If you’re making a chocolate ganache, you probably imagine a sleek, elegant topping for a torte or a luscious, thick filling for truffles. So, it’s disappointing when you’re faced with a bowl of lumpy, grainy chocolate swimming in fatty liquid.
Why does chocolate ganache sometimes turn out chunky?
Chocolate ganache turns chunky or grainy because the chocolate seizes or overheats, poor quality chocolate or chocolate chips are used, the cream and chocolate are combined in the wrong order, and the ganache is beaten too hard. There are simple ways to rescue a chunky ganache.
Ganache seems like a simple combination of cream and chocolate. Still, there are many reasons why your ganache may turn out with a grainy, clumpy texture rather than the silky, smooth creation you’re imagining.
Why Is My Ganache Chunky? The Science
To understand why ganache turns out chunky, grainy, or lumpy rather than satiny and smooth, it’s helpful to know the science behind the recipe.
Ganache is a straightforward recipe where you combine hot cream and chocolate and mix until the chocolate has melted. How much chocolate and cream you use will determine how thick or thin the ganache is, and will depend on whether you want to use it for a glaze, a filling, or a mousse. Sounds simple?
What makes ganache tricky is that chocolate and cream combine to form an emulsion. It consists of tiny droplets of cocoa butter (from the chocolate) and butterfat (from the cream) that break up and become suspended in a water and sugar syrup. The droplets don’t dissolve like sugar in water but blend in a smooth, creamy, delicious combination.
If the chocolate, the cream, or the final emulsion is overheated or overbeaten, the fat droplets from the chocolate and cream separate or split off from the water, making lumps or grains – and you are left with chunky ganache.
Depending on the reason for the split chocolate or broken ganache, there are ways to rescue your delicious topping.
1 – The Chocolate Seized
Many recipes for ganache begin with you chopping or breaking up your chocolate and heating it so that it begins to melt.
However, if your heated chocolate comes into contact with water, it will seize. You will know your chocolate has seized when it suddenly transforms from beautiful melted brown gorgeousness to a stiff, sticky, grainy mess – before you’ve even added the cream.
Chocolate seizes when the melted cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter don’t disperse. Instead, the water and sugar combine to form a sticky syrup that catches the cocoa and makes it lumpy.
The water can come from the steam in the microwave or double boiler or condensation if you have covered the chocolate with a lid while heating it.
What to Do
You can rescue seized chocolate – it seems illogical to add more liquid if that’s what’s caused the problem. However, adding a couple of teaspoons of boiling water or some warm milk to the chocolate and continuously stirring melts the sugar and cocoa and smooths out the chocolate again.
You can use this chocolate for a glaze or sauce, but not for a dessert or truffles as the chocolate is diluted.
2 – The Chocolate Overheated
Chocolate is so sensitive to temperature that even overheating it for a few seconds can change its texture from silky to muddy. This texture means your chocolate is splitting. If you combine this chocolate with cream to make the ganache, it will turn out chunky.
Ideally, you shouldn’t heat chocolate over 110⁰F. For this reason, avoid heating chocolate in the microwave and instead use a double boiler to give you more control over the temperature. Use warm, not boiling water in the lower pot and take care that the pot with the water does not touch the chocolate. It’s also handy to use a candy thermometer to check the chocolate’s temperature.
What to Do
If you have overheated your chocolate, you need to cool it down as quickly as possible – without introducing cold water or ice, which will seize it. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat, transfer to a clean, dry bowl and add some chopped chocolate. Stir constantly to melt the new chocolate.
You can try to remove any remaining lumps by straining the chocolate through a sieve. If it remains thick and lumpy, use it for a baking project, not ganache.
3 – Poor Quality Chocolate
One of the main reasons ganache doesn’t turn out smooth and sleek is that the chocolate used is of poor quality.
Good quality chocolate is fine and dark, with a high percentage of cocoa butter fat – around 60 to 70 % is perfect, a good balance between chocolatey flavor and sweetness. Good brands to look out for are Callebaut, Guittard, Ghirardelli, and Lindt. You can also use baking chocolate, which melts quickly, but you will not have a rich-tasting ganache.
Poorer quality chocolate contains more sugar and water, making it easy to burn, seize, or split during heating.
What to Do
If your chocolate has seized or overheated, you’ll need to add some warm milk or water to loosen the seized chocolate or add some chocolate to cool it down.
4 – Used Chocolate Chips
If you use chocolate chips to make the ganache, your ganache will turn out chunky. Chocolate chips are intended to retain their shape during baking rather than melting so that you have little chunks of chocolate in your cookie or brownie.
If you use chocolate chips, which have less cocoa butter, they will resist melting completely in the ganache, leaving a clumpy, thick, dull concoction.
Most commercially made chocolate chips contain poorer quality chocolate, so you run into sugar, burning, and seizing challenges.
