Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daring Bakers December Challenge: French Yule Log

I spent the first two weeks of December baking a different cookie every single day, so I'll admit that I was not eager to jump into this month's Daring Bakers challenge. In fact, I was pretty much in denial up until about a week before the actual posting date, when I finally decided to check in and see what was in store for us.

If you're a Daring Baker, you can imagine the sinking feeling that set in. If you're not, let's put it this way: the instructions for this month's challenge printed out into an 18-page document. That's right, pages.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

A French Yule Log, of the entremet variety, which is to say not the genoise and buttercream version, but the frozen mousse sort. This Yule log had 6 components, all of which were necessary to complete in order to receive credit for completing the challenge. Each of the 6 came with a few variations in the directions, so that provided for a nice bit of latitude in mixing and matching flavor combinations. The 6 components, and my flavor choices, are as follows:
  1. Dacquoise ~ Almond, 2 layers

  2. Mousse filling ~ Chocolate chantilly cream

  3. Ganache layer ~ White chocolate

  4. Feuillete layer ~ White chocolate with toasted coconut and crushed cornflakes

  5. Creme brulee insert ~ Vanilla bean

  6. Icing ~ Semisweet chocolate

I did attempt a pate a bombe for the mousse layer, but it was a complete fail. I know what went wrong: my candy thermometer was registering low, and by the time I pulled my sugar syrup off the heat and checked it the water way, it had reached hard-crack stage. When I poured it into the beaten egg yolks, it wove itself into an incredibly beautiful, utterly useless web of spun sugar around the balloon whisk attachment of my stand mixer. If I had been less frustrated, I would have taken a lovely picture to share here. Instead, I chucked it into the sink and decided to go with chantilly cream instead.

My chantilly cream held up beautifully, supporting all the layers. The only drawback I experienced was that it melted a little more quickly that mousse would have ~ which necessitated a quicker icing job.

Speaking of icing, the gelatin was a fantastic addition. The icing adhered perfectly and didn't run or drip at all. I spackled it right on with an offset spatula.

To garnish my log, I just crumbled up a big of the extra feuillete and sprinkled it over the top. It adds a nice bit of texture and sweetness to contrast with the smooth, bittersweet icing.

So, here's my Yule log, a festive slice of culinary blood, sweat, and tears. In the process of making this one dessert, I dirtied almost every single pan and bowl in my kitchen. Would I make it again? Probably. Possibly. I'd love to try this with raspberry mousse. But I'm not sure that's inducement enough. Depends on how long it takes me to clean the kitchen ~ a task yet to be accomplished tonight.

But I'm really glad that I went ahead and participated in this challenge. There were quite a few new techniques here for me, specifically working with gelatin in icing, making a dacquoise, and forming the layers of the log.

French Yule Log ~ The Recipes

Element #1 ~ Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible. [I made my dacquoise 3 days in advance and covered it with a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil. It seems to get more pliable and moist as time went on. I would definitely suggest making in advance.]

  • 2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal [I ground my own]

  • 1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar

  • 2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour

  • 3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites

  • 1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

  1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).

  2. Sift the flour into the mix.

  3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.

  4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.

  5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.

  6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).

  7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.

  8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 ~ Mousse or Chantilly Filling
Dark Chocolate Whipped Cream (Chantilly)

(Can be made the day before and kept in the fridge overnight)
  • 2/3 cup (160g) heavy cream 35% fat

  • 7.8 oz (220g) milk chocolate

  • 2 1/3 tsp (15g) glucose or thick corn syrup

  • 1 1/3 cup (320g) heavy cream 35% fat

1. Chop the chocolate coarsely.

2. Heat the 160g of cream to boiling and pour over the chocolate and glucose syrup.

3. Wait 30 seconds then stir the mix until smooth. Add the remaining cream.

4. Refrigerate to cool, then whip up.

Element #3 ~ Ganache Insert
White Chocolate Ganache Insert

  • 1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

  • 5 oz (135g) white chocolate, finely chopped

  • 4.5 oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp / 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small sauce pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).

2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.

