Sunday, December 23, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge - festive yule log and meringue mushroooms

Ta da! Here's my first completed challenge for the Daring Bakers - a yule log with meringue mushrooms nestling around the edges for a bit of woodland scene-setting.

I've got to say, it was a lot of fun, even though it's a bit hectic at the moment (for obvious seasonal reasons). Actually, it's been quite therapeutic - having the chance to escape to the kitchen, taking some time out to focus completely on each step of making this cake, in the midst of all the chaos.

However, when I initially read through the challenge, I have to admit, there were a couple of parts that I found daunting:

- the genoise sponge - the last time I made one, it turned out flat as a pancake, so I've been a bit wary ever since

- the buttercream - if you take a peek at the recipe below, you'll see that there's a lot of whipping-eggs-over-hot-water action (same with the sponge). All I could think was that it would be too easy end up scrambling the eggs or curdling the whole lot when adding the butter

- and I don't like coffee. So the coffee flavouring/colouring for the buttercream went right out the window

But I didn't join the Daring Bakers because I thought someone would set a challenge to make chocolate krispie cakes :-) The clue is in the name. It's all about getting out of that kitchen comfort zone and stretching yourself a bit.

In the end, the genoise sponge worked out well - the instructions were clear and thorough, so any apprehension I felt disappeared pretty quickly - I'm a genoise convert. It's a good, flexible base recipe and I'd definitely try it again.

To solve the buttercream-flavouring/colouring problem, I melted 100g of Green & Black's dark chocolate and, after letting it cool down a little bit, I added it to the mixture. Also, to prevent curdling, I made sure that the butter was thoroughly warmed through before use by leaving it in front of the fire for a while (and hoping it would soak up some loggy vibes whilst it was there).

Another tweak I made was to spread some berry compote across the cooked genoise sponge before adding the buttercream - a bit of sweetish-sharpness to cut across the creamy chocolate filling. But if I was going to make this again, I would use cherries soaked in kirsch to create a Black-Forest gateau-type dessert (which would be quite appropriate for a yule log). The jam is ok, in fact it works well, but the cherries would really pull out all the stops for a spectacular, boozy pud.

My log-rolling skills were a bit rubbish though - I didn't end up with a log, so much as a plank (rolling from the long end). It's probably something that comes with practice, needing a quick, deft touch - I was a bit too hesitant to make the roll tight enough. All good knowledge for next time :-)

Mushroom-wise, I had no option but to make the meringue version. The challenge offered a marzipan option but it required almond paste and corn syrup - neither of which are available locally (although I think the wonderful Fallon & Byrne in Dublin stock both products). Apart from nearly squirting meringue all over the kitchen when I first put it in the piping bag, this was an enjoyable side project to the main challenge and added a lovely touch to the finished cake. Although I think I made them quite large - I certainly didn't get 48 mushrooms out of the meringue mix.

Next time, I think I'll make a lemon version, with lemon zest in the sponge, lemon curd spread across the sponge and limoncello in the buttercream. Mmmmmmm - next time might not be too far away!

Thanks for such a fab and delicious challenge, Ivonne and Lisa - it's been a lot of fun and I can't wait for the next one. Take a look at the Daring Bakers blogroll to see how everyone else got on with this challenge (I'm off to have a look now). Merry Christmas everyone :-)

Yule Log from Perfect Desserts by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert

Serves 12

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

one (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

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.Meringue


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.

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.

Assembling the Yule 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.


Julius said...

Congrats on a successful first DB Challenge. That bûche de Noël looks scrumptious!

Feel free to read about my yule log here.

Julius from Occasional Baker

marias23 said...

Yummy! Berry compote in addition to buttercream. Very decadent and delicious! I wish I had a slice of your log :) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jessica said...


The Caked Crusader said...

Nice log! Your buttercream came out darker than mine as I used milk rather than plain chocolate.
Love the mushrooms - I could just fancy eating one right now....

Happy Christmas

Katie B. said...

Yay first challenge!! Your buche looks great!!

michelle said...

Looks fabulous! Congrats on making it through the first challenge!

Mindy said...

Glad to hear someone else had a challenge with the rolling- yours was a fantastic plank! Merry Christmas

Lunch Buckets said...

Yay! Congratulations on your first DB success!

Bellini Valli said...

The black forest cake theme was delicious actually. Congratulations on your first DB challenge from one "newbie" to another!I hope you have a wonderful holiday season....may it be all that you hope for and more!

Jen said...

Thanks for your lovely comments, everyone :-)

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas.

Bring on the DB challenge for January!

Claire said...

Good job! Glad you made the adjustments to make it work for you. Merry Christmas!

Aamena said...

Cute mushrooms!

Jen said...

Congrats on your first DB challenge! It was mine too. Wasn't it a BLAST?!? :)

eatme_delicious said...

Your idea for making it a lemon cake with limoncello sounds delicious! Congratulations on your first challenge. :) Looks great.

Deborah said...

Wonderful job on your first challenge!! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

Nora B. said...

Hi Jen,

Fantastic work with your first challenge! Your mushrooms turned out so beautifully.

For my yule log, I made a black forest version (which you mentioned that you would try for next time). I highly recommend it.


creampuff said...

Way to go on your first DB challenge! You did a great job!

Jen Yu said...

What an awesome job on your first DB challenge! It looks terrific. Congratulations and welcome to the Daring Bakers :)

jen at use real butter

Tiffany said...

Ooh, great job on adding the jam. Nice change. Your buttercream looks great too!!