I get many a question about frosting. I thought I would compile my thoughts on the subject in two part series of posts – a sort of one stop shop for all things frosting… from my perspective, of course! First up… the recipes.
Chocolate ganache frosting is one of my favorite frostings to use. Why? Let me count the ways. One, because I love chocolate. Two, because the taste is very “adult” and not too sweet. Three, because it’s practically no fail and adaptable to what I have on hand.
Reviewing my posts, I apparently have as many ganache recipes as I do posts with ganache recipes – a testament to its versatility. If I get one point across about ganache it is that ganache is indeed adaptable to your personal taste and preference.
Ganache is typically made by bringing heavy cream to a simmer then pouring over chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, stirring to combine, and then adding remaining ingredients – pretty straightforward.
The typical ganache recipe I use contains the following ingredients:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
I have used as little as 6 ounces of chocolate with 1 cup of cream, as that is all I had on hand, and it worked out fine. I have also interchanged various types of chocolate, bittersweet, semi-sweet, different brands, etc. It changes the flavor of the ganache but not the outcome. The exception is with milk and white chocolate which don’t come up to spreadable consistency using this basic ingredient list.
I like to use Valrhona, 61% cocoa or higher, for its intense, full-bodied, earthy chocolate flavor. I have tried to stay local and use Scharffenberger, which I like to eat on its own, but I find it too bright and tangy to bake with. I have used Ghirardelli in a pinch. While I don’t like the flavor as much as Valrhona it’s an acceptable alternative and readily available in most grocery stores. The brand is really up to you, but the quality of the chocolate makes a big difference in flavor so spring for the good stuff if you can.
How I treat the ganache depends on the cupcake I am making. If I want a very adult flavor I will stick to the basic recipe (see above) and either pour it on, spread it on, or beat it then spread it on.
Poured Chocolate Ganache
Poured chocolate ganache results in a gorgeous, shiny layer of frosting that is very dramatic and very grown up. I used the method for my version of an “Opera” cupcake. Just let the mixture cool slightly and pour it onto the cupcake (or cake) before it starts to thicken. It will thicken in place and stay very shiny if you don’t touch it. Top it with something special – white chocolate dipped candied ginger, an edible flower pedal, or a smuggled dragée. Very classy…
Spread Chocolate Ganache
Cupcakes often form an attractive dome rising over top the cupcake paper. I like this look (more cupcake!) but it doesn’t support the poured ganache method. When spreading ganache, let the mixture come to room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it’s spreadable. Then spread a relatively thin layer on to the cooled cupcake with a small palette knife. To get a smooth finish, dip the palette knife in hot water, wipe dry, and then smooth the frosting.
I use this method when I want a small, but intense quantity of frosting… when I want to have the flavor of chocolate without overwhelming whatever else is going on. See examples of this method here, here, and here.
Beaten Chocolate Ganache
If you want the intense flavor of a straight up ganache, but still want to pipe it on because, well, it looks so nice piped on, then beat the cooled ganache with an electric mixer fixed with the paddle attachment for a few minutes. This will incorporate air and increase the volume of the frosting without diluting the flavor. The ganache will lighten in color compared to the unbeaten version. See an example here.
Whipped Chocolate Ganache
I have been exploring a variation on ganache that is sweeter than the simple version just discussed. I use this when I want the cupcake to appeal to child and adult alike. It’s more akin to a chocolate buttercream, but with a more intense chocolate flavor. I have experimenting with various versions of this approach.
Version 1 – Basic Ganache but with Butter and Powdered Sugar
This is basically a mixture of ganache and buttercream. Most chocolate buttercream recipes use cocoa or just a small amount of melted chocolate beat into the butter and sugar. This method of making the ganache first then beating in butter and sugar makes for a more chocolate tasting frosting.
