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Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Yule Log That Almost Wasn't


Well, here it is, my very first Daring Bakers challenge. I'd been waiting a long time for this. I was so excited when I first got the recipe and my instructions for this challenge from this month's co-hosts, Ivonne and Lisa. A Yule Log. What could be more perfect at this time of year? The project looked challenging, but not oppressively so. I could handle that. I couldn't wait to get started!
I marked a few days off my calendar for earlier this week so that I would have plenty of time to leisurely create all of the components for this challenge and still have it fresh and ready to serve for Christmas. I broke the whole process down into manageable blocks of time; one for baking the genoise, one for making the buttercream and the last for my mushrooms and other adornments. I envisioned myself sauntering around my kitchen, puffs of powdered sugar, lingering like little clouds in the air, humming along to my favorite Christmas songs with the ghost of Norman Rockwell smiling down upon me. What is it that they say about the "best laid plans"? Oh, yeah.....they often go awry. And awry, they did go. So awry, in fact, that I almost had to beg off this challenge and not participate at all!
It all started about two weeks ago. I was loading the dishwasher after dinner, when all of a sudden, my feet felt wet. Huh! I looked down and there was water streaming out into my kitchen from underneath the cabinets. WTF! Of course, I immediately turned off the water and screamed for my husband.....and towels. That water flowed freely for quite a while - just long enough to flood not only the kitchen, but also the living room that backs up to it. What a mess!
Of course it was a Friday night, so the earliest I could get the plumber out was the following Tuesday. It is never a good sign when your plumber is tinkering with your pipes, tsk-tsk-ing and shaking his head all the while. Four hours and several hundred dollars later, he informed me that our main drain line had failed (failed?) and that the only thing to be done was jackhammer through the floors and re-pipe. I actually felt a little nauseous when I learned how much the whole ordeal would cost. Ugh!
The next several days passed in a haze of plumber guys, fiber optic camera guys, jackhammer guys, pipe blaster guys, resin polymer guys, concrete guys and God knows what other guys! In the meantime, no water, except for emergency flushing. That, folks, meant no cooking or baking either.
I was despondent! What was I to do? I had Cookies from Around the World to bake for, the December SHF event and of course, my first Daring Baker challenge! Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. I was now a Daring Baker, after all. With a little ingenuity and a lot of help from friends and neighbors, I managed to bake a few cookies and a delicious bread pudding, while keeping the flood waters at bay.
By the time that last of the "guys" had gone, I had two days left to make my Yule Log before it was post time. I worked feverishly as the take-out containers piled up around me. But, I got it done. It wasn't exactly what I dreamed of, but given the circumstances, it came out pretty nice nonetheless. I'm happy with it.
I originally planned to make a chocolate genoise, instead of the plain version in the original recipe. But, then I decided to make a rich, dark chocolate ganache to spread on the cake under the coffee buttercream filling. I thought that the lighter cake would look prettier contrasted with the dark chocolate and the buttercream, so I opted to make the cake according to the original recipe.
I was a bit intimidated by this cake, considering I had never made a genoise before. I had no idea what the batter was supposed to look like. Mine seemed a little on the thin side, but I had followed the directions precisely, so I crossed my fingers and prayed. My first try yielded a very large, very flat, rectangular pancake! Crap! Double Crap!!! What the heck happened? There was no time to cry over it. I was under the gun, so I started over. I wondered if, perhaps, the eggs I used were too large. They were pretty big eggs! For the second batch, I used only two egg yolks instead of three. I could immediately see a difference in the batter. It was a thick and billowy, pale yellow cloud. As I loaded it into my oven, I again, crossed my fingers and prayed.
This time, the cake turned out just as it was supposed to, which was a lucky thing since I was out of eggs.
I used a recipe from Dorie's Baking From My Home to Yours to make my chocolate ganache. It came out great, but was there ever any doubt? Her recipes always come out great.
Then.....the buttercream. I was a nervous wreck over making the coffee buttercream! I have made many a fabulous buttercream, but never using this method. After reading about all of the trouble some of my DB colleagues had, I was scared $%&#less
! I proceeded with extreme caution, (especially after the genoise incident). Well, by the time I was finished with this component of the challenge, I was ready to drink that Kahlua straight from the bottle! Yes, you guessed it. My buttercream curdled. Thank God, for the experience of some of the other DBers! I put that sucker back over the simmering water and whisked as if my life depended on it. Then, I put another stick of butter in and whipped it up a bit in the Kitchenaid. It pulled together and got all smooth and creamy. Hurrah!
I made a little extra of the espresso/brandy mixture, except that I used Kahlua instead of brandy. I did this so that I could brush some on the genoise to make it more pliable for rolling.
When it came time to spread the fillings on the cake, I was careful to leave about a 1 to 1 1/2 inch border around the edges. I'd neglected to do this in the past with other roll-up recipes and had the guts spill out all over the sides. The actual rolling up part caused me to break out in a cold sweat! I was so worried that my cake would fall apart a la Tyler Florence on Iron Chef America. The fates were with me, though. The cake rolled up fine, save a few minor cracks that were easily hidden by the buttercream.
I decided to make my mushrooms out of marzipan, figuring that I could also mold some other decorations out of it as well. Nick Malgieri made this recipe on an episode of Sara's Secrets and he also used marzipan. Since it was his own recipe, that was good enough for me! I colored some of the marzipan red and green to make holly berries and leaves. I still have red hands! Inspired by Helene from Tartelette, I also made a cute snowman out of the marzipan. I call him Bob, after the snowman in the sweet children's book, A Snowman Named Just Bob. I think it suits him, don't you? Melted chocolate served as the "glue" for my mushrooms. I dipped the stems in it and stuck them to the caps.
All in all, I had a lot of fun with this challenge. It was an ambitious one for me and I am really proud of myself for completing it, especially under the circumstances. I broke my neck to get it done in time, but I am so glad I did. I can't wait for my family and friends to see and taste it on Christmas Day!
I know that everyone is really busy right now, but please take some time to see what the other Daring Bakers have done with this challenge. There are some awesome Yule Logs out there!
Yule Log
Adapted from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Cakes