What to Do
The biggest problem with using chocolate chips is that they may not melt completely, which you can remedy by adding some more warm cream and mixing it in gently.
5 – Chocolate Not Finely Chopped
Because of the challenges of chocolate seizing and overheating, many ganache recipes suggest not heating the chocolate beforehand and relying on the warm cream to melt the chocolate. This method works for many cooks and chefs.
However, your ganache may turn out lumpy if you do not chop or grate your chocolate finely enough for the cream to melt it quickly. The finer the chocolate, the quicker it will melt, so grating the chocolate is ideal.
What to Do
If you find that the chocolate pieces are too big to melt in the cream (thus making another kind of chunky ganache), do not be tempted to put the dish in the microwave – this method will overheat the mixture and cause it to split.
Place the bowl over a dish of hot water (or a double boiler with warm water) and stir very gently until the chocolate melts.
If you’re still struggling with lumps of chocolate, add some more warm cream. This process will create a thinner textured ganache, suitable for dipping or drizzling.
6 – The Cream Is Too Hot
Once you have melted or grated your chocolate, the next step is to combine the cream and chocolate.
However, your ganache will lose its soft and smooth texture if your cream is too hot. Combing boiling cream with chocolate will cause the fat in the chocolate to overheat and the chocolate to split or separate, leaving you with a lumpy mess.
Heating the cream in the microwave can quickly cause it to overheat and boil. Instead, heat the cream gently on the stove until you see tiny bubbles appearing around the edges. The cream should come to a simmer rather than a boil. Then take the cream off the heat and combine it with the chocolate.
What to Do
If your ganache separates because your cream is too hot, there are a couple of ways to save it:
- Slowly dribble in a couple of tablespoons of warm (not hot) milk, stirring continuously until the ganache becomes smooth again. This rescue process will make a thinner ganache suitable for dipping or pouring.
- If the ganache is still warm, add some more chocolate and stir until it melts in and integrates the ganache. Adding more chocolate will thicken the ganache.
7 – Added Cream to Chocolate
Many recipes instruct you to add the hot cream to the melted or chopped chocolate and stir until smooth. However, this method often causes the ganache to separate as the chocolate doesn’t combine as effectively. If you do decide to add cream first, don’t mix the cream and chocolate immediately – allow the chocolate a chance to melt for a minute or two before stirring. Patience at this stage will avoid over stirring, which is another cause of poorly textured ganache.
To make a smooth and creamy ganache, add the melted or chopped chocolate to the warm cream. Stir gently with a spatula until combined.
What to Do
If you have added your cream to the chocolate and it has separated, you will need to add some warm milk and stir gently to loosen the ganache. Do not add more cream as the fats in the emulsion are already separating – you do not need to add more fat.
8 – Over-Stirred Ganache
Once you have combined the cream and chocolate, stir gently, only until the chocolate has melted and the ganache is smooth. It is ideal to use a metal spoon or spatula to avoid over-stirring or creating too much agitation, which can cause the ganache to become grainy.
To create the emulsion you need from cream and chocolate, keep your spoon or spatula against the bottom of the bowl and stir in a circular motion.
Over-stirring also incorporates too much air into the ganache, which can also cause splitting or breaking. Avoid using a whisk or beater unless you are aiming for a whipped ganache or mousse. Only use the beater once the chocolate has melted.
What to Do
If your ganache is still warm, you can add some warm cream or milk and stir gently to combine.
9 – Covered While Hot
Just as chocolate will seize if you allow water in it while melting, the same will happen if you allow water to drip into your ganache. Once you have mixed the ganache to thick glossiness, leave it to cool at room temperature uncovered.
If you put a lid or plastic wrap over the warm ganache, water may condense, drip into the ganache, and cause it to split.
What to Do
Place your ganache back into a double boiler and stir until it has melted again.
10 – Frozen and Thawed
Froze your leftover chocolate ganache? You’ll usually find that once the ganache has thawed, the once smooth chocolate has become grainy and chunky.
Chocolate ganache will always split after freezing and thawing, as the water and fats separate.
What to Do
Place your ganache in a saucepan or double boiler on the stove and heat gently, stirring all the time. The ganache should start melting and recombining.
However, take care not to overheat the ganache and cause it to split again. Instead, put the ganache on the heat for 10-second intervals between stirring.
If there are air bubbles in your ganache from overbeating, strain the ganache through a fine sieve or tea strainer. Restrain until the bubbles have disappeared.
Chocolate ganache will turn grainy, lumpy, and chunky if the combination of chocolate and cream splits, breaks, or curdles.
Causes of a chunky ganache are overheating the chocolate or cream, allowing water into the mixture, using poor quality chocolate, mixing too vigorously, or freezing and thawing the ganache. Fortunately, there are easy ways to rescue a chunky ganache.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.