Monday, December 29, 2008

French Yule Log

Is 2008 really coming to an end?  When I look back on the year, it's hard to believe that we're about to close this chapter in our lives.  I can't imagine a better way to say goodbye to 2008 than with a challenging day in the kitchen, courtesy of The Daring Bakers, of course. 

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.

What is a French Yule Log? 

In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type, or what is more commonly purchased which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe.

This recipe comes almost entirely from the website, Florilège Gourmand, which belongs to Flore. Her website is in French and different portions of the recipe have been pulled from the recipes in the entremets section.

When I first read through the recipe, I was filled with trepidation.  It was intimidating at first.  After a deep breath or two,  I reread the recipe.  The second time through eased all anxiety.  It is a long recipe, but the individual elements are quite easy.   Organization is the key to making this elegant dessert.

December was in full swing and Jamie and I were having friends over for a little Christmas cheer.  I needed a dessert to compliment our dinner.  The French Yule Log was the perfect dessert.  It was stunning.  As you can see in the photo below, I was lucky to get a picture before it all disappeared!  My favorite layer was the praline crisp.  I had extra, so I used it to decorate the sides of this elegant dessert.

Be brave, take a deep breath, and give this French Yule Log a try.  

FRENCH YULE LOG OR ENTREMETS 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:  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 DWHIPPE 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. 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 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) 

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

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.  Bake in a water bath.
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.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snap, Crackle, Pop

There are so many wonderful things to say about a roaring fire. When there is a chill in the air, the warmth soothes your soul. Mesmerizing - watching the constant flicker of the flames brings calm.   The smell of a well-built fire brings memories of  childhood camping trips with roasted hot dogs and s'mores.  

The sound.  The snap, crackle, and pop of fresh logs on a fire becomes music to the audience intently watching the flickering flames.  

So, as I was sitting by the fire sipping my hot chocolate, the snap, crackle and pop of the fire reminded me of a favorite childhood cookie.  Chocolate Crackles.  I have it on personal authority that these little gems are Santa's favorite.  When I was a child, these cookies were my gift to Santa on Christmas Eve.  He always managed to leave a powdered sugar trail next to his empty glass of milk.   So as you contemplate your holiday baking, make sure you include a batch of these little wonders.  Once you taste these decadent treats, you'll never hear a fire the same way again.

Chocolate Crackles

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Melt chocolate over a double boiler, taking care not to get any water in the chocolate.  You can also microwave the chocolate in 15 second increments, stirring in between until melted.  Once melted, set aside and cool.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  

With an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Add melted chocolate and mix well.

With the mixer on low speed add 1/2 flour, then the milk, then the remaining flour.  Take care to mix well between each addition.   Divide dough into four equal pieces and wrap each one in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pinch off enough dough to roll into a 1-inch ball.  Roll it to completely cover it in granulated sugar.  Then roll it into confectioner's sugar to coat generously.

Space each cookie about 2 inches apart on a silicone baking mat.  Bake until the surfaces crack like the picture.  They take about 14 minutes.  Let cookies cool on wire wracks.  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

Baking with a child can be magical. Not in the enchanted forest way, but in a "fill your heart" happy way. Every little detail of the recipe occurs with presence. Whether it is cracking an egg or sifting the flour, a million questions are asked and hopefully patiently answered. There is total awareness of each step accompanied by thoughtful explanation. I am training another baker, after all!

So, when I found myself curled up on the couch with MaryJo, I was delighted when she wanted to bake. She really loves baking with her Aunt Nay Nay! I am so lucky. Our ritual is the same, she grabs a cookbook from my shelf and begins searching for the perfect recipe. She narrows it down to a few choices, and once we read the instructions, the pantry and timing help us make a decision. On this particular day, Molasses Spiced Cookies took the honor.

Baking is very therapeutic for me. When I am baking solo, there are times when I drift into the zone. It's more of a zen-like state, but nevertheless, I am baking and thinking - but not about each other. When you add a child to the mix, it's all about the baking. You are thinking about the ingredients, the techniques, and the "whys". And, at the end of the day, when it's time to sprinkle the cookies with sugar, the sugar becomes the pixie dust ending for this magical day.

