Today I’m going to talk about ganache — the hero of the cake decorating world. When made at a certain ratio, it creates a firm chocolate shell around the cake – super firm, which gives the cake great stability and allows for super smooth and sharp fondant application.
With it’s awesome properties also come the pitfalls in making it, and I get asked a lot of questions about how to handle them. I hope to help with that today.
It’s important to know just a leeetle bit about the science behind ganache to be successful. (Just a little, I promise 🙂
Ganache is a simple emulsion made with just two ingredients: chocolate and heavy cream.
Mixing chocolate and cream is a lot like mixing oil and water. (Or me and housework.) They don’t wanna go together. They fight it every step of the way.
The process of getting them to succumb and properly mix is called emulsification.
The emulsification process combines the fat in the chocolate (cocoa butter) with the water in the cream. It uses two processes: heat and agitation.
First the fat is liquefied by using heat: hot cream is combined with the chocolate, which melts the cocoa butter fat into liquid form.
Stirring (agitation) breaks down the liquid fat into microscopic droplets, which are small enough to be suspended within the water (in the cream.) This creates a smooth and creamy emulsion.
The temperature is a very important factor. If the temperature rises above 110F, the cocoa butter gets too hot. This causes droplets of fat to pool together and separate from the water. When this occurs, the ganache is referred to as separated or “broken.” It will look gloopy and grainy, and pools of oil will be on the surface and around the edges.
Also, if the ratio of fat (cocoa butter) to water (in the cream) gets too high, it’s too much fat for the water to handle. The fat will again separate out, and you’ll be left with a goopy mixture that’s oily rather than smooth and creamy.
Here’s a good photo of badly broken ganache.
Yucky! But many batches like this have been thrown out needlessly, because luckily it can be fixed in most cases.
Ways to fix a broken ganache:
Immersion Blender Method:
Make sure the ganache is warm, but not hot. Use an immersion blender, moving it all around the bowl to get it incorporated again. This may take some time, and it may or may not work. If it does not, move on to one of the other methods listed below.
Corn Syrup Method:
Put 1-1.5 Tbs of broken ganache into a bowl. Bring 2 Tbs light corn syrup to a boil. Whisk very small amounts of corn syrup at a time into that portion of broken ganache. Keep adding corn syrup, a little at a time, whisking constantly, until that ganache is smooth and shiny again. This newly re-emulsified ganache is called the “seed”. Now keep adding the rest of the broken ganache, whisking the entire time, until it’s all incorporated into the seed, and the whole batch is smooth and shiny again. This method won’t change the consistency of the ganache enough to notice.
Skim Milk Method:
Heat a small amount of skim or low fat milk to a simmer but don’t overheat. Slowly drizzle it into the broken ganache, whisking all the while. Only add tiny amounts at a time, whisking vigorously, until it comes back together. (An immersion blender works great for this.) The extra water from the low fat milk enables the ganache to “handle” all the fat and get it back into emulsion. Be aware that adding more liquid may change the consistency of the final product.
Temperature Regulating Method:
Divide the broken ganache in half. Warm one half over a double boiler to a temperature of 130F. The fat will melt and make the mixture thinner. Cool the remaining half to 60F by stirring it over a bowl of ice. (Don’t put it in the fridge because it won’t cool evenly.) This portion of the ganache will thicken.
When both halves have reached the correct temperatures, slowly stream the hot ganache into the cold portion and whisk away. (You can use a food processor for this if you like.) Combining the two portions averages the temperature to the optimal range, and the fat droplets will go back into the water, restoring the emulsion.
Two more ganache problems:
- Grainy Ganache:
Sometimes the ganache can have a grainy texture without the oil pooling. This is caused by excessive mixing after the ganache has cooled down lower than 90F.
If it’s still liquid enough, strain thru a fine mesh strainer (think tea) and stir again. If too cool, put over a double boiler and gently get it warmed up again, mixing all the while until smooth again.
- Chunks in the set-up ganache:
Sometimes the ganache looks perfect and smooth when you make it, but after sitting overnight you discover tiny little chucks all throughout it. This occurs because not all of the chocolate was fully melted when the ganche was made (even though it looked like it was.)
Gently remelt it over low double boiler as to avoid scorching the chocolate or causing it to separate by getting the temp too high. Stir, stir, stir until it’s liquid and smooth. Let is set up again before use. Chop the chocolate into pieces no larger than 1/4 inch in size before adding the hot cream. This helps all the pieces melt fully.
So there you go! Now you know how to fix any ganache problems you may have. And don’t feel bad if you do have problems – they are very common and happen to everyone. Ganache is very forgiving and can almost always be saved as long as the chocolate was not scorched.
See my blog post HERE on how different ratios are used for different purposes, and a few more chocolatey tid bits.
Until then, happy caking!