Chocolate ganache: The holiday baker’s best friend

Dipping, drizzling, coating, icing, saucing, frosting… EVERYTHING tastes better with chocolate. Well, almost everything. Not sure I’d put bittersweet chocolate in my apple pie, but hey, you never know till you try, right?

I was giving a baking demonstration at our retail store here in Vermont recently, and was surprised at the number of people who didn’t know how to make chocolate ganache. Now, admittedly, it sounds kind of fancy. You know, like you’d need a cooking school degree to pull it off. After all, “ganache” is a French word, which to many of us, culinarily speaking, spells F-U-S-S-Y.

But ganache is anything but fussy. It includes two ingredients–count ’em, two. Chocolate, and heavy cream. Can you warm up a cup of coffee in the microwave? Then you can make ganache.

And oh, the places it will take you! Ganache is the richest, most delicious and, yes, EASIEST incarnation of chocolate you’ll ever enjoy. Here in the test kitchen, we make bittersweet, semisweet, milk, and white chocolate ganaches to frost cakes, drizzle on ice cream, dip cookies, glaze pastries, make candy… It’s our all-purpose delicious finishing touch.

One of the wonderful things about ganache is its versatility. You can make it whisper thin, perfect for artfully drizzling atop chocolate chip scones. You can make it pourably thick, for icing a fudge birthday cake. Make it thicker still, and it becomes the basis for chocolate truffles, or the candy of your choice: rocky road, anyone?

I often use chocolate chips for ganache; but use your favorite chocolate, anything from chunks, to a broken up bar, to disks. Then, decide how thick you want the ganache to be. The thinnest, most pourable ganache also stays soft, even when fully set. So don’t use this for anything that might go through some rough-and-tumble: cookies you’ll stack atop one another, for instance. The more pourable the ganache, the softer it’ll remain. The thicker the ganache, the firmer it’ll be when set.

Oh, one more thing: the very easiest way to make ganache that’s EXACTLY the thickness you want is with the aid of a scale. A medium ganache, one you’d use for a smooth, thick icing atop a cake, is made with two parts chocolate to one part cream, by weight. Yeah, you can figure out weights and convert to volume: 1 cup chopped chocolate is 6 ounces, cream weighs 8 ounces per cup, so for a 2:1 ratio you’ll want 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate and 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cream. How much easier to simply pour 6 ounces chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl, add 3 ounces of cream, and Bob’s your uncle: no math!

Here are some easy guidelines:
•For soft-set “drizzlable” ganache, suitable for glazing or drizzling on cookies, scones, or pastries: 1 part chocolate, 1 part heavy cream. (1 cup chocolate, 3/4 cup heavy cream.)
•For thicker, pourable ganache, suitable for pouring/spreading on cake layers: 2 parts chocolate, 1 part heavy cream. (1 cup chocolate, 6 tablespoons heavy cream.)
•For thicker but still pourable ganache, good for cake filling and thick frosting: 3 parts chocolate, 1 part heavy cream. (1 cup chocolate, 1/4 cup heavy cream.)
•For ganache that holds its shape well, and is soft but not sticky when set, good for candy: 4 parts chocolate, 1 part heavy cream. (1 cup chocolate, 3 tablespoons heavy cream.)

OK–let’s make some ganache with panache!


First, mix chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl.


Next, heat till cream is very hot; 30 to 90 seconds should do it, depending on how much ganache you’re making, and how strong your microwave is.


Start stirring together the cream and chocolate; it’ll look like a gloppy mess, and you’ll despair of it ever becoming smooth. Don’t worry; it’s supposed to look like this.


Soon, you’ll see the chocolate start to come together.


The chocolate will become cohesive and start to follow the spatula or spoon around the bowl, as it gradually absorbs the cream. Stir, stir, stir…


…and finally, the cream will be totally absorbed, and the chocolate smooth. Really. Trust me.


This ganache, made with three parts chocolate and one part cream, is pourable/spreadable, perfect for icing a cake… or dolloping on ice cream!

One final note: How do you know how much ganache to make? Well, to ice both layers (ice and fill) a typical 2-layer 9″ cake, use 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate. A general rule of thumb is you’ll end up with a little less ganache than the amount of chocolate you use–e.g., start with 1 cup chocolate and 1/4 cup cream, you end up with a scant 1 cup ganache (about 7/8 cup, to be exact).

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!