Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coconut! No Hazelnut! Noo Coconut!


Happy Holidays!

This was my first challenge as part of the Daring Bakers, and while things definitely didn’t go 100% according to plan, I can’t get over how much fun it was!

After a long and brutal month of excessive work and snow in the northeast, today marked my first day of vacation down in the slightly warmer southeast. I had whole day….A WHOLE DAY….with no snow to shovel, no errands to run, and a big ol’ Yule log to bake. I also had the pleasure of my three siblings’ company in the kitchen. Aside from being delightful, they were also very good at hollering directions when I’d left the recipe on the other side of the room.


Things started out well. The cake batter was silky and gorgeous, and the cake came out slightly golden and not too dry. (I followed the recipe as written, but I ended up leaving it in for about 8 or 9 minutes.) I had decided to fill the roll with a coconut filling that my grandmother uses in her to die for coconut sour cream cake. Word of this decision began to spread, and after a few minutes, I heard my brother wail: “What?!? Coconut?? Nooooo”. He looked pretty forlorn, and this was, after all, the season of giving. So I reluctantly agreed to go with a chocolate hazelnut filling instead. And then I changed my mind. I really wanted the coconut. I’d do half and half….a black and white Yule log! (Later we learned that he doesn’t even like cake that much and might not even eat any. Much sighing and eye rolling ensued.)

I made the fillings. That all went fine. But then it came time to roll. That was a rather messy process, as I’d put a little too much filling on before rolling, and both fillings were a little on the thin/runny side. No biggie, messes can be cleaned up. However, I also don’t think I rolled it tight enough. I’m curious to see what it looks like when we cut into it.


Buttercream time! Chocolate buttercream! After it curdled, I used the tip for fixing buttercream that I’d read on the Daring Bakers blog, and it worked beautifully. Everything post-icing-the-log was just fun. My sisters, brother, and I gathered around a ball of marzipan, molding four distinctly different types of mushrooms that I’m sure say a lot about our personalities. (I’m not sure mine say anything flattering.) I’d made meringue cookies several times before, and I was tempted to go this route, because of its familiarity. I’m glad I didn’t. The marzipan came together very easily, offered an opportunity to play with food, and the almond scent was intoxicating.


Finally, I topped the log with some shredded coconut snow, added a few cranberries and mint leaves dipped egg whites and sugar, and then arranged the mushrooms as artfully as I could. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad! It’s pretty gosh darn cute. All and all, I feel good about my first challenge, and can’t wait to see what January brings.

Amy B

First Daring Baker Challenge: White Chocolate Raspberry Yule Log

So not only was this my first Daring Baker challenge but it was also my first time making a yule log. Since I was home for Christmas, I had the pleasure of having a wonderful assistant – my mom! I decided I wanted to try something different, so I decided to make a white chocolate genoise cake. I followed the recipe with the only exception being that I added 3 oz of melted white chocolate chips. I melted the chocolate over a simmering pot of hot water and then added the melted chocolate right before I folded the flour in.

Laura G- picture 1

It looked like it deflated the eggs a little bit, but nothing too bad. I almost forgot to butter the pan underneath and on top of the parchment paper (which could have led to disaster), but luckily my mom reminded me. I was also worried that there wasn’t enough batter – it made a very thin layer in the jelly roll pan, but I think it turned out all right.

Laura G- picture 2

I found a very good King Arthur article on yule logs – so I followed their suggestion on how to roll the log. I had decided to do a raspberry buttercream filling (my family has an aversion to coffee-flavoring – don’t get me wrong, I love coffee… just not so keen on coffee-flavored things). So I knew that I didn’t want to put the filling in while the cake was still warm, so (at King Arthur’s suggestion), I laid out a tea towel and doused it with powdered sugar.

Laura G- picture 3

We then flipped the cake out onto the tea towel and, again, covered the top of the cake with massive amounts of powdered sugar (so that nothing would stick). At this point, I thought the cake was a bit underdone (I was really worried about overbaking it, so I took it out after about 9 min in a 325 convection oven). I then rolled the cake up, with the tea towel still on it. I set it to cool for the next couple of hours.

