Saturday, December 22, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge: Yule Log or Buche de Noel

Ahhh, la buche de noel. I've been teaching French since the early 90's, talking to my classes about the lovely buche, eating buche from patisseries in France and some places in the U.S., but never daring to make my own buche. Enter the Daring Bakers and their challenge for December: make yourself one yule log with genoise, coffee buttercream and meringue mushrooms.

I had the the desire, I had the recipe, I had the occasion: one of my best girlfriends, who is French, was moving away (sniff) so for her party I would present my very first buche ever. Problem was, she is no fan of the coffee buttercream. No worries, I made a few changes. I made the buttercream chocolate and I covered the buche with chocolate ganache.

The recipe was super easy to follow. The day before I made the cake, I tackled the mushrooms. I had never done this before, and it was amazingly easy. As long as you have a pastry bag and large round tip, you're good to go. My husband even thought they were real mushrooms, so that was a bonus!

The genoise baked up with no problem. After baking it, I flipped it onto a moist dishtowel covered by a piece of parchment paper and let it sit in the fridge till I was ready to fill it.

My buttercream was a breeze to make, I just make sure that I add the butter piece by piece and not get too antsy if it looks curdeled. It all comes back! It was light and fluffy and delicious.

I thought "this is a breeeeeeze!"

Until I filled and rolled my genoise.

Filling the cake was easy, no problem. Although I probably over-filled it. When I went to roll it up, it did not really form a formed a sandwich, folding over onto itself. Buttercream went ooooozing everywhere. I had an oozing yule sandwich. But from the outside, it looked log-esque, so I continued.

My ganache idea backfired at first. I cut stumps off the ends of my cake and attached them to the side and top of the log (next time I will forgo this step, it just made it more cumbersome to deal with). Then I tried to frost the entire thing. Perhaps my ganache was just too stiff, but it would NOT stick to this cake to save my life. I had a yule mess on my hands. It was ugly, too. I was cursing the buche and that has to be blasphemous in the yule log world.

So I made ANOTHER recipe of ganache (this thing was chocolatey!) and simply poured it over the cake while it was still liquidy. That worked!!

I added some "fir branches" by crystalizing rosemary branches, put on a candy star and some candy canes, and adding my mushrooms (WARNING, don't store your mushrooms in the refrigerator or freezer, and DON'T add them until you are about to serve your cake. They mush up fast).

So, here's the recipe according to the Daring Bakers! Go check out their results as well!!

Yule Log

(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)Daring Bakers Challenge #14: December 2007Hosts: Daring Baker Founders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lisa (La Mia Cucina)

Recipe Quantity: Serves 12
Cake should be stored in a cool, dry place. Leftovers should be refrigerated
Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue Mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fresh Ginger Cake

My little girl's preschool was having an "International Dinner" where we were each supposed to bring in something from our heritage. Her school is riddled with people from every continent, so I knew it was going to be an interesting dinner and I didn't want to fail my heritage. But what should I make, I wondered. My heritage is basically Irish and French. Irish soda bread? No, it can be too hard. Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage? No, to cabbage-y, too hard to transport. French Crepes Suzettes? Too many flames. Chocolate mousse? Too typical French, I'd have to wear a beret and a striped tee-shirt while serving it. I had nowhere to go, pouring through magazines and cookbooks, everything was either too blah or too difficult.

So I relied on my American heritage...figured my clan has been here for just over 100 years, that has to count for something. By kizmet, I received my monthly email from David Lebovitz with a surprise addition: his most asked for recipe, the Fresh Ginger Cake. I had never made it before, and was weary that it called for oil instead of butter (I'm a firm believer that cake should be made with butter and butter alone). But I put away my petty butter prejudices and made the cake. It was easy as can be, and when I presented it on the table it was not only the prettiest dessert there, but it was gobbled up by the masses.

ONE WARNING: it is VERY gingery, this cake. Not for the weak of palate. At first I wasn't sure how much I liked it, but smothering it with fresh, homemade whipped cream did take a little of the ginger bite away. I had one piece left over and ate it for breakfast the next day (breakfast of Champions). By then, the ginger seemed to have mellowed a bit. So I recommend making this the day before you need it.

Some people serve it with whipped cream, like I did. Others use a caramel sauce or lemon curd. All in all, I do think it does need something "on the side", as only Sally Albright could order it....