Plain Genoise:
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch
1 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again
. .
1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.
Coffee Buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy (I substituted Kahlua coffee liqueur for this.)
1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.
Filling and frosting the log:
1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.
4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.
Marzipan Mushrooms:
8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder
1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.
2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.
4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.
5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.
6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.
7.Smudge with cocoa powder.
*Below, is the recipe for the chocolate ganache that I used as part of the filling for my Yule Log. It is not part of the original recipe, but I have included it in case anyone is interested in trying it.
Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup + 2 tbsp heavy

cream 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
1. Put chocolate pieces into a heat proof bowl.

2. Heat cream in a small saucepan until boiling.

3. Pour half of the cream over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir gently in small circles. Add the rest of the cream and stir. Add the butter and continue to mix until shiny and smooth.



Sheltie Girl said...

You did a lovely job on your yule log.

Happy Holidays!

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

Julius said...

Your bûche de Noël looks great and that snow man is just adorable. Glad you were able to make it.

Happy Holidays!

Julius from Occasional Baker

Helene said...

Go Susan Go!!! I knew you'd make a beautiful one!
I love that snowman..very Charlie Chaplin!!
Happy Holidays to you and your family my dear!!

Anonymous said...

Am so sorry to hear what all you've had to put up with this holiday season! Can't believe you still managed the cookies and pudding and the log! its looks great!

zorra said...

Great job! Merry Christmas to you!

Susan @ SGCC said...

Sheltie Girl- Thank you. Happy Holidays to you too!

Julius- Thanks! I'm glad you liked them. Happy Holidays!

Helen- Thank you. I wouldn't have done it without encouragement from sweet people like you. I'm so glad you like Bob. I'm getting kind of attached to him. ;)

Have a very wonderful Holiday!

Aamena- Thanks so much! It was a pretty stressful week, but I was determined to complete the challenge. I'm glad you like it.

Zorra- Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you too!

marias23 said...

Wow, that ordeal with the plumbing sure sounds bad but I'm glad you got that over with and everything got fixed. Great job with the log, I especially adore your marzipan decorations although I'm not a big fan of marzipan. I bet your log was delicious too :) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

michelle said...

Wow! I'm so glad that you were able to make your yule in spite of the plumbing disaster! Looks great!

Happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

Great job on the yule log. I saw that episode with tyler florence and the mishap on the yule log right before I made mine to :). Your snowman looks really cute and it's so great you were able to complete the challenge.

LP said...

Congrats to completing your first challenge. It was exciting, wasn't it? I'm so sorry about your pipe problems. Why do things like that always have to happen at the very worst possible time?

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

You really did have to suffer for your art this time, didn't you! The buche looks elegant -- love the holly! -- and Bob the Snowman has himself one delicious gig there. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Brilynn said...

Love your little snowman! Well done!

Peabody said...

Oh no about your plumbing....that is no fun. But your snowman on your log was fun. Great job.

Cakelaw said...

It's a gorgeous log! Well done, especially under such trying circumstances.

monica said...

fantastic yule log and i love the snowmen!! merry christmas!

Megan said...

I heart Bob!

creampuff said...

That snowman is just too cute!

Gretchen Noelle said...

What a serious of mishaps leading up to the challenge for you! But the final outcome looks great! I *love* the snowman!! Congrats on completing your first DB challenge!

The Fast Lane said...

It sounds like your DB challenge was even more challenging than that faced by the rest of us! I'm impressed that you even bothered.
Looks lovely.
Jane of Vegan Bits

Half Baked said...

Wow I can't belive you did that at the last minute! It looks great! Love the snowman:)

Susan @ SGCC said...

Thanks to all of you for your kind comments! Yes, under the circumstances, this was definitely more of a challenge than I expected. I'm very happy that I was able to complete it, and I'm thrilled that you all like it. (Bob is happy too! He loves the attention!).

Happy New Year!

Deborah said...

Wow - talk about a crazy month!! I'm glad you were able to complete it - it looks amazing!!

Jenny said...

Wonderful job, especially with such a catastrophe in the baking process!
Bob looks amazing, btw!

Jen Yu said...

Oh you poor dear. I really feel for your distress over the kitchen. I felt ill when our sink backed up a few years ago (luckily, I don't live in that house anymore!). I am totally impressed with your yule log and especially the adorable decorations. Great job! Congrats on successfully completing your first challenge - you're a Daring Baker!! *hugs*

jen at use real butter

Susan @ SGCC said...

Deborah- Thanks! It certainly has been a crazy month. Thank goodness it's over!

Quellia- Bob and I both thank you!

Jen- Thank you so much, both for your sweet comment and all of your help and encouragement. You have really helped me a lot.

Happy New Year to you all!

Shaheen said...

Hi there!
Sorry for stopping by so late.. Your log looks so nice. Beautifully decorated.
Wish you a New Year full of happiness :)

Susan @ SGCC said...

Coco- No problem. You can visit me anytime! I'm glad you like the yule log. It was a lot of work, but worth it!

All the best to you in the New Year too!

Dolores said...

Wow... what a horrific holiday 'surprise' *that* must have been. But you pulled through brilliantly. Normal Rockwell would be proud... I know *I* am. Congratulations, and welcome!

May 2008 bring you health and happiness, laugher and love... and no further plumbing problems!