Friday, December 21, 2007

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!


michelle said...

I rolled mine the short way, too. It didn't even occur to me that I should have done it the other way until much, much later. Oh well. We've all seen little stumpy logs like ours, right? ;)

Lis said...

Aww I love your lil stump! heee! The flavors you chose sound amazingly good and I'm so happy his mom enjoyed it as well!

Happy holidays to you and yours!

glamah16 said...

Your genosie looks so perfect. Really nice.

Anonymous said...

Your mushrooms are stunning. And I rolled mine the short way too, and still barely manage to make it fit on the cake plate. So we were just being smart. :-)


Lunch Buckets said...

Your mushrooms are awfully cute! Someday I'll try pastry cream too - we had eggnogg from the extra yolks. Couldn't let all that brandy, uhm eggs, go to waste.

Sandicita said...

Hazelnut party cream sounds amazing... I'll definitely have to try that soon! Your log looked beautiful and it sounds like everyone enjoyed it. Great job!

Anonymous said...

The mushrooms came out really good!

Dolores said...

but... but... but... Swiss Colony begins production in July, and their version's basically an over sized ho ho. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who looked at a farm of forty eight mushrooms and thought I'd landed in some smurf village. :)

Gabi said...

Ami- the stump is lovely and probably a better proportion of cake and filling to buttercream as well. You did a great job!
Wishing you lots of happy baking for 2008!

Anonymous said...

Ami-Malign the stump as you will--whether stump, bump, chunk, clump, hunk, or hump--the Yule Log left a memory of sweet longing, like waiting the return of the giver of pleasure. Cleo

Jen Yu said...

Fantastic yule stump! The little mushrooms are perfect. Makes me want to reach into the photo and snack on a few :) Great job.

jen at use real butter