If forced to self-evaluate, I would venture to say that I am a stronger cook than baker. But, I enjoy pushing my comfort level in the kitchen and recently joined up with some fellow food-lovin' bloggers in an online baking group affectionately called Daring Bakers.
And "daring" is a perfect way to describe this group. While pastry-chef skills aren't required to participate, gumption is. This is a good thing because I am just a regular gal who happens to enjoying making food just as much as I enjoy eating it. Each month, one member is charged with presenting a new baking challenge to the group. That person communicates what items are required of the task and where participants can customize to show their personal style. On a specified day each month, members blog about that month's challenge, sharing experiences and trading tips.
I encourage you to check out some of the talented bakers in this group. Visit the Daring Bakers' blogroll for the official member list and links to each person's blog.
This month's challenge, chosen by the group's founders Ivonne and Lis, was to make a yule log or Bûche de Noël. Growing up, my only exposure to a yule log was on the TV on Christmas eve. A looping tape of a burning log playing against a background of Christmas music. I promptly Googled the term to see what I was really in for.
It took me 8 hours from start to finish, but I completed my first challenge with only minor moments of drama:
- One of the requirements was that you had to decorate your log with candy mushrooms made from meringue or marzipan. I chose meringue and ended up having to redo them, as they collapsed shortly after coming out of the oven. I think I didn't whip the whites long enough before piping them. The second batch were much better.
- I also go into a fight with my yule log while trying to piece together the "branches." It cracked in some places and crumbled a bit in others. Frosting is a baker's best friend, though, I soon found. After carefully covering all the seams, you would never know that the log had some flaws.
Here are the variations I made:
- Added Grand Marnier to the buttercream.
- Sprinkled a thin layer of hazelnuts before rolling up the genoise.
- Added cocoa powder to my buttercream before frosting to make it look more like wood.
- Dipped the underside of my mushroom caps in melted chocolate to give the look of mushroom gills.
- Garnished with chocolate leaves made from painting melted chocolate onto washed lemon leaves, and then peeling off when cooled.
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
¼ cup cornstarch
one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again
- Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
- Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
- 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).
- 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.
- While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
- 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.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- 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.
- While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
- Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
- Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
- Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
- Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
- Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
- Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
- Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
- Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
- Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
- Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.
A sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts before rolling adds a nutty crunch to the final product.