Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas with the Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

Given the timing, it wasn't a surprise that this month's Daring Bakers challenge was a Yule Log, or Buche de Noel. It also wasn't a surprise that this was the most time-intensive, complicated Yule Log I've ever made. Most yule logs that I've seen are comprised of a thin sponge cake rolled around a mousse or buttercream filling, and frosted with chocolate to resemble tree bark. This yule log, on the other hand, was composed of six different elements, from cake to mousse to creme brulee, layered in a buche mold or loaf pan, and frozen until solid.

The craziness first started with the question of the cake mold. You see, I wanted a rounded yule log. I knew that I could make my buche in a square-cornered loaf pan, but as we all know, there are no square-cornered logs found in nature. My baker's OCD demanded fully realistic edible flora! However, my obsessiveness is rivaled only by my cheapness, and I decided I didn't want to spend $40 on a buche cake pan, so I decided to construct one myself. Hello, second grade!

Round buche de noel: as delicious as it is realistic

Fun fact: paper mache is not as exciting as your memory might have you believe. Mostly, it is a slow and messy process. And as an additional tip, it is a good idea to follow an actual recipe, instead of just guessing quantities for the paper mache paste. I think my mold might have dried and hardened...eventually...but I didn't have three months to wait and find out.

However, a mold made from reinforced posterboard and duct tape worked swimmingly. I was worried about it softening after being filled and frozen, but it had no problems keeping its shape. It is now in my closet, because I spent too long making it to throw it away, even though I can't imagine needing it again. This is how pack rats think, people.

So after all the drama with the mold was over, all that was left was making the six buche components and assembling it over the course of several days! Simplicity itself. Here's what the buche was composed of:

I wanted a chocolate yule log, because chocolate makes everything better, but I wanted to fancy it up a little bit, so I added a few extra flavors. The chocolate mousse got a little orange zest to add a citrus flavor, the ganache got a bunch of cayenne and a little cinnamon to add some spice, and the creme brulee was infused with a cinnamon stick, although that flavor got lost in the heavier chocolate flavors. I made my own praline and thought the hazelnut praline crisp layers were the best part. So flaky, so crunchy, so delicious! Call me, hazelnut praline.

I had a grand vision of creating a frosty winter wonderland scene for my yule log, so I created a bunch of chocolate mushrooms, leaves, and butterflies, and set it all on a foil-covered cake board covered with multicolored chocolate designs. In the end it wasn't as glorious as my dream--perhaps I should have continued the second grade crafts theme and made a diorama--but I did have fun fiddling with all of my accessories. Here are some close-ups:

The butterflies: I drew a few different butterfly templates onto a sheet of paper and taped waxed paper over it. I traced the designs using different colored candy melts, and once they were hard, glued them together with more candy melts. It was definitely a learning process, and next time I know to make my butterflies a bit thicker so they don't keep breaking.
The mushrooms: For the caps, I inflated balloons just the tiniest bit, and dipped them halfway into candy melts. I set them to dry upside-down in an egg carton, and once completely dry, popped the balloon and carefully peeled it away. The stems were thin cigarette cookies dipped in candy melts and glued to the caps with candy melts.
The leaves: These were my favorite! Simply paint the tops of leaves with candy melts. You can use one color or blend several colors on one leaf. Once dry, carefully peel the leaf away, and you have a pretty chocolate leaf! I painted some of my butterflies and leaves with silver luster dust to get them to glitter.
The berries and rocks: these are new M&Ms Premiums. The red ones are raspberry almond and the blue ones are plain almond. They taste all right, but I mostly love them for their appearance.
The cake board: was made by covering a cardboard base with aluminum foil. I took several colors of candy melts--white and light blues--and plopped them at random intervals on the cake board. Then I smoothed them into a very thin layer with an offset spatula, and dragged a serrated cake comb through it to give an interesting design.

Overall, this recipe was time-consuming, between creating all the different elements and the various cooling/chilling times before assembly, but I didn't have too many difficulties or frustrations. I did have a bit of a hard time with the pate a bombe for the mousse, because the quantities were so small in my mixer. While I was making the icing I tasted it and thought it was seriously bitter, so I added a lot of extra sugar to compensate. I also doubled the icing recipe because so many people had difficulty getting it to fully cover their logs. Other than that, it was smooth sailing! I need to give a special shout-out to my main dishes man, who washed every dish in our kitchen--thrice, it seems--during the course of making this dessert.