Fresh Ginger Cake from David Lebovitz's Room For Dessert
One 9-inch cake; 10 to 12 servings

4 ounce (120 g) knob fresh ginger
1 cup (250 ml) mild molasses (sometimes called 'light' molasses)
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil, preferably peanut or colza (I used canola)
2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a 9 by 3-inch (23 by 6-cm) round cake pan or a 9 1/2-inch (23 cm) springform pan with a circle of parchment paper.
2. Peel, slice, and chop the ginger very fine with a knife or food processor.
3. Mix together the molasses, sugar, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper.
4. Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan, stir in the baking soda, and then mix the hot water into the molasses mixture. Stir in the ginger.
5. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the batter. Add the eggs, and continue mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, until the top of the cake springs back lightly when pressed or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Cool the cake for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the cake pan and peel off the parchment paper.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Savory Shortbread: Blue Cheese and Pecan Shortbread

Now I know what you might be thinking: yuck, blue cheese. I am not at all a fan of blue cheese in its naked and natural state. Too strong for my delicate tongue! But these little shortbread cracker/cookies paired with a mango or ginger chutney are FABULOUS, the tastes blend together really nicely and the sweet of the ginger takes the bite out of the blue cheese.

I served these at a dinner party as an hors d'oeuvre. At first they were just looked at...people were not confident in the chutney part, I think. But then one person ate one...his eyes bulged (that was a good thing). The next person ate one, said "Wow, the tastes come at you one at a time!" and the next thing you knew my platter was empty.

I served them with a "schmear" of cream cheese (I love the word "schmear" and find it is not used quite often enough), then a toasted walnut and finally a "dollop" (gotta love the word "dollop" as well...) of ginger chutney. I bought my ginger chutney at the local Fresh Market in the jams/jellies section of the store. The tastes merged so well. First you taste the chutney, then the cream cheese and walnut, then "bam" you get a nice taste of blue cheese, but nothing too strong.

They make a gorgeous hors d'oeuvre for holiday parties, particularly if you cut them out with a small (1 inch) fluted, round cookie cutter. Very pretty.


1/2 cup blue cheese (I used Bleu d'Auvergne) at room temp.

3 Tb unsalted butter, room temp.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. coarse salt

1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

for topping:

Ginger chutney (I used about 1/2 of a small jar)

1/2 c. walnut halves (you will need one for each shortbread)

Italian flat parsley for garnish

Combine blue cheese and butter in food processor and process until creamy.

Mix flour, cornstarch, pepper and salt together in a small bowl. Add to the blue cheese mixture.

Pulse to combine.

Add the chopped pecans, process until incorporated.

Remove mixture from food processor and shape into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Roll dough about 1/8 inch thick and cut into 1 inch circles using a fluted cookie cutter (or circular if you don't have can play with your shapes here, use a leaf cutter, a flower, as long as it's smallish). Place on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool.

**Shortbread can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container. Assemble one hour before serving.


Spread a bit of cream cheese on each shortbread, top with a walnut half and a teaspoon of ginger chutney. Add a leaf of parsley for garnish.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Cut Out cookies

It's that time of year again, when I don't see my countertops from December 1 - January 2. Literally, they are covered in flour, confectioner's sugar, mixers, beaters, you name it, it's on my countertop. Having a smaller kitchen doesn't help.

I am one of those Christmas cookie freaks who literally bakes almost every day of the season. I give them as gifts, along with the macarons that I have just figured out! I make about 5 -6 types of cookie, but my most favorite is the colorful Christmas cutout cookie.

I use the Williams-Sonoma sugar cookie recipe, and it is so good people ask "what is in these to give them flavor?" They are delicious. Here is the recipe which I posted last month.

For the icing, I use some meringue powder and make royal icing. It gives a great result, although it is a bit of a hard icing.

Some cut out tips:

1. Be sure your dough is chilled but not so cold you can't roll it.

2. Roll your cookies thin. A thick and doughy sugar cookie is kind of blah. I roll mine to about 1/8 inch.

3. Use saran wrap when you roll. Just put a piece of saran wrap over the dough (and under also, if you choose, but I just use a floured countertop). Your rolling pin will NOT stick, no matter what.

4. Watch that oven, don't burn the cookies. But don't underbake them either. These take about 8 - 10 minutes or so.

5. Use silpats. They are a bit of an investment, but they last forever and make your baking SO successful!

6. If you want to make a lot of cookies during the season but don't want to be in the kitchen day in and day out, make a few recipes of the dough, cut out your shapes, freeze them on the silpat-lined cookie sheet, and the store them in the freezer in an airtight container. Then bake as you need. It's a great way to save on time.

Good luck! Enjoy your cookie endeavors, I'll be posting more as the season progresses!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas Macarons: Peppermint, Pistachio and Chocolate

To me, The greatest thing about the internet is that I can look up how to do just about anything. Got a question? Google it! (or Yahoo it, or whatever you use). One of my food blogging heroes is Helene from Tartelette. She's GOOOOD. Everything she bakes turns to yummy gold. And she knows what she's doing. Got a question? Ask the tartelette.

