green & Black's.
Besides the chocolate, a Ganache contains cream, in this case heavy "whipping" cream, or double cream. This is cream with a butterfat content of between 35 - 40%. Now, not all heavy creams taste the same. I have found that organic brands of heavy cream have much better flavor than regular supermarket brands.