3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the white chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 ~ Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Coconut Crisp Insert

  • 3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate

  • 1 oz (1/3 cup/25g) shredded coconut

  • 1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter

  • 2.1 oz (60g) lace crepes or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K [I would use 30 g next time]

1. Spread the coconut on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes at 375°F (190°C) to toast (a different temperature might work better for you with your own oven).

2. Melt the white chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir until smooth and add the toasted coconut.

3. Add the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 ~ Crème Brulée Insert
Vanilla Crème Brulée

  • 1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

  • ½ cup (115g) whole milk

  • 4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks

  • 0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar

  • 1 vanilla bean* (I used ground vanilla ~ see below)

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean* to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour. (*I replaced the vanilla bean with 1 teaspoon of Totonac pure Mexican Ground Vanilla from Arizona Vanilla. As you can see from the photo, it gives great "speckle" and the flavor is really good. The vanilla flavor emerged pure and fragrant through both the baking and freezing stages of preparation. Cheaper than whole vanilla beans, the ground vanilla product is a great substitute for vanilla extract in applications where the extract would evaporate, and also where the aesthetic function of the vanilla flecks is desired.)

2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).

3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.

4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.

Element #6 ~ Semisweet Chocolate Icing
Semisweet Chocolate Icing

  • 1.5 gelatin sheets or 3g / 1/2Tbsp powdered gelatin

  • 4.2 oz (120g) semisweet chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp (30g) butter
  • ¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)

  • 1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

      1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.

      2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.

      3. Bring the cream and glucose syrup to a boil.

      4. Add the gelatin.

      5. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.

      6. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

      How to Assemble Your French Yule Log

      Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different. THIS IS FOR UNMOLDING FROM UPSIDE DOWN TO RIGHT SIDE UP.You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

      1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

      You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

      2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.

      3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.

      4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

      5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

      6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

      7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.

      8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

      9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

      10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise. Freeze until the next day.

      THE NEXT DAY...

      Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.

      Cover the cake with the icing.

      Let set. Return to the freezer.

      You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc....

      Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

      *Props go to John, my sister Ande's friend, for giving me the beautiful poinsettia plate for Christmas. (Open-stock dishes, the way to a food blogger's heart!)

      Tuesday, December 16, 2008

      TWD: Buttery Jam Cookies

      If you follow my baking blog, At the Baker's Bench, you know that I'm just coming off a 12-day cookie bender. Still, TWD is TWD and I missed last week's, so I made room in my freezer for another batch of cookies and put my butter on the countertop to soften.

      I'm not sure exactly what I expected from these Buttery Jam Cookies, but whatever it was, the resulting cookie wasn't it. I suppose I expected a short-bread-type cookie, something sandier and firmer. I was surprised by the cakey texture of these. But that's not to say I didn't like them. I like a cakey, not-too-sweet cookie to have with coffee or to serve with ice cream, and these fit the bill.

      I did feel that they were a little bit dry to serve as is, though. This was a snap to fix with a little dip into some easy butter icing.

      I used cherry preserves to make these cookies, and I was very pleased with the result. To add a bit of yum, I swirled the tops of these in some orange-butter icing* and sprinkled them with red decorator's sugar. The combination of cherry plus ginger plus orange is a good one, I think.

      The verdict on these was split. Some of my testers loved them, others quibbled with the texture and/or the flavor. Personally, I liked these, and they're easy enough to make again, so I plan to experiment with different flavors of jam and preserves.

      If you'd like to make these for yourself, you can find the recipe on page 80 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. Or, you can find it here, courtesy of these week's hostess, Heather of Randomosity and the Girl.

      Don't forget to check out the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else baked up!

      *To make the orange-butter icing, I melted 1 tablespoon butter and mixed in about 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon heavy cream, and a few drops of orange flavoring oil (not extract ~ I use Oetker's brand). Stir with a fork until smooth and spreadable. If it's too liquid to stay atop your cookies, add more confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. If it's too thick, thin with additional heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Store leftovers in the fridge and rewarm to use again.

      Monday, December 15, 2008

      A Baker Goes to Boot Camp: Part 2

      Not too long ago, I posted a story about my experience at the Culinary Institute of America's Hearth Breads Boot Camp. If you didn't get to see it then, or want to take another peek at it now, you can do so here.

