Chocolate Ganache Icing

Image courtesy of Shamima Desai,

Chocolate ganache icing may not command the same iconic reverence in cake culture as buttercream or fondant, but chocolate lovers argue that it's far more delicious and just as beautiful to behold. At its essence, ganache is very simple, and that simplicity and classic quality is part of its appeal to both beginning decorators and seasoned veterans.

Making Chocolate Ganache

The most basic ganache recipe contains only melted chocolate and cream. Typically, a baker will heat the ingredients together in a double boiler until they are warm and the chocolate is no longer solid. Letting the frosting cool for a few minutes brings it back to a spreadable consistency, but it can also be poured warm over the top of a cake for a rustic look or poured into candy molds and used to make truffles. Some ganache recipes call for liqueurs, butter, milk, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, or other ingredients to lend a slightly different taste to the finished product.

Choosing Your Chocolate

Many true chocolate lovers prefer to use dark chocolate or bittersweet chocolate for making icing such as ganache, because it lends the deepest, richest flavor. But if you're not a chocolate snob and don't have any dark bars around the house, you can also use a standard grade of baking chocolate or even semisweet chocolate chips. Milk chocolate and white chocolate work, too, but they may have a sweeter taste because they contain more sugar than dark chocolate does. If your chocolate isn't already in pieces, make sure to chop it before you prepare the frosting so that it will melt more quickly and uniformly.

Additional Flavorings

To give your ganache a slightly fruity taste or a note of another flavor, try adding an extract, such as almond or orange, or a small amount of liqueur. You can also mix ganache with fruit jam or preserves, but be aware that it will become rougher and harder to spread if you do that. Mixing ganache with fresh berries or other fresh fruits is another option; if you use fruits with high water contents, however, you may run into more difficulty with achieving the right consistency.

Tips for a Perfect Ganache

Ganache that is too hot can adopt an unappealing texture or a burnt flavor. Don't let that happen by keeping a close eye on the melting chocolate. Whether you use a double boiler or the microwave, check and stir the chocolate at least every 30 seconds. An alternate strategy is to heat only the cream in the double boiler or microwave, then pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Stir the chocolate until it's fully melted and the mixture is smooth.

If you want a high quality cake frosting, you'll need to use high quality ingredients. You'll get the deepest chocolate flavor from dark chocolate, but you can use other varieties as well. To get a truly great ganache, though, make sure to use a chocolate that you'd enjoy eating plain.

To make a shiny, smooth ganache, add a small amount of butter, oil, or corn syrup to the melted chocolate before you pour on or apply the frosting.

Using Ganache

You can spread chocolate ganache icing onto a cake with a spatula, pour it over the cake as a glaze, or use it as a filling between layers.

Dripping chocolate ganache.
  • To spread the ganache, wait a few minutes after the chocolate melts. Stir the frosting every few minutes to keep the consistency uniform, and when it seems spreadable and not too stiff, brush the cake free of crumbs and begin to coat it with the frosting. The process will be easier if you freeze the cake briefly beforehand so that it is firmer and less likely to crumble. Use a flat spatula if possible to get the smoothest covering, and apply a crumb coat before putting on a thicker layer of ganache.
  • To use the ganache as a glaze or coating for a cake, there's no need to wait until it firms. Place the cake on a cooling rack and the cooling rack on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper to catch any frosting drips. Brush the cake free of crumbs, and pour a bowl of ganache over the top of the cake. If the frosting is hot and thin enough, it will spread on its own, but you may need to encourage it with a spatula if it begins to firm. To get the frosting back to a thinner consistency, simply pop it in the microwave for a few seconds until it is melted again.
  • Finally, to use ganache as a filling, let it cool to the same consistency you would use to spread it on top of a cake with a flat spatula. With a hand mixer, beat the ganache until it is light and fluffy, adding in any liqueurs, jams, berries, or flavors you'd like included in the filling. Scoop the fluffy ganache frosting onto the cake, spread it out with a flat spatula, and top with another layer.

A Chocolate Lover's Delight

Chocolate buttercream may be most bakers' go-to frosting, but ganache can take your cake to the next level of creamy deliciousness. If you want to make a cake that looks like you've poor hot fudge sauce all over it, chocolate ganache icing is definitely the way to go.

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Chocolate Ganache Icing