My attention then turned to the filling: raspberry buttercream. To make the buttercream raspberry-flavored, we decided to puree and then strain some raspberries with a tiny bit of sugar. This was my first attempt at buttercream – and, it appeared to curdle. I looked up a bunch of different things on the web, trying to figure out what had happened (and turned to the old trustee “Best Recipes” from America’s Test Kitchen). Everything said to keep beating it. So I tried that, but it didn’t seem to work. We ended up adding some powdered sugar until the consistency was right, threw it in the fridge, and hoped for the best. A little while later, it looked better and tasted good, so we used it. Unrolling the log was nerve-wrecking, but it didn’t split at all! I was very happy about that.

In the meantime, we made marzipan and worked on the buttercream frosting for the outside. I decide to make this chocolate buttercream (rather than coffee) and this time my mom suggested beating the eggs a lot longer (and heating them to a bit higher temperature). So we ended up with what looked like meringue (many websites said that buttercream is just meringue + hot sugar syrup).

Laura G- picture 4

I tried to color it with just the cocoa powder, but it wasn’t a rich enough brown, so I added some brown food coloring (in paste form). That seemed to do the trick. We had to chill the log a couple of times (the raspberry buttercream filling was pretty soft – probably due to the puree we added for the raspberry flavor/color). And in the end, I think I chilled the chocolate buttercream frosting a bit too long, as I had to wait a bit for it to warm up so it was easier to frost.

We made marzipan for the mushrooms/decorations. I forgot we had paste food coloring (which probably would have given us more vivid colors) so we just colored the marzipan with regular food coloring. We made mushrooms (dusted with cocoa powder for the dirt), elves, and presents. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could make meringue mushrooms (I wanted to try those) – but maybe next time! We dusted it with powdered sugar to make it look like there was freshly fallen snow…

So now.. for the final pictures:

Laura G- picture 5
Overview: Whimsical on one side.. Mushrooms on the other

Laura G- picture 6
Meeting the mushroom requirement… check!

Laura G -picture 7
The mushrooms looked surprisingly real!

laura G- picture 8
Naughty or Nice…?

Laura g- picture 9
Christmas Elf #1

Laura G- picture 10
The Whimsical Side

Thanks for reading! -Laura

Friday, December 21, 2007

There's No Fear in Yule Log Baking!

pixie - yule log 025

Whew, my first challenge is done and I’m so relieved. It was a very long and arduous process but well worth the results! But before I get into the details, I’d like to thank everyone who gave such helpful hints that steered me clear of the gravest mistakes!

I first decided on the components of my yule log- I opted for a coffee pudding filling and a chocolate flavored genoise. I figured the pudding would be a great way of using up some of the extra egg yolks. The genoise, which I made with some trepidation turned out okay. I think I lost a little volume while folding in the dry ingredients but it came out light enough. Gone is my fear of genoise!

While warm, I rolled up the chocolate genoise with a kitchen towel as I would do with the jelly rolls I made. Then I attacked the butter cream. I chose to use dark chocolate and crème de cacao instead of coffee. I took extra care to make sure it didn’t break following all the wise advice available. I felt though that the color was still too pale.

Then came one of the best parts… making the meringue mushrooms. They are so cute that whatever fatigue I was experiencing after 6 hours dissipated once these lovely creations came out of the oven!

Then came the assembly. I filled and frosted my roll taking care to add the little branch on the top. I still didn’t like the color of my log. So I melted some dark chocolate and spread it on a baking sheet. I broke this into strips and then I covered up my roll and tried to make it look like bark. I succeeded in some areas but it wasn’t as neat as I had hoped.

With all the mushrooms sticking out and the crumbly chocolate bark, I am loathe to slice this pretty cake! Thank you so much for a wonderful induction to the daring bakers… I’m looking forward to January’s challenge!


