OK, so that's a really goofy title, but I couldn't get it out of my head once I thought of it. Forgive me.
It's that time of year, and with the holiday season comes potlucks, cookie swaps, and all kinds of bring-your-best-dish activities. Friends and neighbors stop by to visit, and if you're like me, you like having something festive on hand, even if it's just for munching while you're watching Rudolph on TV. I would like to propose to you the miracle of Chocolate Ganache.
Ganache is a super-simple thing to make, and it has oh-so-many uses. One batch can serve as a dish of luscious Amaretto Truffles, the frosting on a cake, the filling of a tart, or even a simmering pot of hot chocolate (not hot cocoa, hot chocolate). You could even stand in your kitchen and eat it from the bowl with a spoon (it's that wonderful), but I don't really recommend making a habit of that. Trust me.
This is the basic recipe and method. Take equal parts of chopped dark chocolate (chocolate chips are fine) and heavy whipping cream. Usually I use 2 cups of each so that I'm using the entire bag of chips without leftovers. Next, put the chocolate in a bowl by itself and heat the cream to boiling in a separate container. Once boiling (nearly boiling over, but not quite), pour the cream over the chocolate, tap the chocolate bowl to ensure that the cream has reached the bottom, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. After it sits, take a spoon or a whisk and stir until something magical happens. This somewhat-ugly chocolate-speckled cream mixture slowly transforms into this dreamy pool of silky, rich, but not-too-rich chocolate ganache. You'll know when it's ready because all you will be able to do is stare at the seductive mixture and restrain yourself from taking that spoon and going for it right then and there. Let it sit for about 15 minutes so that it can cool. Store the finished ganache covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
(Allow me to interject here that if you use larger chocolate chips such as the Ghirardelli baking chips, they do not always completely melt thus resulting in a less than perfect texture. Option 1: (Fun, but not recommended) Eat the whole bowl for yourself and start over. Chop the chips into smaller pieces next time. Option 2: Declare it a new recipe for "Chocolate Chunk Ganache" and use it anyway. If you sound like you did it on purpose, most people won't question it.)
Ganache on its own is lovely and can stand by itself, so don't feel compelled to flavor it too quickly, but if you would like there are two ways to do so. You can flavor the cream before adding it to the chocolate by infusing flavors like black tea, espresso, lavender flowers, and orange zest into the cream during the boiling process. You can also add ingredients to the finished ganache after it has cooled. Liqueurs like Amaretto and Grand Marnier can be stirred in as well as strained fruit purées or Nutella :).
Once you've mastered the basic recipe you can play with the cream-to-chocolate ratio to create a full spectrum of delicacies. Add less cream and whip the ganache to make a delectable frosting, and add more cream and some milk to create the richest hot chocolate you've ever tasted. If you need a firmer texture without sacrificing the cream (as for truffles), put the basic ganache into the refrigerator for a few hours. If you need a more pourable consistency (as for glazing cakes) heat it up a little. Do you get the idea?
So, go forth and experiment with this amazingly simple yet wonderfully elegant concoction called ganache, and tell me all about it! What's the worst that could happen? You'll have bowl full of molten chocolate to deal with? Grab a spoon!
(Note: I learned much of what I know about this technique from the book, The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard.)