See examples here and here
Version 2 – A Totally Different Take
I first saw this method in a book by pastry chef Emily Luchetti. I have definitely tweaked it significantly since I first tried it many years ago. The recipe includes bittersweet, semi-sweet, and unsweetened chocolate and can be tailored to your personal taste by simply adjusting the quantities of the various chocolates while keeping the overall quantity the same. For example, to make it sweeter, increase the semisweet by a couple of ounces and decrease the bittersweet or unsweetened. The unsweetened chocolate imparts a rich cocoa flavor, the bittersweet gives the frosting bite, and the semi-sweet sweetens the whole thing up.
See examples here, here, and here
There are other recipes and methods out there, of course. I plan to try recipe on David Llebovitz’ site which uses water instead of cream. I know that dairy products mellow the flavor of the chocolate, but I have also been hesitant to combine chocolate and water for fear the chocolate will seize. I hope to post about my attempt soon.
There is nothing more frustrating to many readers than buttercream frosting. A classic and main stay, buttercream is also one of the sweetest frostings of the bunch often too sweet for the average adult. I however love American-style buttercream especially paired with a simple cake and in moderation. This post has a pretty typical recipe for American-style buttercream. I understand though that not everyone is a fan. So if I am serving cupcakes to adults I typically do not use buttercream! The only exception I have found is with this recipe, somehow the mint makes the frosting more palatable.
American Style Buttercream
American-style buttercream is simply butter beat with confectioners’ sugar and a little vanilla and a little milk. In order to get to a piping consistency a lot of sugar is required. This results in a very sweet frosting. Like I said I actually like this. I have a sweet tooth though and not everyone does. There is no way I know of to decrease the sweetness of this frosting.
Swiss and Italian Style Buttercream
There are less-sweet alternatives to American style buttercream, Swiss and Italian style buttercreams for example, but these frostings have a different quality that I simply don’t like. They leave a film in my mouth and taste as though they are made with vegetable shortening even if they weren’t. I can’t stand them! Just like I can’t stand Génoise cake, but that is for a different post. But you might like them. Its worth trying for yourself before ruling these styles of buttercream frostings out of your repertoire.
The bad news is that I don’t have any recipes for Swiss or Italian style buttercream frostings. In this case, google is your friend.
Cream cheese frosting is my friend. It is my very favorite frosting to use. It’s always a crowd pleaser and balances out the sweetness of any cake well. I work with two versions. One has a higher proportion of cream cheese. It is tangy, on the soft side, and my preference for recipes where I want to really taste the cream cheese (carrot cake, hummingbird cake, red velvet, etc). The second version has less cream cheese. The cream cheese tang is more subtle and its really just there to balance the sweetness of the sugar. I use that recipe as an alternative to buttercream for just about any cake.
Cream cheese frosting takes on flavor very well. Just to give you an idea, this recipe uses Thai Ice Tea as a flavor, this recipe uses citrus, this uses ginger and this uses tarragon. But there are more, just peruse the table of contents to find other flavor suggestions.
I have jut started using the “buttercream alternative” method. Here are some examples, one with matcha and one with salted caramel. But any of the above cream cheese recipes can be adjusted to this method by simply decreasing the amount of cream cheese and increasing the amount of butter.
The thing I love about meringue frosting is how easy it is to have a dramatic presentation. It’s sweet, but not sweet as butter cream. It takes flavor well, but don’t try to add a substantial amount of liquid. It will collapse. Small amounts of extracts (vanilla, mint, lemon), spices, very thick flavored simple syrup, or crushed things (like red hots). And the best thing about meringue is that you can take your culinary torch to it.
I don’t use whipped cream very often. It’s just not terribly exciting. I pair it with a cupcake that is plenty exciting on its own like this one. It is very easy to adjust the sweetness though. So, if you have a very sweet cake, whipped cream is a good option. Beware, it doesn’t hold well. So if you use it, keep the whipped cream refrigerated until you are ready to use it and frost the cupcakes just before serving.
There are of course other frosting options, but this is all I have for now. Part 2 of the series will cover frosting technique, frequently asked questions, and more on flavoring frostings.