With the recipes I post, I anchor them in history. I like to use them to tell the stories of overlooked heroes – the ones who did right when it was neither easy nor convenient, the brave, the gentle, the resilient. This recipe for dark chocolate ganache is no different except the history is partly my own.
Happy Birthday, Dad
When I make a birthday cake, I want it to reflect something of the person I’m making it for. This one called for a gamble. Maybe because it’s for the man who taught me how to play poker when I was five.
Born in 1939 to Irish immigrants and raised in Philadelphia, my dad has told me enough of his childhood for me to know it was hard. Not that he ever characterized that way. The pain is always lovingly wrapped in humor. I don’t see this as merely a coping mechanism. Rather, it’s an extension of his thoughtfulness; his gift for putting others at ease.
It’s a gift I witness again and again. Such as when I was eleven and my school dedicated a day to visiting with residents of a nearby nursing home. Dad volunteered to chauffeur and chaperone a large group of us. The chauffeuring part was a given due to the man’s preference for yacht-length station wagons that could easily transport a baker’s dozen or more sixth graders.
Once there, I remember watching my classmates and their parents have an uneasy time connecting with the elderly strangers. This was not so for Dad.One by one, he walked up to each, smiled and said in his warm, never-too-loud voice “How ya doin’, kid?” as though they had been friends for years. And one by one, laughing with him and reaching for his hands, they responded to him as though it were so. Whenever I see him break through another person’s walls like some kind of emotionally-intelligent Kool-Aid Man, I tell him he missed his calling as a therapist.He, of course, disagrees with me. For him, he found his calling in the Philadelphia Fire Department. He wasn’t a kid who dreamed of being a firefighter nor was he a romantic young man who longed to be a hero. He’ll straight up tell you he joined the Fire Department because it was a stable job otherwise hard to find as mid-1960s Philadelphia joined the Rust Belt.
Somewhere between the firehouse shenanigans, the lives saved, the brothers lost and his own close calls, 25 years at Engine 55 Ladder 22 went from being a pragmatic choice to a vocation and a second family.He would leave the job he loved for one he hated. All he wanted was to better provide, but it took its toll. Though he never complained, the stress was evident as he worked every scrap of overtime he could get. He did it to afford my sisters and me opportunities he never had. Opportunities I was ungrateful for and often wasted.
Just as I am a flawed person, my dad is too and we have had our arguments and a period of disconnect. Even then, however, I never doubted his love and he was sure of the same from me.
Which brings back to this cake and the gamble I made. I’ve never ganached or decorated a cake like this before and…that is evident in the final result. It’s not quite as smooth as it should be and it’s more than just a little bit wonky. The inside, on the other hand, is awfully good. Layers of devil’s food, vanilla buttercream and caramel sauce that balance just so the bitter and the sweet.
So why I did I gamble with the ganache and the etching and the painting? Any experienced cook will tell you experimenting with a recipe for a special occasion is courting disaster.
I did it because chocolate-covered caramels are my Dad’s favorite thing in the world. Because I wanted to evoke the natural beauty of the month he was born. Because I wanted to capture something the warmth he radiates.
I have never been good at telling people what they mean to me. And when I do, it sometimes comes across just as unslick and wonky as that ganache. This is yet another thing I am trying to get better at. Until then, my preference is to show rather than tell.
The cake I made isn’t perfect, but I hope it nevertheless shows what I feel for my overlooked hero. The one who did right when it was neither easy nor convenient, the brave, the gentle, the resilient. Happy Birthday, Dad.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
This ratio of chocolate to cream will make a ganache thick enough to use as a filling or an icing. Or, if left to chill, it will make approximately a bajillion truffles.
- 500 grams dark chocolate, about 70% cacao finely chopped
- 250 grams heavy cream
Place finely chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Next, bring cream just to a boil over medium high heat.
When cream has reached a boil, pour over the finely chopped chocolate. Cover the bowl with a plate or a piece of plastic wrap to to keep warm. Let stand for 5 minutes.
When five minutes are up, using a silicone spatula or a whisk, gently stir the chocolate and cream. Continue stirring until the mixture becomes fully combined, smooth and beautifully glossy.
If some chocolate remains unmelted, pop the bowl into the microwave and heat using 10 second intervals. After each interval, stir gently and repeat until all of the chocolate is melted.
This ganache can be used immediately as a glaze. After cooling at room temperature for about an hour, it will take on a spreadable consistency suitable for filling or covering a cake. Left to cool longer than that will yield the perfect consistency for truffles.