Monday, December 27, 2010

Fashionably Late Buche de Noel

Merry Few-Days-After-Christmas, friends! Did you all have wonderful holidays full of eggnog and stockings and too many cookies and repeated viewings of Elf? I know I did.

I also had an awesome gift from Santa:

How great is that?! I guess he reads the blog! Sweeeet. A sassy shirt is all well and good, but next year I'm going to be dropping waaaay more hints about the VitaMix I'm currently coveting. Ahem.

But back to more important things! Like what I used all the ganache for. I'll give you a hint: it's chocolatey. I'll give you a second hint: it was seasonally appropriate, but now, two days after Christmas, it's woefully unfashionable. I'll give you a third hint: it rhymes with smoosh the po-elle.

If you guessed a buche de noel, you're right!

Most buche de noels, or yule log cakes, are made from a springy sponge or genoise cake rolled around a filling, then decorated to look like yule logs. This recipe was a bit different--and dare I say, much better--because it used a flourless chocolate cake that was more like a baked mousse in taste and texture. It was a little more finicky to work with, but the melting, creamy texture more than made up for a few more minute's work.

The cake was rolled around sweetened vanilla whipped cream, and then covered with simple ganache. I used a spatula and a fork to give it a little texture, and stole a few sprigs of rosemary from my parent's bush to decorate the plate, along with some freshly shredded coconut and fresh cranberries.

And the mushrooms. Let's not forget the meringue mushrooms! What should have been a simple accompaniment was made more interesting by the fact that I baked them on the day a big storm rolled into town, causing the meringues to get spongy and sticky. I was able to assemble about a third of them, held together with the most fervent of hope and the sharpest of toothpicks.

The mushrooms were a wreck by the end of the night, but they held together enough for the pictures, which is the important part. Plus, they're fun to make, even when they collapse in a gooey pile.

In the end it was a huge success. We took slices that were way too big, polished them off, and licked our plates clean. And isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Fashionably late--OR AWESOMELY EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS 2011--buche de noel recipe below!

Buche de Noel
Cake recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible

1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (28 grams) granulated white sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces (112 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 17 x 12 inch (43x30 cm) baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and then butter and flour the parchment paper.

While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover and bring to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and cool.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) place the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about five minutes). (When you slowly raise the beaters, the batter will fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.) Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat only to combine.

In a clean mixing bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold a small amount of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula or whisk. Fold in the remaining whites just until incorporated. Don't over mix or the batter will deflate. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is puffed, has lost its shine, and springs back when gently pressed, about 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Cover the cake with a clean, slightly damp towel.

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Beat together all ingredients until the cream starts to hold firm peaks, but don't beat so long that it starts to curdle and have a buttery, overwhipped texture.


12 oz good-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1.5 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp softened butter

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a large bowl. Add the butter on top. Put the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until it simmers and bubbles appear along the sides of the pan, but do not bring it to a boil.

Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk it together until the chocolate melts and the mixture is shiny and smooth.

Cover with cling wrap and, ideally, let sit overnight at room temperature to firm up until it is a spoonable consistency, like peanut butter. If you don't have that much time, place it in the refrigerator and whisk it every 15 minutes until it is the texture of frosting. Do not leave it in the fridge too long, or it will get hard!

Meringue Mushrooms

Try my recipe here, or there's also a photo tutorial. Easy, yay!

Buche de Noel Assembly
Once the cake has cooled, spread it with an even layer of the whipped cream. Gently roll the cake, peeling off the parchment paper as you roll (the cake may crack).

Trim one end of the cake at an angle and set it aside. Then place the cake, seam side down, on your serving platter lined with strips of waxed paper. Take the slice of reserved cake and attach it to the top of the cake to resemble a branch growing off the log.

Gently spread the ganache over the outside of the cake. Once it's completely covered, use a spatula or a fork to create waves and texture in the ganache to resemble tree bark.

Finish the buche de noel with meringue mushrooms, powdered sugar or coconut for snow, and optional accents like leaves or chocolate shavings.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Hot Chocolate On A Stick

I have a love-hate relationship with hot chocolate.

I love that such a product exists. Chocolate! In a cup! Suitable for slurping!
I hate that it most often comes from chalky powdered mixes. Ew.
I love that hot chocolate goes with everything: marshmallows, candy canes, a nutritious veggie-packed dinner...
I hate that it is the caloric equivalent of a small meal, especially when I add those marshmallows and candy canes.