      Now that my family has finally eaten its way through the breads I brought home and put in the freezer, I knew it was once again time to put on my CIA apron (but not the toque, which is approximately one-fifth of my height and makes me look/feel like a gnome) and bring my sourdough starter back to life.

      The sourdough starter I received at the Hearth Breads Boot Camp is one that has been in action for several months. A sourdough starter, properly fed and cared for, is actually quite long-lived. Theoretically, if you tend it well, you can keep your starter alive for years. There is reportedly a starter out there that has been active for centuries. I was just hoping that I'd managed to keep mine alive for the two weeks it had lain dormant in the fridge.

      Reviving a starter is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. It is, in fact, a three-day process. It involves weighing a very sticky substance with some degree of accuracy. It involves variables like temperature and humidity. It involves waiting three days before you get to eat your bread. Not difficult, per se, but it does take a level of commitment that is more often associated with, say, a pet than a sandwich component.

      Essentially, the process starts with breaking down the starter in a bit of water.

      Adding a measured amount of flour . . .

      and mixing.

      This mixture is then allowed to ferment at room temperature overnight.

      The next day, the process is repeated; and the day after that, too.

      Finally, enough flour is added to make dough, which gets folded

      and placed, seam-side down, in a lined basket or banneton to rise.

      The dough can then be baked or placed in the fridge overnight. The latter allows the appropriate acids to develop, enhancing the flavor of the dough. On baking day, the dough is brought up to room temperature, floured, scored

      and ultimately baked. The whole house is perfumed with the aroma of baking sourdough, and suddenly every step of the 3-day process seems not only perfectly reasonable, but a spectacular idea.

      I'm happy to report that I was able to produce two really nice loaves of tangy sourdough bread and return a portion of starter to the fridge to hibernate till next time. The only snag I hit was an error in judgment on my part, one of those things you learn mainly by doing it wrong at some point. I didn't score the top of my loaf deeply enough on one side, and the bread expanded unevenly in the oven. Did it ruin the bread? No way. Was it a grave error? Not really. Maybe my bread wouldn't have won any beauty competitions, but you can believe that it was gorgeous to me.

      Why not check out the Hearth Breads Boot Camp for yourself? Gift certificates are available if you want to make a special baker or foodie in your life really, really happy. Information on all the Boot Camp and other enthusiast programs is available on the CIA Web site.

      Saturday, December 13, 2008

      "Have a Cookie!"

      This is not the type of thing I usually say to my kids, but for the past 12 days, I've been participating in the 12 Cookies of Christmas on my baking blog, At the Baker's Bench. I've been baking a batch (at least) a day, with the end result being a ridiculous surfeit of cookies, in spite of my efforts to give away as many as I can. So, when the kids come home from school hungry, I point them to the bins stacked atop the dishwasher. "Have a cookie." You'd think they'd be in heaven, right? But not so much. Turns out you can only eat so many cookies before you start craving cottage cheese and apple slices. So they tell me.

      But as of today, the 12 Cookies of Christmas have come to an end, so it's back to whole-grain granola bars and low-fat cheese sticks and two kids begging for cookies.

      Just in case you find yourself in the thick of holiday baking, or getting ready to embark on your own Christmas cookie extravaganza, I've brought a few of my favorite cookies to share with you from my baking blog. A "virtual" cookie exchange, if you want to look at it that way. Feel free to share your own favorite cookie ideas in the comments ~ who doesn't love more cookie recipes?

      Happy holiday baking!

      Brown Butter Cookies

      These Brown Butter Cookies are one of the best shortbread cookies I have ever eaten. Period. I ate almost the whole batch by myself.

      Ginger Sugar Cookies

      Chewy, moist, and perfectly spiced, these are bakery-good Ginger Sugar Cookies. Sandwich these with some French vanilla or egg nog ice cream and you will be everyone's holiday hero!

      Biscotti di Regina ~ Queen's Biscuits

      If you like your cookies on the drier, not-too-sweet side, think Stella d'Oro's Breakfast Treats, these are it for you! Biscotti di Regina are best the day they are made, and I'll admit it, I've been eating them for breakfast with a cup of black coffee. Heavenly.

