What Really Sets Fudge Apart From Ganache

Imagine a thick, rich, chocolatey dessert — are you thinking of fudge or ganache? It's easy to mistake one for the other considering they are both luscious treats, they're both made by melting chocolate, and they feature plenty of the same ingredients. Plus, you often hear about both of them when baking brownies. But at their core, these are two distinct delicacies, and to figure out what makes each one unique, we'll need to take a look at how we typically enjoy them.

Fudge is a dessert in its own right, typically cut into squares and enjoyed as finger food. Ganache, on the other hand, is a liquid garnish that is typically drizzled over brownies, cakes, and other treats as a finishing touch. While it may harden into a rich solid as it cools, you wouldn't usually eat it by itself (although if you do enjoy ganache by the spoonful, no judgment there). While both of these chocolatey delights have a simple ingredient list, they achieve their tastes and textures in different ways.

What is fudge?

While we've only talked about chocolate fudge thus far, it doesn't have to stick to this flavor. The treat can come in a multitude of varieties — some of our favorites include dark chocolate raspberry and salted caramel. Technically speaking, it only needs butter, sugar, a dairy ingredient, and flavorings to be considered fudge. You'll typically see it cut into squares and eaten on its own like candy. Hot fudge, on the other hand, is named for the rich, fudgey texture and chocolatey flavor but typically includes corn syrup instead of a dairy ingredient to create a drippy consistency.

The true origins of fudge may remain a mystery, but stories from American and Scottish folklore can give us a few ideas. In 1888, a student at Vassar College in New York wrote that she made her friend's cousin's recipe for the dessert and sold it at a fundraiser. As her peers tasted and loved it, it became popular amongst women's colleges in the area. Another tale discusses how fudge may have been adapted from tablet, a Scottish candy that contains essentially the same ingredients. We may never know the truth, but today, Mackinac Island in Michigan proclaims itself the "Fudge Capital of America."

What is ganache?

If you're not sure how to categorize ganache, it may be easier to think of it as a glaze because it has a drippy consistency and is often drizzled on top of brownies or cakes. But, the uses for ganache don't stop there — it can also be deployed as a filling, frosting, or even a base layer for cupcakes, cakes, and pastries. It's typically easier to track down the ingredients for ganache than for fudge because all you really need are chocolate and cream. Unlike fudge, ganache is almost always chocolate-flavored.

The origins of ganache can be more easily narrowed down to one tale, which sprouted up from a 1920 pastry chef named Georges Auguste Escoffier. If you know that the meaning of the French word "ganache" is "clumsy," then you can already guess how Escoffier's story goes. Allegedly, his assistant received instructions to heat chocolate and cream separately, but he mixed the two. Escoffier called his assistant "ganache" at first, but the two soon realized what a delicious glaze he had made.

Making fudge is an art and a science

Fudge only has a slightly longer ingredient list than ganache, but it can be a lot more complicated to whip up. There are different methods for making it, however, with varying levels of difficulty. The easiest version, which is a twist on original recipes and a favorite of home cooks in today's world, uses chocolate chips (if you're making chocolate fudge), sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk, which isn't sweet), butter, and sugar. The three ingredients can be melted together over the stove while stirring often, then spread in a pan and refrigerated until the mixture hardens. To cut corners even more (but still make a tasty dessert), you can also microwave the chips, butter, and any meltable flavoring ingredients, like peanut butter. In some cases, you can even omit the sugar, since condensed milk is so sweet on its own.

More complicated versions require breaking out the candy thermometer, and some argue that these recipes produce a more delicious texture. In these versions, you'll need to heat sugar higher than a boil, then simmer it at an exact temperature (typically 238 degrees Fahrenheit) — and a candy thermometer helps you measure the specifics. When your mixture is in this stage, you'll also want to avoid stirring it to keep it from becoming grainy. It takes a little more effort, but purists say that you'll be rewarded with a silky smooth dessert.

You're only a few steps away from homemade ganache

On the flip side, ganache is much easier to make — as it should be, since it's typically just an accent on a dessert, not the star of the show. Generally, you'll want to use dark chocolate here. It's possible to make milk or white chocolate ganache, but you may have to adjust the cream ratios according to the chocolate type. The cream involved is usually heavy cream, although you can substitute it with a milk and butter combination. The ratio of the two matters — typically, you'll want equal parts chocolate and cream, although you can also use twice as much chocolate as cream if you want a thicker, paste-like consistency.

In short, you can make ganache by heating up cream on the stove, then pouring it over your finely chopped chocolate until it melts. As the chocolate softens, you'll stir the two ingredients together until they form a thick, smooth glaze. You only want to heat the cream up to a simmer, but if this isn't enough to melt the chocolate, you can also cover the bowl once the ingredients have been combined to trap in the warmth.

Have more fun with the flavor of your fudge

Technically, you can use a few mix-ins in your ganache, but your options here are fairly limited. You'll want to stick to liquids for the most part, which can include extracts like vanilla and peppermint, liqueurs like rum or Bailey's, or syrups like raspberry or pistachio. You can also sprinkle in spices and herbs, which can lend delicious flavor to the dessert you're drizzling your ganache on. For example, how tasty does a lavender white chocolate ganache sound on a lemon cake, or a dark chocolate cardamom version on vanilla cupcakes?

While there is a little room to experiment with ganache, that door is blown wide open when it comes to fudge. Because you're making cubed desserts, you can incorporate chunkier mix-ins to create just about any flavor you can think of. Feel free to test out nut butters like peanut or cashew, chopped nuts, peppermint candy, toffee, dried fruit bits, cookie crumbles, or crushed cereal. While ganache typically only acts as a dessert sidekick, fudge can be tailored to a specific occasion or holiday. Whip up pumpkin pie fudge during the fall, for instance, or a cake batter version for a birthday.

Ganache can be drizzled, hardened, or whipped

Once your ganache is ready to go, you can either deploy it as is or let it chill in the fridge to solidify its texture. If you use a 1:1 ratio for the chocolate and cream, you'll be left with a drippy consistency that makes the perfect glaze for cupcakes, brownies, cakes, cheesecakes, crepes, pancakes, and cookies. You'll want to drizzle it on your desserts as soon as everything has melted and been mixed together so that it doesn't harden too soon. If you refrigerate any leftovers, you can simply let your cold ganache come to room temperature on the counter first.

Another option is to use a 2:1 chocolate-to-cream ratio and chill your final product. Or, you can even refrigerate your 1:1 ratio mixture to create a stiffer consistency. These types of ganache work perfectly if you're filling pastries, cookies, cupcakes, or cakes, or making truffles. If you don't mind an extra step, it's also possible to make whipped ganache, which serves as a tasty frosting alternative. Once you have a room-temperature mixture, stick electric beaters in the bowl and whip your glaze until it becomes light and fluffy.