As I've grown older, the sensible part of my brain has sided with the "hates" and hot chocolate has become more and more of a rarity in my diet.


Hot Chocolate On A Stick.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. It should really be called "Super Intense Fudge Blocks That You Skewer And Oh Yeah, If You Put Them In Milk They Melt And Make Amazing Liquid Fudge."

THAT is truth in advertising.

The basic recipe is just four ingredients: cream, condensed milk, and two kinds of chocolate. They're blended together, and then once the fudge sets up, it's cut into blocks and be-sticked. Really, that's it. It's a plain and simple process that produces the best hot chocolate I've had in a long time. It's ridiculously rich, of course, but not too sweet at all, and it actually tastes like chocolate instead of defatted cocoa and hydrogenated palm kernel oil and whatever else they're shoving into those cocoa mixes these days.

The fudge is fine on its own, but I would absolutely recommend making this primarily as a hot chocolate delivery device. The fudge can be cut into squares or rectangles (or circles! or dodecahedrons!) and can be flavored with all sorts of flavoring oils. I left some plain, rolled some in crushed candy canes, and drizzled and dunked some in orange-flavored white chocolate. [PSA: do not add orange zest to white chocolate, it will seize. Stick to orange oil for flavoring. Cannot believe I did not know this before. Older and wiser, et cetera.]

Through hard experience, we can vouch that the hot chocolate is also an excellent biscotti-softening tool. I made this Christmas biscotti for the Oh Nuts blog and if I may be a huge braggart, it's a winner. It has red & green pistachios, cranberries, white chocolate, and orange zest, and it's simply begging for a hot chocolate bath. Biscotti + hot chocolate on a stick = best gift plate ever? Just sayin....

I still have a love-hate relationship with hot chocolate, however:

I love how it tastes
I hate that it's still one trillion calories
I love that I've had two mugs today
I hate that the second batch is almost gone!

Hot Chocolate On A Stick

yield: about 25 pieces

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

  • 18 oz (about 3 cups) chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chips

  • 4 oz (about 3/4 cup) chopped unsweetened chocolate

  • lollipop sticks, coffee stirrers, straws, etc

Prepare an 8x8 pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chopped semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolates in a large heat-safe bowl.

Pour the heavy cream and condensed milk into a medium saucepan and whisk until combined. Put the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the liquid to a simmer, whisking frequently so that the condensed milk does not scorch on the bottom of the pan.

Once the liquid is simmering, pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for a minute to soften. Begin whisking the cream and chocolate together, until the chocolate is melted and you have a shiny, smooth mixture. It will be fairly thick.

Pour the chocolate into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Allow it to sit and firm up overnight, or for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator.

Once the fudge block is firm, use a large, sharp knife to cut it into pieces. If you do squares you get about twenty-five pieces (five rows and five columns), or you could do longer rectangles like I did. For the smoothest cuts, rinse the knife in hot water and dry it between each cut. Skewer each block with a lollipop stick.

To make hot chocolate: heat a mug of milk (water does not work well in this instance) and add a chocolate block. Allow it to sit and soften for a minute, then vigorously stir until it is dissolved. I find it's easiest to use a fork to break up the chocolate, or a mini whisk would also work well.

Store Hot Chocolate On A Stick in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature, two weeks in the refrigerator, or up to a month in the freezer.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TWD: Apple-Coconut Family Cake

On paper, this Apple-Coconut Family Cake had a lot going for it.

For one thing, I like apple, and I love coconut. Love. Try to use it as often as possible. Named a whole month after it. Want to call my first child Coconut LaBau. (Actually, I want to call my first child Angela-Merkel LaBau*, like the German Chancellor, but someone in the house thinks it's inappropriate. He'll be sorry when we end up with Baby Coconut.)

For another, I actually had family visiting when I made it! My parents, these distinguished individuals, were in town and begging for dessert:

And finally, it looked pretty sexy going into the oven, with the overlapping apple slices and dusting of sugar:

Well, the positive news is that it retained its good looks upon baking. This is a distinguished cake, much like Chancellor Angela Merkel. Just sayin'.

Unfortunately, the taste and texture of this one just didn't measure up for me.

There's a passage in Steve Almond's book Candyfreak--which should be required reading in high school English classes, it is a true work of art--in which he compares eating coconut to chewing on cuticles. I never really agreed with that analogy, until I tried this cake.