This is the time of year when holiday baking goes into full gear. There are many cookies, cakes, pies, and confections to mix, stir, and bake. With Christmas parties and family gatherings, many goodies are expected, if not required.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting more frequently. I have so much to share with you! Enjoy! And remember, when you need a little pixie dust, grab a child and get baking!

Molasses Cookies
adapted from
Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all-spice
Pinch of black pepper
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup of molasses
1 egg

about 3/4 cup sugar for rolling and sprinkling

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and pepper. This ensures they are well distributed. With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. And the brown sugar and molasses and beat until incorporated. Add the egg and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour, beating until just incorporated. Take care not to over mix once you add the flour. The last few turns of the spatula are best done by hand. You will have a creamy, soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a least one hour.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment silicone mats. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Pinch off enough dough to form a 1-inch ball. Roll the dough between your palms to form a ball. Then roll the ball in the sugar to coat evenly. Place on the cookie sheet - two inches apart. Using a flat object, slightly press on the cookie dough to flatten. You are aiming for a thickness between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.

Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes. When done, sprinkle the tops with sugar and transfer to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Sometimes Ponder...

I can't believe it's been over 20 years since high school.  Where did the time go?  It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in Mrs. Goldstein's class taking a test about the structure of cells.  I will let you in on a little secret.  I never really enjoyed science.  In fact, other than human biology (and I'm sure you get my drift), science was really boring to me.  The truth is that I had very little interest in mitochondria, osmosis, and other such important topics.  That daily hour of science easily won the dubious honor of the worst hour of my day. For those who know me well, I'm sure you would have guessed math. You would be wrong, very very wrong.  Math was a close second, a very close second, but science won the prize.

I'm sure you're wondering what this confession has to do with baking. Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer.   So, picture this scene.  Bellied up to my stove, I was lulled into deep thought by the rhythmic stirring.   As I was slowly stirring the very hot and fragrant mixture of butter and sugar in my saucepan, I was struck by the oddest thought, "Cooking is like science." I would have violently shuddered, but the sugar and butter smelled so good that it quelled the urge. Baking and Science in the same thought? In my thoughts? What is the matter with me!?!  How could my yin and yang collide in such glorious fashion?  

Well it did.  With all teasing aside, if you heat up sugar, you are not going to get hot sugar. With a little love and patience, you will have some form of caramel. If you add water, you will get a caramel syrup. If you add butter, you can coerce it into a warm toffee.  Add a little cream and you are on your way to chewy caramels.  Depending on the temperature and the length of time, your confection will either be chewy, crunchy, blond, dark blond, or - hopefully not - burnt.

My objective was to turn my confection into a wonderful toffee...hmmmm. Who doesn't love buttery, crunchy toffee?!?  If you hit the cooking time just right, you will have a wonderful flavored treat that will rival any Heath Bar out there.   The key to making toffee is not to cook it too long.  The color will turn from a toffee blond to a dark amber in a second.  You have to watch it carefully and be prepared to turn it out into your pan very quickly.  If you do cook it too long, not only will you get a burnt flavor, but the toffee will be way too chewy.  You will lose the toffee crunch.  The ingredients are simple.  And, it takes no time at all to make.  This is the perfect time of year to give it a try.  It makes a wonderful gift.  Who wouldn't love to unwrap a box of home made toffee?

The beauty with cooking and baking is the mere fact that you take simple foods and change their physical properties by adding heat and other ingredients. I sometimes ponder...if chemistry would have been this interesting, I may not have dropped it for accounting.


14 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 6 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dash salt, fleur de sel if you have it
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Chopped Pecans
Silpat on a baking sheet

Put butter, sugar, and water in a heavy pan on medium-high heat. Bring to a bubbling boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. Remove spoon from pan, and cook until the toffee reaches a toffee color.  A little trick is to match the color to peanut butter. I know it is done when the color is the same as good ole' peanut butter. Some recipes will call for a candy thermometer, but I really found that once you achieve that toffee color, it is ready. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt. Pour it directly onto the silpat and spread to a 1/4" thickness. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. After about a minute, the chocolate chips will be soft. Take the back of a spoon and spread the chocolate. Immediately sprinkle the top with chopped pecans. Cool completely and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.