I'm a huge fan of French macarons, and I finally learned how to make them the French way (whipping egg whites adn then folding in the almond/powdered sugar mixture). Problem is, they didn't always turn out uniform, they were sometimes too hard, sometimes too puffy, there are just so many variables. So when I decided to tackle macarons using italian meringue, I went to zee famous Tartelette. Of course, there in her site was a number of wonderful recipes for foolproof macarons. Sure, they take longer to make than the French meringue method, but they are supposed to be the real deal, every time. And of course, Helene often prefers this method when she makes her fabulous macarons, so she had a fabulous recipe! But she's French, you see...her recipes are often in grams and whatnot. Silly rest of the world with their metric system...So I had to put my very non-mathematical brain to work and do some converting. Alas, I came up with a recipe that works.

The macarons that I got from this recipe are just about as Pierre Hermé/Ladurée worthy as I have ever done. And every pan turned out great. No misses, it was like the heavens opened and I was welcomed into the macaron paradise so few get to see...ahhhhhhh!!!

For Christmas, I decided to do peppermint/chocolate, pistachio/chocolate with ginger (which I learned through Helene's web site), and David Lebovitz's recipe for chocolate macarons. I will try the Italian meringue method with chocolate macarons next, but I didn't tackle it this time since David's recipe is always so good.

I'm really happy with the results. I'm bringing them to a Christmas party tonight, and judging from how many my husband and I have already devoured, I don't think they will last too long!!

Here's the how-to:
1/2 cup egg whites
3 Tb. sugar
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 c. almond flour (for pistachio, I did 1/2 c. almond and 1/2 c. ground pistachios)
2 tsp. flavoring if applicable (for peppermint, I used peppermint extract.)
Coloring (I used green for the pistachio and pink for the peppermint)

For syrup:
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water

Begin by placing the 1/4 c. water and 3/4 c. sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar syrup registers 170 degrees on a candy thermometer, start whipping 1/2 of your egg whites (so 1/4 cup of them). When the egg whites have started to froth, slowly add the 3 Tb. sugar.

When the sugar syrup gets to 230 on a candy thermometer, add it in driblets to your egg whites (which should hold soft peaks at this point).

Whip the mixture for 10 - 15 minutes, until fluffy and cool.

Mix the remaining 1/4 cup of egg whites with the ground almonds and powdered sugar. (I do this in a cuisinart food processor). Fold this mixture into the meringue mixture.

Fill a pastry bag with a 1/4 inch tip with your mixture. Pipe 2 inch circles on cookie sheets lined with parchment or with a silpat (I use a silpat).
Bake at 320 for 12 minutes (12 - 15 minutes, I do 12).

I filled all my macarons with chocolate ganache. The pistachio ones have about a teaspoon of ginger in them, for added zing. (Do this to taste). This recipe will fill about two macaron recipes.

4 oz. chocolate
1/2 cup cream
2 tsp. corn syrup
1 Tb. unsalted butter.
(added flavoring if you want (peppermint, coffee, ginger, etc.)

Chop chocolate in small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Once it is hot and bubbles on the sides of the pan, pour it into the chocolate. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Add butter and stir until all the chocolate is melted and incorporated.

Refrigerate until ready to use. If necessary, let soften before using (I like it pretty soft so I don't break my macarons while filling them).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gingerbread House

Nothing says Christmas and kids much like a gingerbread house. I never had these growing up, I didn't have an artistic/culinary mom. Now that I have my own wee ones I wanted to add some fun Christmas traditions, so I went out and got a gingerbread house kit by Wilton at Sur la Table. (Yes, that's cheating, but when you have a 2 and 3 year old you cheat).

The kit is really nice. It comes with everything you need, down to the candies and the piping bag and tip for the icing. Putting the house together was a labor of love, it took some time and the house fell over more than once. But the final result is pretty good if I do say so myself! Don't look too closely!

The kids love it, they want to devour it. But I don't think we'll be eating this creation. For our gingerbread needs I'll make some little men... So we have our house on a shelf and we admire it from afar!

I have found that if you wrap a gingerbread house in plastic trash bags and then put it in a box and in a cool, dry place, you can use it as decoration the following year as well. Unless of course you want the gingerbread challenge every year!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sherry Yard's Panna Cotta Chocolate Cake

OOOOOOH MYYYYYYYY this was a HIT. A super duper uber hit. People wanted to lick their plates, that is the kind of hit this cake was.

I got the recipe for this cake out of the Christmas edition of Bon Appétit. It's a Sherry Yard recipe, and it looked phenomenal on the page. I was a bit nervous about it, it seems to incorporate a bunch of tricky steps, but it wasn't tricky at all. In fact, it was rather fool proof.

The cake presented so beautifully. People were wowed just looking at it. But then the taste is spot-on too. Very chocolatey but not too rich or heavy. I'll definitely make this one again for Christmas dinner.

A couple things about the recipe: it calls for two springform pans. Don't worry. I used one 9 inch springform pan and one regular 9 inch round cake pan. That cake fit perfectly well on top of the one in the springform pan.

Another change I will make next time: for the chocolate band, it says to make it 3 inches high. I found this only "just" came over the top of the cake. For a prettier visual, I will make it 5 inches high next time.

Do try the cake, it is really just fantastic.