Sunday, December 28, 2008

Yule Love this Month's Daring Baker Challenge

A traditional French Yule Log was this month's Daring Baker challenge. Typically when I hear Yule Log, I think of the Buche de Noel, the rolled genoise cake with chocolate buttercream decorated with meringue mushrooms to look like a log. This, however, is a different beast all together. The traditional French Yule Log is a frozen dessert with several layered elements that comes together in delicious elegance.

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.

The dessert is made up of six elements, none of which are particularly difficult to make by themselves, but it does take some serious planning to put the whole thing together. The various insert layers include a frozen creme brulee, a praline crisp, chocolate ganache, and an almond daquoise (meringue cake layer) that is all held together with a chocolate mouse and covered with a chocolate icing. I followed the recipe almost exactly except for making the creme brulee layer almond flavored instead of vanilla. I happen to be a big fan of almond and chocolate and I think the end result was very nice.

It was really important to plan the elements out in terms of baking, prep, and assembly. I benefited from reading comments by fellow Daring Bakers who had already completed the challenge. I found the following schedule worked well:
- Prepare the creme brulee layer in the mold you plan to use, and then freeze it for a few hours.
- Prepare the mouse and put it in the fridge for a few hours
- Prepare the prailine crisp layer and chill for a few hours
- After all these elements are chilled, trim the creme brulee and praline crisp to be a little smaller than the mold so the will be surrounded by the mouse.
- Pipe a third of the mouse into the pan, lay down the creme brulee, pipe another third of the mouse, lay down the crisp, cover with the remaining mouse.
- The whole thing then goes into the freezer for at least 2 hours.
- Make the daquoise and let it cool, then trim it to just fit the mold.
- Make the chocolate ganache and let cool slightly so it won't melt the rest of the log.
- Remove frozen log from freezer, pipe on ganache and cover with daquoise. Return to freezer overnight.
- The next day prepare the icing, unmold the log, cover with the slightly cooled and setting icing and return the finish product to the freezer until ready to serve.

RECIPE by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

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.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
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 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan 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 dark 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 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.
If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

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 - NOTE: I used almond extract instead of vanilla

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.
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.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. 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.
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.
2) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3) 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.
4) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5) 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.
6) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

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.

It seems like a lot, and it is, but it is still totally doable. And the end product is really good. This is one of those dishes that is worth the effort and I will be repeating.

I made the dessert for our annual Winter Solstice party with friends and family and brought it to share with the crowd. It was a pleasure to share, but a little sad to see it all go. I've promised R that I will make it again for her birthday. I also brought over some bread to the party, not a big deal, but I saw a new technique on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day blog and tried it out.

Nothing new with the bread itself, just a new presentation technique which was a big hit and I will definitely repeat. It was a sort of holiday wreath. Basically a pain d'epi but rounded as a wreath instead of straight like a wheat stalk.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

In a word, butter. It is all about the butter. Except for the part that is all about the tea. And lucky me, I have a great brother-in-law who sent me some fantastic Earl Grey tea from his favorite London tea-ery Fortnum & Mason. Knowing I had great tea, I went in search of a great tea recipe.

I am known to make a delicious Early Grey chocolate cake with Earl Grey infused whipped cream every now and again, but I was looking for something more delicate to show off the tea. I was sure I had found it when I came across this recipe from the Kitchn for Earl Grey Tea Cookies. As I read through the recipe they made a note that, "One would think that expensive loose leaf tea would be best in this recipe. But I've actually gotten the best flavor with tea from cheap bags that I've ripped open. I think the leaves are more fine and flaky." So in the end, I opted for the mid grade tea for the cookies and the new top shelf stuff for the tea itself, because Earl Grey tea cookies are in fact delicious when served with Earl Grey tea.

These cookies are an easy icebox cookie, meaning you mix up a quick dough (in the food processor), chill it (in the icebox/fridge), slice it, and bake it. I doubled the recipe so I could freeze half of it in case I ever need a quick and easy dessert or mid day nosh.

The whole house smells wonderful as these bake. The cookies have a solid hit of the tea aroma and taste and are buttery and delicious when warm out of the oven. The great thing about this type of cookie is that it is really an excuse to bake butter. Sure there is a touch of sugar and the tea, but then just enough flour to hold the butter together while it bakes. The end result is crispy on the edges, softer inside, and melty buttery yumminess.

They are easy and delicous. Make them right now. Why are you still reading? I just told you to bake right now!

