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SOCAL STYLE / Entertaining

Spreading the Chocolate Gospel

A Pastry Chef Wins a Convert With Homemade Ganache

October 11, 1998|MICHELLE HUNEVEN | Michelle Huneven last wrote about grilled lamb for the magazine

Earlier this year, when I interviewed Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard for this magazine, she said something I couldn't stop thinking about. "I'd love to teach or show people what pastry is all about--how it's art and it's food and it's not as difficult as it looks," she said. "For example, I want to teach people what ganache is--that it's just cream and chocolate. They'd never reach for packaged frosting again. I'd like to show them what they're missing."

I myself have always shied away from cooking with chocolate--it seemed intimidating and too much trouble, all that melting and double boiling and tempering and exactitude--too much heat causes chocolate to become grainy or to seize up or thicken, and one innocent stray drop of liquid can turn chocolate into a form of concrete. Why go to such bother for something that's so temperamental and risky--and fattening?

Yet I kept thinking, was I missing something? Could ganache really be that easy?

I scrambled through my cookbooks--including encyclopedic dessert cookbooks, restaurant cookbooks and a chocolate cookbook--with little luck. If ganache was so easy and so good (and I knew it was good, I'd eaten some of Yard's), why didn't everybody write about it?

Finally, I found a recipe in "Wolfgang Puck's Modern French Cooking." Indeed, it was just hot cream (or creme franche) and chocolate. No double boilers. No candy thermometers. No dire admonitions about stabilizers. Simply chop a bar of good, semisweet chocolate into small pieces, pour boiling cream over it, wait three minutes, whisk and WOW.

There, in the bowl, sits two cups of rich, creamy, silken, spreadable chocolate. I spread it on Lu biscuits. I spread it on graham crackers. I spread it on fresh peach slices. Few things in life, I've found, are better than chocolate ganache on good French bread. And ganache may be the one thing that rivals sweet butter on toast. I chopped up nuts--pecans one time, hazelnuts another--mixed them with the ganache and spread that on bread and toast. Homemade Nutella. Thrilling.

Stored in the refrigerator in small airtight containers, ganache allegedly keeps for weeks (I wouldn't know). Stored in the freezer, it keeps for a year or more.

The next time I saw Yard at Spago, we talked serious ganache theory. She uses an equal mix of chocolate and cream--eight ounces of cream to eight ounces of bittersweet chocolate--and prefers creme fra 5/8che for its texture and tangy flavor. (I later learned that butter is included in some classic French recipes.) She has only one word of caution: "Ganache is only as good as the chocolate you use," she insists.

Yard uses Valrhona's Caraque chocolate for its very high cacao content. She also loves Valrhona's more bitter dark Manjari chocolate, with its deep cherry tones. For portion control, Yard stores her ganache as small individual kisses--which she makes by using a pastry bag to pipe warm ganache into teaspoon-sized drops on waxed paper. When she needs the ganache, she microwaves them for a few seconds, and they're spreadable.

Yard suggests still more uses for chocolate ganache. Pipe it into thin, crisp rolled cookies and serve with ice cream or sorbet. Shape ganache into simple round truffles and roll them in powdered cocoa. (They're not the same as, say, a La Maison du Chocolat truffle, but pretty darned good for a nearly instant homemade confection, and great with coffee.)

Use ganache, with or without nuts, as a filling between cake layers. Warm it up and use as a syrup over ice cream. Dust off that fondue pot, melt the ganache and have a fruit fondue party with berries, peaches, apples, bananas and orange sections.

Create different ganache flavors by adding a teaspoon of liqueur: hazelnut, amaretto, triple sec, clear creme de menthe, etc.

If you feel the recipe below is not quite, well, rich enough, whip another cup of cream, stir it into a full recipe of ganache that's been chilled until thick, and you've got a chocolate mousse. Or beat four to six tablespoons of unsweetened butter with an electric mixer until fluffy (about three minutes), then beat in a recipe of ganache that's been chilled until thick. Pipe the buttery result into one-inch foil candy cups and/or chill and roll into truffles.

Warning: You may well find yourself standing before an open refrigerator, eating ganache by the spoonful from the container. Don't blame me. Blame Sherry Yard.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Chocolate Ganache

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From "Wolfgang Puck's Modern French Cooking" (Houghton Mifflin)

Makes 2 cups

Ganache will keep refrigerated for weeks. Because it hardens when chilled, bring to room temperature or melt over simmering water before using.

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3/4 pound semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces

1 cup heavy cream or creme fra 5/8che

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Place chocolate pieces in medium bowl. Boil cream and pour over chocolate. Let sit for 3 minutes. Blend mixture with wire whisk until smooth and shiny. Cool and use as needed.

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Food stylist: Christine Masterson

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