This is a standard, easy, workingman’s ganache, great for baking applications. Ganache (pronounced ga-NAHsh) is most commonly a 50-50 combination of chocolate and heavy cream (by weight). Known as “soft” ganache, this is the kind that is typically used for toppings and drizzles, or whipped to make cake fillings. Heavier “firm” ganaches (say, 2-1 chocolate to cream) are more commonly used in candy and/or truffle making.
Here I should emphasize that when it comes to melting chocolate, I’m a microwave man. I find it much simpler, quicker and less risky than a double boiler or sauce pan. Where a typical ganache recipe will instruct you to “scald” your cream in a pan before you use it, that step is actually an anachronism, originally employed to kill bacteria, but no longer needed in the age of ultra-pasteurized dairy. The microwave is gentle, fast and to my way of seeing things, foolproof.
So then, start by putting your chocolate, however much you plan to use, in a microwave-proof bowl.
Pour in an equal amount of cream…
And insert in the microwave. Here I must emphasize that a microwave must be used judiciously where chocolate is concerned. Several short bursts on “high” are what’s required, as opposed to one or two long ones. I start with a 30-second zap, stir, and then use as many 20-second blasts as I need after that (generally about 4 for this much ganache).
Three zaps and you can see there’s a little melting going on.
For shots and — oh no! My chocolate, it’s seized! Actually yes. “Seizing” is what happens when cocoa solids get wet. They swell up and stick together, creating clumps. But the thing about seizing is, it’s no big deal*, especially in this case, since ganache is a relatively watery mixture (as a result of the cream). As that water continues to mix with the sugar in the chocolate it will form a smooth syrup that will eventually re-lubricate the cocoa solids and create a smooth sauce.
One more burst of microwaves and you can see that things are once again going my way. There are still quite a few unmelted chocolate chips, but by now I’ve built up enough heat that stirring will take me the rest of the way.
Another 45 seconds and we have touchdown. The ganache emulsion-with-a-suspension has been achieved.
This ganache is ready to use as, say, an éclair topping. If you were planning to use it for a truffle or some other longer-lasting application, like maybe to cover a cake, you’d want to add a tablespoon of corn syrup to inhibit runaway crystallization of the cocoa butter (that white film that melted and re-hardened chocolate often gets).
Some crystallization, however, is important for a ganache, which is why a warm ganache should always be allowed to sit at room temperature for at least a few hours before being refrigerated. That gives the fat in the ganache time to form a limited crystal structure, without which the ganache will become limp and greasy.
Lastly, I should insert that ganaches can be flavored. Some people simply add a little vanilla (or other extract) to the finished product to add complexity. Some people add a little booze or shot of liqueur. Me, I frequently like to get jiggy widdit by infusing the cream with various types of tea or herbs like lavender or lemon verbena. This of course requires a saucepan since you’ll want to add your whatever-it-is to your cream and simmer it until you have as much flavor infused into the cream as you wish. When that point is reached you simply strain out your leaves and carry on as usual.
* Should your chocolate seize on you when you’re melting it for a non-ganache application, don’t panic. Simply keep adding warm water, a few drops at a time, until the chocolate smoothes back out again.