      Navettes Sucrees ~ Sugar Shuttles

      Need something to pretty up your cookie platter? Here you go! Navettes Sucrees look a lot more complicated than they are, which is the good news. These cookies are impressive, but appearances are deceiving ~ they're a snap to make.

      Okay, go get your butter out and let it soften. If you make all these and are still hungry for more, check out the full 12 Days of Cookies! See you at the Baker's Bench.

      And by the way . . . now that the cookies days are over, it's back to healthy eating at Eat Real, too. Stay tuned for some real-food posts!

      Sunday, December 7, 2008

      Apple Chips

      Oven-drying apple chips is a great way to get your fruit in snack form. It doesn't take a lot of work and it doesn't require a dehydrator, but it does require some patience. The chips won't get crispy for a while, and they stay deceptively pliable until after they're actually well dried.

      Apple chips are crispy and delicious, and they make an excellent snack for adults and kids alike. If you have a food processor or mandoline, you can use it to get the apple slices as thin as possible. If not, just slice your apples paper thin. Placing the apple slices on top of a rack in the oven allows air to circulate underneath them, speeding up the drying process.

      Don't be tempted to increase the oven temp to speed things along ~ you want to dry the apple slices, not roast them. Feel free to use a dehydrator if you have one.

      Oven-Dried Cinnamon Apple Chips

      • 2 apples suitable for baking (I used Fuji), washed, quartered, and cored

      • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

      • Bowl of ice water

      • Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling, if desired

      1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place a footed cooling rack on top of the parchment.

      2. Slice apple quarters thinly. (I ran mine through my food processor with the slicing blade in place.) Add the lemon juice to the bowl of ice water, and place the apple slices in the water as soon as they're cut. Let the apple slices soak in the water until the oven is preheated and all the apple quarters have been sliced, about 5 minutes.

      3. Remove the apple slices from the water with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Blot dry. Arrange in a single layer on the rack on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

      4. Bake apples at 225 degrees F for about 3 hours, or until they seem dry and are becoming crisp. They will shrink and darken. They should feel dry and papery to the touch. They may not, however, feel crisp. If they're done, they will crisp up as they cool. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Test the apple slices. They should feel dry and crispy. If not, return to oven, checking after 1/2 hour.

      5. Store apple chips at room temperature in an air-tight container. They'll keep for about a week.

      Tuesday, December 2, 2008

      TWD: Linzer Sables

      This week's Tuesdays with Dorie offering is the Linzer Sable, a wonderfully delicious cookie made with ground hazelnuts and filled with raspberry jam. I'm sure it's incredibly delicious.

      I'm making an educated guess there, because my version turned out to be quite different from Dorie's ~ not because I didn't like her recipe, but because I was missing a few key ingredients (hazelnuts, jam) and decided to improvise.

      I ground some walnuts with a couple of tablespoons flour (to keep it from turning into walnut butter) in my food processor and used that, and instead of filling my cookie sandwich with jam, I opted to go the ganache route.

      Even there I made a minor variation: instead of the dark chocolate recommended by Dorie, I used semisweet, and I added several drops (to taste) of orange oil (not extract, but flavoring oil, by Oetker). The result was, I have to say, pretty amazing. That is, I was amazed that they came out so good for a cookie that had so many "make-do" substitutions!

      To cut them out, I used my tiny little Christmas cutters, which are only about 1 1/2 inches long. This made the perfect size cookie sandwich for munching.

      Thank you to Noskos of Living the Life for choosing this recipe . . . I am so delighted to have tried this ~ it's one for the regular rotation! If you want to make this yourself, you can find the recipe here or on pages 134-135 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. Don't forget to check out the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else made of these!

      Monday, December 1, 2008

      12 Days of Cookies!

      Looking for Christmas cookie ideas? Check out my 12 Days of Cookies Gourmet Cookie Extravaganza feature on At the Baker's Bench, the companion blog to Eat Real. You can subscribe there if you would like the whole 12 days of cookies delivered fresh each day to your inbox. (I promise, each delivery is 100% calorie free!)
      First up . . . Brown Butter Cookies. Oh yeah, they are as good as their name suggests.
      See you there . . . don't forget your coffee!



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