Thursday, January 21, 2010


Last year, I decorated Bella's birthday cake with hot pink frosting, candy cane powder, and 50 mini chocolate cookies. The year before that was a four-tiered light pink cake with roses and a disco ball. Very over the top. Both designed by Bella and decorated by me. This year Bella turned seven. I let go and let her decorate her own cake.

Here's her design. With a bit of back and forth we determined it was to be a three-tiered vanilla bean cake with ganache glaze and white chocolate flowers.

I'm often frustrated with frosting. Buttercream is way too rich and time consuming (I never have a pound of room temperature unsalted butter just sitting around).  Powdered sugar icings can be sickly sweet. I could eat a whole tub of cream cheese icing but it doesn't work on everything. That's why ganache is so genius. As long as you have good quality chocolate and some heavy cream, you're set.

In keeping with this month's theme of taking one recipe and using it multiple ways, we used ganache for three different birthday treats.

Bella glued the three layers together with ganache glaze. Then she poured the glaze ALL OVER. A little spreading, a little patching, and she was ready to add flowers made from melted white chocolate.  The cake we used was a very dense white chocolate vanilla bean cake. In retrospect, not the right combination with the ganache glaze. But the kids gobbled it up. I would recommend a lighter white cake to which you could add lots of vanilla bean.
Add more chocolate and less cream if you want a glaze that's more spreadable. More spreadable was much easier for Bella to work with but you do lose that slick and even finish that you get with the pourable ganache glaze.
Cool the ganache glaze, whip it up for a minute, and you get ganache frosting.  It's lighter in texture and color, even more spreadable, and not glossy. If you like the glossy look you can quickly torch the top with a blow torch or mini kitchen torch. Yes I have a blow torch (for creme brulĂ©es) but I couldn't find it. (Who borrowed my blow torch? I want it back.) Instead, I popped them in a hot oven for 5 seconds. You can see the lone cupcake with the candle has a glossy top. A nicer look for a photo but it's not necessary.
The yellow cupcake recipe is from Cook's Illustrated. It's my all-time favorite. I follow every step as written. The only change I make is to undercook them a bit so that the center is a bit gooey. It's worth becoming a member of their site just to get this recipe. You can also do a free 14-day trial. I swear I don't work for Cooks Illustrated. I'm just so grateful for all rigorous testing that they do. This recipe is all over the web with errors. Go right to the source.

Chill the ganache, scoop and roll into balls, dredge in unsweetened cocoa, and you've got chocolate truffles. Dash dropped his truffle right into his mug of camomile tea. Very sad.

BASIC GANACHE:printable recipe

This makes enough glaze for one 9 inch cake OR frosting for 24 cupcakes OR about 20 truffles. Some people add a bit of butter or corn syrup to help with the sheen, but I find the chocolate and the cream to be enough on their own.

- 6-9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or shredded into small pieces with a heavy chef knife—use less chocolate for a pourable glaze (6-7 ounces); use a bit more chocolate for spreadable glaze, whipped frosting, or truffles (8 or 9 ounces)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon cognac or vanilla (optional)

Place chopped chocolate into a large heat resistant bowl. Bring cream up to the boil. Turn off heat. Pour cream over the chocolate. Cover bowl with a plate or plastic wrap. Stir after 5 minutes. Cover for another 5 minutes. Stir again until it's smooth. (Alternatively, you can pulverize the chocolate in a food processor, pour over the hot cream, and mix until smooth.) At this point you can add a bit of cognac or vanilla if you want.

1. For Ganache Glaze (pourable or spreadable): Let ganache cool to room temperature. Make sure your cake is cool as well. Place the cake on a rack over a sheet pan so that the excess chocolate drips onto the sheet pan. Pour over the glaze. You can help guide the chocolate down the sides with an offset spatula or a knife. Let set for a few hours. Or refrigerate for 20 minutes and then pour on another layer of glaze (this would require you to make half again as much ganache). You can store it 2 days at room temp or up to 10 days in the fridge.

2. For Whipped Ganache Frosting: Let ganache cool in the fridge for a few hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so. Don't let it harden. When it is cold and thick, whisk for about a minute in a mixer or by hand. If you overwhip it you can melt, cool, and then whip it again. You can store is for no more than a day at room temp or up to 5 days in the fridge. It goes bad faster once it's whipped.

3. For Chocolate Truffles: Let ganache harden in the fridge overnight. Scoop out a tablespoon size of ganache and roll it into a ball with your hands. Repeat with the rest of the ganache. You can place cocoa in a bag and add the truffles balls after you roll them. Gently shake bag to coat with cocoa. Keep refrigerated.


  1. mmmmmmmm, ganache. I could eat it straight. We may use this on the birthday cake tomorrow - thanks!

  2. let me know what kind of cake you make. i'm looking for a good classic vanilla or chocolate cake. one that's not too dense. enjoy the ganache!

  3. Dear Phyllis,

    (1) We liked the very dense white chocolate vanilla bean cake.

    (2) We don't have your blowtorch. You may borrow ours if you promise to return it.

    Love, Dad and Mom

  4. M & D: I liked the cake too but not with the ganache. i'm going to revisit that cake with more vanilla bean and just some chocolate shavings on top. and yes please, i would like to borrow your blow torch. cooking life can be tough without a blow torch. p

  5. I have been wanting to make truffles, and now thanks to your recipe, it looks really easy! Cannot wait.

  6. The kids and I finally made your truffles. Delish!
    As Otis confidently followed your recipe, Paul remarked..."I don't think I knew the word ganache when I was nine."
    A Berkeley kid for sure:)

  7. I once tried to whip the remaining ganache after I glazed my cake but it turned out grainy . What do you think went wrong. The glaze was okay though.