Tips, tricks, and a recipe for amazing Earl Grey ganache
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
Chocolate can be deceptively difficult to work with. Have you ever wondered why your chocolate-dipped strawberries never seem to set at room temperature, or why your ganache has a gritty texture?
The main thing to keep in mind when working with chocolate is temperature. Chocolate has a particular chemical reaction when it gets too hot. When chocolate heats above a certain temperature—31 to 32 C (88 to 90 F) for dark chocolate, 30 to 31 C (86 to 88 F) for milk, and 27 to 28 C (80 to 82 F) for white—the cocoa butter crystals inside the chocolate melt and change form. This means when the chocolate cools, the cocoa butter crystals do not set properly, resulting in chocolate that has lost its structural integrity. Chocolate that is “out of temper” is soft at room temperature, has a sort of dusty, matte look to it, tastes grainy, and tends to bloom (develop white cloudy patches) as it cools.
If you’re melting chocolate to make chocolate bark, dipped fruit, truffle shells, or a variety of other chocolate-based projects, you essentially have two options. First, you can opt to use compound chocolate instead of real chocolate. Compound chocolate contains vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter; it’s cheaper and easier to work with as it has a higher melting point. Compound chocolate is commonly sold in baking stores for this reason—if you’ve ever seen Wilton’s brightly coloured “Candy Melts,” that’s compound chocolate. It does have a different taste from real chocolate though, so if you’re determined to work with the real deal, you’ll have to learn how to “temper” your chocolate—that is, carefully heat your chocolate without overheating it.
There are several ways to do this involving candy thermometers, double boilers, marble slabs, or expensive tempering machines, but let’s be real—none of us have time for any of that. My favourite method of tempering chocolate is simple and requires nothing fancier than a microwave.
First, chop your chocolate very fine. Put your chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it carefully in 15-second increments, taking it out and stirring it between each burst. You’re going to feel kind of silly at first as it won’t look like it’s melting at all but be patient! You want it to get to a point where it’s all mostly melted, but there are still some solid bits mixed in. Once it’s at this stage, take it out and stir it until the heat of the melted chocolate melts those last few chunks. You’ll know it’s tempered properly if you spread a thin layer of chocolate on a board or a plate at room temperature and it sets within a minute or two. You’ll have to work quickly with it, but you’ll be amazed by how much better it tastes. There’s nothing like biting into a chocolate strawberry and getting a nice firm “snap” from the shell.
Ganache has a similar temperature problem. Ganache is a simple combination of heavy cream and chocolate used for fillings, dips, and toppings. However, if your cream is too hot when you whisk it with the chocolate, the ganache can “break,” resulting in a grainy mess instead of a smooth chocolate sauce. To avoid this, let your hot cream and finely-chopped chocolate sit for a while after combining them without whisking—about three to five minutes depending on quantities. That way when you whisk the two, the chocolate will already be mostly melted by the heat of the cream, and the cream will be cool enough that it won’t break the chocolate that hasn’t melted yet.
With all that in mind, here’s a quick recipe for an amazing Earl Grey white chocolate ganache that tastes exactly like a London Fog.
Finely-chopped white chocolate
Heavy cream (a.k.a. whipping cream)
Earl Grey teabags
You’ll notice I didn’t put any specific quantities in the ingredients list. With baking, ratios tend to work better than specific quantities, since it’s easier to adjust the recipe as needed. For a thick ganache with a dense finish (good for chocolate truffles), you’ll want a 2:1 chocolate to cream ratio. For a frosting-like, more spreadable texture, use a 1:1 ratio. For a thin glaze that’s good for dips, use a 1:1.5 chocolate to cream ratio.
To make the ganache, heat your cream until it’s nice and hot but not boiling over; I recommend doing this carefully in the microwave or with a double boiler. Pour the hot cream over your teabags—I use at least two tea bags per one cup of cream. Let that sit for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how strong you want the flavour to be, then squeeze the teabags out into the cream and dispose of them. Heat up the Earl Grey-infused cream again and pour it into your chopped chocolate, letting that sit for about three to five minutes. Once the cream has cooled so it’s warm rather than hot, whisk slowly to combine.