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
makes 2 dozen - from theKitchn

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized.

Add vanilla, water, and butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Form the dough into a log onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze now, or chill for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, slice the log into 1/3 inch thick pieces. Place on baking sheets and bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vietnamese Noodle Soup - A Post Holiday-Binge Meal

After a Thanksgiving feast that included copious amounts of turkey, pies, sticky buns, dressing, breads, etc. etc. and the ensuing several nights of leftovers, we finally needed a break. We needed something fresh, alive, and vegetarian.

When we finally hit the leftovers wall, we switched it up and made a single bowl meal of Vietnamese noodle soup. This is my version of what can be an amazing meal at the right noodle shop. For ours, I first cooked up some rice noodles and then put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking and to keep them from sticking together too much.

Into the bowl with the noodles went some fried tofu that had marinated briefly in soy, brown sugar, cornstarch, and a bit of chili paste. One could use chicken, pork, or anything else as well. You could even shred up some of that leftover turkey, but we had had enough. We also added julienned carrots, thinly sliced celery, mung bean spouts, chopped green onion, thinly shredded cabbage, sliced red pepper, a couple of lime wedges, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Once your bowl is filled with tofu and veggies, cover it all in hot broth. Since this is a simple soup, homemade broth works best. On the other hand, if you don't have any, don't fret too much, you'll be doctoring the soup up quite a bit at the dinner table.

This is the fun part. Now you get to flavor your soup with any combination of condiments that you like. I first squeeze out the lime wedges to give a good acidic kick. I also like to add a splash of soy sauce, some hoisin, sweet chili sauce, and a good dose of Sriracha chili sauce. One cannot have too much chili in their noodle soup. Keep doctoring until the broth reaches that perfect, spicy, sweet, hot spot that fills your belly with goodness (and clears the sinuses).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thanksgiving Baking Recap

I did a lot more baking than cooking this Thanksgiving. Although I love to cook, at get- togethers, it has become expected that I will bake. I certainly don't mind this, as I have grown to really enjoy baking over the last year.

Since R and I both have family in town, we often end up doing double duty on holidays. This year we had a Turkey Day brunch with R's family. Erica made a bunch of delicious savory food, so I went the other direction and made a huge pan full of brioche sticky buns. And, if I do say so myself, this was the best batch yet. I used the brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and I promise you don't want to ask how much butter, eggs, and honey is in it.

You start by whipping together butter and brown sugar and spreading it along the bottom of the pan. For my double batch we filled up a 9x15 pyrex baking dish. Then spread a handful or two of pecan halves around. The dough gets rolled out and spread with a mix of whipped butter and brown sugar with cinnamon and chopped toasted pecans. Roll the dough up, chill for a bit, and then slice into rounds. Arrange the rounds into the pan so they are just touching and fill the pan up. You can let them rise and bake immediately, but I usually get to this point, cover in cling wrap and put them into the fridge overnight. That way you can do all the prep work in the evening (or after the kids go to bed) and bake first thing in the morning. I think the slow, cold ferment also gives the dough a nice character. They come out soft, warm, gooey, and amazing.

That evening we had dinner at my mom's house with about 14 others. Again, I was on baking duty. This time I wanted to bring bread and some sort of dessert. I ended up making a loaf of crusty artisan semolina bread and a batch of pull-apart buttermilk rolls. For dessert I put together a pinenut tart that has always been a favorite of ours but one that we haven't had in quite a while.

The semolina loaf was also ABi5MaD, and therefore quite easy but delicous. The rolls were a new recipe I found at one of my favorite sites, The Fresh Loaf. Luckily there were several comments after the original recipe post that talked about needing to add extra moisture to the dough to make it workable. I would have been concerned because I, too, ended up adding quite a bit more buttermilk before I could work the dough well. Still, the dough was quite tough, almost like a bagel dough, so I was worried that the rolls would be too dense or tough. All in all they went together very easily, baked up beautifully, and were soft and delicious. We will definitely be making these again; they're tasty and have a fun presentation.

Finally, for dessert, we had the Pignoli Nut Tart that I have been making for years. It is wonderful to eat, and easy to make. It's a simple all butter pate sucree base, with an almond meal filling, baked half way, topped with pine nuts and then put bake in to finish baking. It is not too sweet, and great with a whipped cream and a drizzle of good honey.

It was a fun holiday spent with family, friends, and a lot of quality carbs.