Smells Like Burnt Nirvana

There’s this moment when chocolate mousse actually becomes chocolate mousse in baking process that I relish. I’ll call people in from other rooms so they can stand over my shoulder and witness the exact moment when the foamy, crinkling egg whites completely dissipate into the chocolaty, yolky, thinkness of the mixture, all by my simple, patient folding. I consider it, in all honesty, to be a magical baking moment.

Ganache carries with it a similar thrill. The general ratio for a standard chocolate ganache is 1:1 heavy cream and chocolate. The process is simple:

  • Finely chop the chocolate and place in a bowl
  • Heat the cream to just before a simmer
  • Pout hot cream over chocolate
  • Stir gently ’til fully mixed

Just as with mousse, this is where the magic happens with ganache as well. For the first minute, the whole mess looks like just that — a mess. Half-melted lines of chocolate swimming in tan-toned cream; a bowl of sweet-smelling dreck. Then you blink, or turn away to watch the cat do something cute, or answer the phone and SWOOSH! One last stir around the bowl and the mixture knits itself together in a sea of ganachey goodness. Oh sigh…

Of course, it’s not always nirvana. I made a chocolate hazelnut torte on Tuesday wherein the primary ingredient is Nutella. And for the top, a Frangelico-tinged chocolate ganache poured over to set up into a thick layer of loveliness. But I was in a rush; wanted to get to bed; had dreams to dream and snores to snore. So I committed what I would dub a Kitchen Crime: I hurried my ganache. I nagged nirvana.

I tossed the half-heartedly chopped chocolate into a little pot, poured in the cream, measured out a bit of liquor and flipped on the gas flame. And promptly burnt the ever-lovin’ cocoa nibs out of my chocolate.

A few things to remember, folks: Chocolate starts to melt at 80-degrees F, which, if you touched it to your lip, would feel as cold as an ice cube. If chocolate is hot to the touch, you’re in trouble. Chocolate burns at 123-degrees F. And just like when chocolate gets cold, chocolate that gets burned also thickens and hardens as the milk solids change formation. All this is to say… well… I wish I could say I committed this Kitchen Crime in the name of blog-education, but I won’t lie. The pictures tell the story best, anyway:

Bad Ganache
Bad Ganache

Good Ganache made in repentance and poured over torte, side-by-side with bad ganache as a little reminder of my failure:

Good Ganache

The pictures aren’t amazing because they’re taken with the most fickle camera in the world that either takes amazing shots or ruins everything. But I think you get the idea.


  • Add liquor when cream is heated (Frangelico, Chamboard, spiced rum all work well)
  • Though when originally combining the cream and chocolate you want to stir gently, after the ganache forms you can vary the consistency from fudgey and pourable (like above) or whipped and spreadable. The more your stir, the more air you work into the ganache and the more whipped and spreadable (like icing) it becomes.
  • Get the best of both worlds: set half of it aside, stir the other half until it’s nice and airy, fill the cake layers with the whipped version and then pour the more fudgy version over top to ice the whole thing.