A Yule Log in Tuscany

This challenge was a real challenge and frankly my results, although tasty, were somewhat mediocre. I am in the middle of renovations to my very old home in Tuscany and my kitchen is being redone, leaving all my appliances and utensils and plates in my living room scattered about. In order to bake this cake, I had to first find the ingredients which have been placed into various unlabeled bags, plug various appliances in and set them on top of coffee tables and begin the baking process upstairs while preheating the old oven in the kitchen downstairs. Needless to say, this was tedious.

monica's Chocolog

The cake was dry in my opinion, probably because I am unfamiliar with the oven downstairs and was distracted by the buttercream which was difficult since it was made half upstairs then transferred downstairs to be completed. The downstairs kitchen has no heat at the moment (also due to renovations), so while I had good intentions of running a fork over it, it hardened like chocolate instead on the top - no idea what I did wrong there.

The one fun thing was playing with marzipan..... Firstly because I love eating it. Anything almond makes me swoon. I enticed both kids to help me and we had a lot of fun. The mushrooms were cute although I have to say my fingers are still very green and very red from smooshing the food coloring into the marzipan... and the mushrooms are not really edible decorated the way they are because the little "speckles" on top of the mushrooms are actually this digestive bicarbonate grain that comes in jars here in Italy - I had to improvise, could not find dragees at my store but as I was checking out I passed the "indigestion aisle" and lo and behold, this fit the bill. I suppose you could save the mushrooms for after the cake and get a digestive in the mix as well! :-)


This was an awesome challenge. I had a ton of fun with the marzipan. The buttercream would have been better if it had been warmer in my house. Everything TASTED great and the fact that people had second helpings was a fabulous compliment. Thanks again for letting me be a part of such a great group!


Daring Non-Blogger

I'm very excited to finish my first challenge!!! I was hoping that the challenge would be a yule log this month, so thanks to Lis and Ivonne for reading my mind and picking a wonderful recipe, perfect for the holiday season. It was a joy to make and a joy for my family to eat at our annual Christmas gift exchange and dinner held at my house this year.

kelly G -Yule log 1

The genoise was light and airy - although I think I would bake it one or two minutes less next time. I rolled it in a tea towel to cool (excellent tip fellow DBers!) but still ended up with some cracks when rolling. The log was filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, toasted hazelnuts and some of the coffee buttercream (and maybe a splash or two or three of rum!!). Everyone raved about the buttercream and I was quite proud of its lush, silky texture. It hid the cracks amazingly well and tasted incredible - definitely one I would use again. Everyone was fooled by the mushrooms and they were passed around to make sure that they were in fact made of marzipan and weren't just from my vegetable crisper.

I have to admit that the daring part of the challenge for me wasn't the baking. I had so much fun making components of the recipe that I had never made before and putting the log together. The challenge for me, I found, was more in the blogging itself and the picture taking. I spend a lot of time at work on technical writing that I find it hard to sit down and write like I am talking to a friend. But I realized that being daring means really participating in the group, trying to find my voice and giving all aspects of the challenge a try. And I really did try with the photos. My hubby can attest to that -we had every light on in the house at 11pm moving the cake from room to room to find good lighting and a workable background. I took picture after picture trying to find a shot that could convey how good the cake actually looked in person rather just than a shadowy lump on the plate. Well...I came to the conclusion that photography really isn't my thing and I need more than a point and shoot camera if I want nice pictures. Since my frustration with the camera was starting to colour, what had been up to that point, a really stress-free, successful baking session, I decided to call it a night.

kelly g - Yule log 2

My good friend and neighbour Shelly came to my rescue the next day by offering the photography services of her husband Jason. He did a wonderful job with the pictures and even brought some props (the cute birch trees) to enhance the look. While the rest of drank some wine and relaxed, he was an artiste with the log and came up with some wonderful pictures. Thanks Jason for your help (and now you know what the pictures are for!) Luckily I've since found out that I have many friends with photography skills who would like the chance to practice their skills in the food styling arena. So while I can be daring in the kitchen and with my writing, for now I can leave behind the stress of photography to those who find it their daring challenge.