And how did it taste? Darn good! All of the elements worked extremely well together, and although it seems excessive, the taste is actually quite light and not too rich. It also keeps incredibly well--I made it 2 weeks ago and froze it, and we're now enjoying it--straight from the refrigerator, not the freezer--over this Christmas weekend. Everyone who's tried it has liked it immensely, so I will consider this a success.

Because it was so much work, it probably won't be a regular dessert, but I will definitely keep the recipe one hand next time I need a show-stopper. The exceedingly long recipe is below, under the cut.

What did everyone else think?

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.

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.

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)
[I added the zest of one orange to make orange-chocolate mousse]

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.

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
[I added a hefty shake of cayenne to make it spicy]

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.

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.

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.

Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

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

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

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
[I added a cinnamon stick to make cinnamon creme brulee]

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.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

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.

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 [I almost doubled this--it was bitter as written!]
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder
[I doubled the recipe to make pouring easier]

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.

Yule Log Assembly

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.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) 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.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) 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.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.


2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3B) 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.
4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5B) 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.
6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8B) 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.
9B) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with TWO pieces of Dacquoise the order is:
1) Dacquoise
2) Mousse
3) Creme Brulee Insert
4) Mousse
5) Praline/Crisp Insert
6) Mousse
7) Ganache Insert
8) 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.


  1. Anonymous7:31 AM

    I love your flavor combinations. They sound delicious. Your layers look perfect.

  2. j'aime beaucoup les parfums et ta décoration est splendide :)

  3. Wonderful decorations and your log looks and sounds yummy (I thought about making chocolate-orange mousse but decided banana would be easier for me to digest in the end). Have a Happy New Year!

  4. Ooooh! So pretty!

  5. I love the diff flavor combos. It turned out very pretty!

  6. Christy6:52 PM

    That is so pretty! Great Job!

  7. WOW! I'm impressed... what a nice setting for such a beautiful log!
    Very, very pretty!

  8. Wow the presentation is so impressive. I really like how you managed to keep all of the layers so clean and distinct.

  9. I am beyond blown away by your yule log. Starting with the fact that YOU MADE YOUR OWN MOLD!!! I am cheap too, but my cheapness is generally trumped by my lazyness, so I think at the end of the day I would have caved and bought the pan (although I agree that the loaf pan would not do!) Your flavors look delicious, and the entire presentation is gorgeous. WOW!!!!!

  10. WOW! I want some!!!! Beautifully stunning work!

    Happy New Year!

  11. I love the idea of the chocolate orange mousse. Orange would have been a nice flavor in this. Great idea. And your scenery was gorgeous. Wonderful effort in all aspects!

  12. Very nice "christmasy" flavours! Great DYI and cute blue decorations too!

  13. wow, you're so much more creative than i am! love how you made your own mold...and the butterflies are adorable! so much hard work - but it looks like it paid off :) well done!

  14. Great looking cake! I think it's very clever that you made your own mold, too.

  15. LOL No need to go through French classes, Liz! LOL
    A bûche if round (or dome shaped) in French turns into a "bombe" ...a bit like a Baked Alaska in French, is also a "bombe"!!! Therefore, "bombe" equals "bomb" equals "Bombastic"! LOL LOL Okay, far fetched... but that's exacly how I like it! The "too obvious" is just not as interesting to me... LOL Wala!
    Thanks for passing by and Oh! a very, very happy new year to you, plus many reason to smile and laugh throughout 2009!

  16. Wow, I am exhausted just reading about all the work you put into this challenge. What a super job you did. I am really impressed. Well done.

  17. Gorgeous work here! You did an amazing job. You are a true artist!

  18. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Too cool! Love the mushrooms.

  19. I can't believe you constructed your own mold, that goes above and beyond!

  20. You are so clever! Making your own cake pan (!!!) AND then those to die for decorations. Brava! Happy New Year~

  21. Love the decoration, love the flavours and love your creative mold making skills!

  22. Oh my! That is one fun, fancy dessert. Love it!

    You get bonus points for the creative mold-making too :)

  23. I can't stop giggling! YOU SOUND EXACTLY LIKE ME!!! Only in addition to my bakers OCD and cheapness, there's this thing called lazily hardworking moodswing, which determines the difficulty I put into each baked good.

    I LOVE what you did!!!! You have one big (not in size...i mean, big, you know!!) admirer over here!!! <3