It's like this: I take a bite, the cake is nice. Tender chunks of apple, a strong vanilla scent, all is going well...until most of the cake is chewed and swallowed, and I'm left with stringy bits between the teeth, refusing to break down, resembling nothing so much as stubborn cuticles in the mouth. Gross.

I will say, however, that the rest of the family quite liked it, so obviously I have my own cuticle-and-coconut issues to work out. What did everyone else think?

* My obsession with her has everything to do with the way her name flows off the tongue and nothing to do with her politics. Just to be clear.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Make Your Own Candy Cane Joe-Joes

I don't know what I would do without my local Trader Joe's grocery store. Where else would I go with a shopping list 3 items long and leave an hour later, $70 poorer and with four overflowing shopping bags stuffed to the brim with impulse buys like chocolate-covered soybeans and freeze-dried mangoes? Yes, Trader Joe's is a magical place, and despite the danger to my wallet, I keep going back, because so many of their products are so darn good.

Take the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, for instance: an Oreo-like cookie with a cream filling studded with candy cane pieces. Chocolatey, minty, crunchy, creamy... Can it get any better?

Well, actually...
I really like Candy Cane Joe-Joe's for what they are: a tasty mass-produced, industrially made cookie. But how could they possibly compare to homemade cookies, made fresh, with quality ingredients?

Um, they can't.

Which is why I'm here to share this recipe for homemade Candy Cane Joe-Joe's with you.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it: this recipe can be a bit time-consuming if you share my nitpicky tendencies and want all of your chocolate wafers to be uniform. That'll require lots of rolling, cutting, re-rolling, chilling, et cetera. So budget some time for that, and then meet me at Obsessives Anonymous at 7pm sharp. I'll bring identically-sized treats.

OR you can throw caution to the wind, and just roll the dough into balls and flatten them with a drinking glass. If you go this route, the recipe is a snap to put together: a quick-mixing dough, a short baking time, and a super-fast buttercream of the powdered sugar-and-butter variety.

And the crushing of candy canes. Can't forget that crucial aspect. Get your heaviest rolling pin and your pent-up angst, it's about to get real.

I also recommend that you be judicious with the use of pink food coloring, otherwise your Joe-Joe's will have an alarming shade of pink on the inside, as mine so helpfully demonstrate above. But that's just one more thing that makes them charmingly homemade. Sorry Trader Joe' can do many things, but these cookie have you beat.

These are a MUST for my holiday Christmas plates every year, but I'm still planning out the rest of my holiday baking. What are your must-makes during the holidays?

Homemade Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

Cookie recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec 2005

* 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
* 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup sugar
* 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 large egg

* 3 cups powdered sugar
* 1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
* 2 tbsp milk at room temperature
* 1/2 tsp mint extract
* 1/8 tsp salt
* drop of red or pink food coloring

* 4 large candy canes

For cookies:

Whisk flour, cocoa, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients; beat until blended. If you want to roll it out, refrigerate the dough 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it is a little less than 1/4" thick. Use a small circular cutter to cut 2" circles of dough out and place them on the baking sheets. If the dough is still chilled, re-roll and cut out more circles, otherwise, chill it briefly until it is firm enough to work with. Continue until all of the dough has been shaped into circles.

Alternately, scoop out dough by level tablespoonfuls, then roll into smooth balls. Place balls on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Using bottom of glass or hands, flatten each ball to 2-inch round (edges will crack).

Bake until cookies no longer look wet and small indentation appears when tops of cookies are lightly touched with fingers, about 9-11 minutes (do not overbake or cookies will become too crisp). Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer chocolate cookies to racks and cool completely.

For filling:
Sift the powdered sugar. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and powdered sugar until combined--it will look crumbly. Add the milk in a slow stream, then the mint extract and the salt.

Once combined, scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle, then turn the mixer to medium speed and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add a drop or two of red or pink food coloring.


When you're ready to assemble the cookies, put the unwrapped candy canes in a large Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them into very fine pieces, almost crumbs. You could also use a food processor for this task. The crumbs get sticky if exposed to air for long periods of time, so save this step until you're ready to use them.

Pipe or spread 2 generous teaspoons of filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie, flat side down, pressing gently so that the filling comes all the way to the edge of the cookies.

Place the crushed candy canes on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Roll the edges of the cookie sandwiches in crushed candies.