Happy holidays to all! K

My Bûche de Noel

I was so excited to finally join Daring Bakers this month. Browsing food blogs has become my newest obsession since we are in the “non-busy season” at work, and the Daring Bakers seemed like such a fun group. And I am always looking for excuses to bake. I might have waited until January to begin though because I already had tons of baking planned for December. I hosted our 2nd Annual Gingerbread House Decorating Contest and Cookie Exchange. Most of the guests were my husband’s fellow graduate students who were in the middle of final exams, which meant that I made all of the gingerbread houses, and the cookie exchange was basically me giving away dozens and dozens of cookies in exchange for smiles. I love to take care of those people though, and they really appreciate it. I really wanted to make the Yule Log to serve at that party, but that just didn’t happen. My next project was making Christmas goodie bags for my whole office, so the Yule Log was still on hold.

Finally I was able to make the Yule Log, or Bûche de Noel as I like to call it, last weekend. When my husband saw what I was up to, he begged me not to make it! I think he is getting tired of the constant visions of sugar plums that have been dancing in his head all month during his sugar comas. Since most of our friends have left town for the holidays already, we didn’t have anyone to share it with, so he’d be forced to eat the whole thing himself. I decided to only decorate a tiny, tiny piece of the log and freeze the rest to serve when everyone is back.
I really didn’t have any trouble with any part of the Bûche. My cake looked kind of funky when it came out of the oven, but it rolled very nicely. I had added cocoa powder to it because I am just a chocoholic. I rolled the cake immediately in a humidified towel, then filled and rerolled it once it cooled.

bobbie sue - buche cake

Somewhere I had seen a filling recipe using mascarpone cheese and Nutella, so I whipped that up to fill my Bûche. I thought that would be an excellent way to prevent me from just eating all of that deliciousness that is Nutella right out of the jar. Luckily I did have leftover filling, so I can eat that right out of the Tupperware container! I left that to set in the refrigerator overnight.

The buttercream frosting scared me a bit with all of the trouble that was being posted on the DB blog, but I thought I’d really be daring and try to chocolatize mine anyway. I added melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate before mixing in the butter. It tasted amazing, but was a little thin – very shiny though. As I was waiting for the mushrooms to bake, my husband started hovering around the cake wondering when he could eat it. Funny how he didn’t even want me to make it in the first place! I told him he’d have to wait for the mushrooms to go on and for me to photograph it.

The meringue mushrooms were not a problem either. I have made meringue cookies before, so I knew what I was getting into. I also added some cocoa powder to the meringue mixture – this time for color, not just for the sake of being chocolate. I thought they turned out pretty cute. I stuck a few in the cake but I had tons leftover since my little Bûche was so tiny, so I ate them up.

bobbie sue - buche

Finally my teeny little Bûche de Noel was complete! My husband dug right in and thought it was delicious. He especially loved the filling, but I didn’t tell him about my secret stash in the Tupperware. He ate about half of log. He ate the other half the next night! So much work gobbled up in just two nights! I’m sure he is looking forward to the rest of the log coming out of the freezer next month!

Bobbie Sue

My Yule Stump

My baking library isn’t huge, but it’s pretty comprehensive. And in a few of my cookbooks are recipes for Buche de Noel, a.k.a. Yule Log. Even though I’m Jewish, I joked with Z. that one day I’d make us a Yule Log for the holidays. We both knew I’d never actually be crazy enough to attempt making one. I mean—genoise, buttercream, meringue mushrooms? No way! Leave it to the Swiss Colony.

Then a little thing called the Daring Bakers happened, and, honey, guess what, I’m making a Yule Log!

I wasn’t bothered, though. This is exactly why I joined DB, to push me out of my comfort zone and into terrifying terra incognita. Making the Yule Log was a two-day affair, made a little more complicated by a few choices I made.

