Monday, December 17, 2007

Buche de Noel

This was one of those culinary exercises that showed me why I'm part of the Daring Bakers. I took calculated risks and overcame resistance on a number of fronts. I progressed from hesitation to flow in the 4 hour process (from shopping to frosting).

Among the things I did at the planning stages included: buying a good jelly roll pan, considering if I needed parchment paper (since I had foil), and making the *gasp* executive decision to make the marzipan mushrooms with my own recipe instead of the one recommended! I plead guilty, and I hope I'm not going to be booted from the DBB's for this.

I mean, I live right by the Mediterranean Warehouse - a store that, arguably, ranks among the top for Wellingtonian gourmands (not that I am one, but...) - and if they don't carry almond paste, I don't know that New World would.

Anyway. The genoise is the best part of this recipe - especially since I kept it plain and added no flavourings. It is truly excellent and is definitely to be recommended. The texture was perfect - as Mark said, neither too dry nor too moist. I made a dark chocolate, instead of the suggested coffee buttercream - which worked well.

But not to keep the suspense any longer, here is the final product from multiple pictorial perspectives.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that Mark was impressed - he felt that the pictures don't quite do the cake justice, thought at first that those were real mushrooms (which were made with ground almonds with their skins on, so they were very brown indeed), and immediately whipped out his camera to get a couple of shots of it for posterity.

So the cake scored positively with user testing within its first 15 minutes. This Buche also reflects the sort of Christmas we have in the Southern Hemisphere. It's the sizzling summertime (with the occasional gusty spell), when people have BBQs, salads and ice-creams by the beach. So, instead of snow, there are shaved woodchips (chopped hazelnuts with gianduja shavings) instead. And crystalline slices of green glazed cherries for the grass, red for the symbolic fruit, and of course, the mushrooms.

But the overall food experience in which the cake featured is also relevant to the experience of the cake.

Mark and I made dinner before eating the log - a green curry fish dish with rice -that completely failed with my over-zealous addition of fish sauce. We corrected the dish with the ad-hoc addition of pulpy orange juice, which amazingly enough, actually worked well. Imagine two people hunkered over a small coffee table, pouring orange juice into platefuls of gravy puddles.

I can only say that the fish was saltier than salty salmiakki (liquorice). However, the excellent provolone with crackers we had with the New Zealand Gerwurz did partly compensate for the failure.

The dinner experience was also awkward because the conversation revolved around a fairly candid discussion of (pretty much) "is something going on between us?", which ended on a doubtful note. It was one of those types of dinners where stuff was put out on the table - imperfections, soft spots, inauspicious timing.

And as the conversation wore on, the cake got chucked into the fridge and forgotten.

My kitchen is the size of a closet, and is therefore not made for multi-tasking. There's just no space for two things to be done at once. In fact, I do a lot of the preparation on the stove top itself, the surface of my washing machine which sits alongside, and the space by the sink which is merely the size of a respectable chopping board. So, the cooking, setting the table, and transferring of dishes from sink to table, all took place within that tiny square foot of space in which we waltzed in a strange culinary dance, interspersed with a song about friendship, life and love all at once.

Then, Mark ate way too much of the green curry fish, and had to stand around for much of the night digesting the "baby". I had a stuffy nose, and kept rubbing at my dehydrated contact lenses.

We talked til late, but he remembered the cake just before he left. We took it out of the fridge, carefully sliced it, and ate a couple slices each. While the cake looked and tasted good, it was too cold really. Much too cold.

My journey has only just begun.

And for those who are interested, here's the recipe for the Buche:

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 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 powder2 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.

Filling and frosting the 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.

Meringue Mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature¼ teaspoon cream of tartar½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened 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.
4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

Marzipan Mushrooms:
8 ounces almond paste2 cups icing sugar3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrupCocoa 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


michelle said...


Gigi said...

Wow, Nicely decorated!

marias23 said...

Nice job on the shrooms. I mean, seriously, when people think they're real, that means you did well! Let's hope no one think the yule log is a real wooden log :)

Anyway, I hope you conversation went well and please have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Laura said...

I wasn't there when people served mine up (i dropped it off for our work party) and forgot to tell everyone to pull it out of the fridge ahead of time. They had the same experience - "too cold" - but then it got eaten anyways. I'd bet yours hasn't lasted long though... looks amazing!

Y said...

I've deliberately left mine out of the fridge so I won't have that "too cold" problem, but now I'm worried that the weather is too warm for it, as things keep sliding off! Can't win, huh!

Totally agree about the genoise recipe. It's definitely a keeper.

Lunch Buckets said...

That is one fabulously awesome log!

Claire said...

Good buttercream is so dark. I love it.

Peabody said...

It looks very nice.

Cherry said...

That's a decadent looking log! =) Awesome!

Lis said...

Wow! I love how you decorated it!

Beautiful job, Yenping!

Happy holidays!


Tartelette said...

Great Job! I love how you decorated it!

Dolores said...

Mark *should* have been impressed; your log is a work of art. I hope the two of you work through what you need to work through, and that you find peace and joy as we transition into a new year.

Julius said...

What a beautiful bûche de Noël!

Happy Holidays.

Julius from Occasional Baker

Deborah said...

Wonderful job on your first challenge! I love how dark your icing is!

Jen Yu said...

Lovely job on your yule log! Happy new year :)

jen at use real butter

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