Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Freakout Before Christmas; or, A Matter of Perspective

Initially, I thought about writing this DB post in rhyming verse, in keeping with the title. Then I realized how much I despise rhyming verse, and would come to hate myself for composing my post with crappy ABAB rhyme, so I’ll spare everyone that foray into dime-store poetry hell.

Last year, about the time I joined the Daring Bakers, I was introduced to the simultaneous joy and terror of the Buche de Noel, alias the Yule Log. In that dessert, a genoise sponge cake was filled with mousse, rolled, frosted with buttercream and adorned with meringue mushrooms. I made two critical errors with that dessert. First, I made a pastry cream instead of a mousse—this made for a less-than-stable filling that wound up gushing out the sides of the cake when I rolled it. Second, I rolled the cake along its short side so that I wound up with a Yule Stump rather than a Yule Log. Well, I was a bit disappointed with the overall appearance of said Stump, but Z. and P. graciously assisted in the devouring of the cake.

I kept everything in perspective and moved on.

This year, the Daring Bakers were introduced (or, at least, I was introduced) to the other variety of a Yule Log, a frozen specialty from Paris that is the apotheosis of the pastry chef’s art. Beautiful and gleaming, these modern Buches’ architectural splendor would make Frank Gehry burn his drafting table and join the pro hacky sack circuit. And here I would be, throwing my toque into the ring, with a dessert that had no fewer than six separate components.

I swallowed my trepidation and threw myself into the project, knowing that it would only strengthen my baking skills. So, four days before I planned on serving the Buche at a holiday gathering at my in-laws’ home, I began the process. Six components, ladies and gentlemen. Orange crème brulee, crisp (corn flakes in chocolate), dark chocolate mousse, cinnamon ganache, almond dacquoise, and dark chocolate glaze. Only someone insane or French would attempt such an endeavor.

Things began to go wrong only when it was time to glaze the Buche. There wasn’t enough of the glaze to cover the log, so I made a double batch and was singularly unimpressed with its appearance or consistency. Instead of a mirror-like finish creating a visually elegant log, I had something lumpy and decidedly gauche, like a guy wearing jams at a gallery opening. Undaunted, I slapped some sliced almonds over the sides and packed up the Buche for transportation to the holiday gathering. Once transported, it went into the freezer, and then was removed to thaw slightly whilst presents were opened. (Thanks for the Williams-Sonoma gift certificate, Jerry!)

Then it came time to slice the Buche. Perhaps I let it thaw too long, or perhaps, by selecting a slightly different mousse recipe than the one provided to the DBers, I hamstrung myself. But when the knife met the Buche, it turned into a sloppy, smeared mess, and the dacquoise was nigh impossible to cut. Rather than the gorgeous modern art I had been anticipating, I was left with something that resembled the Johnstown Flood. Several people attempted to mollify me, assuring me that the cake really didn’t look that bad, and they were sure it tasted wonderful, and that was all that mattered, really. I would not be consoled.

Reader, I freaked out. I stormed upstairs, away from the festivities, and actually shed tears of anger. My poor husband accompanied me, insisting that the Buche was truly fine and no one cared if it looked a bit messy. But no. I was adamantly upset. Mature? Firmly grasping perspective? No and no.

Eventually, I made my way back downstairs where everyone had cleaned their plates and sagely did not mention the fact that I had freaked out days before Christmas because of a cake. We played silly trivia games and had tea, and I morosely picked at my slice of cake, feeling like an utter jackass. I’m fairly certain that this Christmas will forever be known in family lore as The Year Ami Freaked Out. Or perhaps I flatter myself.

In the end, Z. and I had our post mortem and decided certain components of the Buche were tasty (dacquoise, ganache), but overall, the dessert was actually too rich and thus not especially enjoyable. Though, it’s also likely that the flavor was made bitter by my unreasonable expectations. After all, I’m a girl who really prefers a simple brownie or blondie to ornate French pastries. You can’t expect to fly by just running off the roof. At least my hard head broke my fall.

I remain,
Yours, &c.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, salivating already in anticipation of Christmas, 2009. Oh, to clamp onto one of your glorious failures and/or dreamy successes, such as the perfect apple cake of late. And, referencing your summation, the difference between flying and falling is gauged by perception. Splat--either way. Happy New Year. Happy Cakes.