Ami - Meringue

Day One: Meringue Mushrooms. I was amazed how quickly and easily these came together. I don’t consider myself a sculptural artiste (leave the fancy fondant to some other baker, thanks), but within a few hours, I had beautiful meringue mushrooms sitting on my counter like some episode of the Smurfs. For a few, I affixed the stems and caps together with meringue, but the majority I glued with melted semisweet chocolate, per Z.’s request. Later on, when we noshed on them, it was the perfect combination of ethereal meringue sweetness with the assertive darkness of chocolate.

Ami- Meringue Mushrooms

Also on Day One, Hazelnut Pastry Cream: I decided to fill the cake, per the DB creative allowance, with a Hazelnut Pastry Cream. I have an ongoing “challenge list” of my own, and pastry cream was on there. So pastry cream it was. Killing two birds, &c. I used the recipe from the Nick Malgieri book “Perfect Cakes,” from which we took our original Yule Log recipe, and combined it with hazelnut praline paste. I was very careful about watching the temperature of the cream, tempering the eggs and straining the cream, since I have a tendency to get distracted, wander away, and then ruin my work. It’s happened before. After chilling, the pastry cream turned out great, with a nice hazelnut flavor that wasn’t overwhelming. With a smile, I crossed “pastry cream” off my challenge list.

Day Two: Genoise. Another first for me. And it went like a charm, again, thanks to being patient and attentive. The cake puffed nicely in the pan, and as soon as it was done, I followed the suggestion I saw in Cook’s Illustrated Baking book to roll the cake immediately in a clean dishtowel covered with powdered sugar. I let the cake cool, and when I unrolled it, it was slightly curved and more inclined to be rolled up again with the pastry cream.

Ami - Roll

Making the pastry cream as the filling may have crossed something off my challenge list, but it presented a new problem after I spread it onto the genoise. The cream, even though it was fully set, gushed out of the cake as I rolled it. Pastry cream squirted out in a creamy deluge I call the Great Pastry Cream Flood of ’07. I’ve got a pretty short fuse when it comes to baking (just ask Z., who’s had to talk me down from some serious baking snits), but I managed to shrug this off and laugh. Like I said in my last post about the potato bread, nobody’s going to die. It was easy having this cavalier attitude when I knew that there was no pressure. I didn’t promise anyone the Yule Log, and, since it was only me and Z. (and maybe his mom) who were going to eat it, I didn’t have to pretend that my baking was always perfect. So this was error number one, but not insurmountable.

I scraped away the lake of pastry cream and refrigerated the cake while I made the buttercream. More caution, since I’d been careful to read Lis and Ivonne’s suggestions about making sure all the ingredients were the right temperature. It came together with little fuss and a whole lot of butter.

I realized error number two when it came time to cut off the end of the cake to make the stump on the Yule Log. I’d rolled the cake from short side to short side, not long side to long side, resulting in a wide cake that, when the end was removed, became a Yule Stump, not a Yule Log. Sigh. I went ahead and frosted it, then decorated with my meringue mushrooms. But there was no denying it. I had a Charlie Brown Yule Log. All it needed was Linus’ blanket wrapped around it to make the sad picture complete.

Ami - Yule Stump

Fortunately, when it came time for the unveiling, Z. and his mom were both wildly enthusiastic and duly impressed with the effort. And the taste—very, very good. The genoise had a lovely, even crumb and tender texture. The buttercream was silky, and what pastry cream remained inside the cake itself was rich but not cloying. Z.’s mom scraped her plate clean (and mine, and Z.’s), Between the three of us, we finished the Yule Log in one sitting. Later that night, Z. and I polished off the meringue mushrooms while watching “The Biggest Loser,” enjoying the taste of irony.

So, mistakes were made, obstacles overcome, phobias laid to rest. And isn’t that what the Daring Bakers are all about?

Happy Holidays!