Christmas is a traditional affair. I prefer the foods and sweets that we ate when I was a child; I'll take old-fashioned, simple dishes to any manner of modern gourmet holiday spread featured in a cooking magazine. Pierogies. Potato pancakes. Gooey bar cookies that my aunt's been making for decades. Old-school hard tack.
I'm generally not in the habit of tackling complex bûche de noël recipes the day before Christmas. Not that there's anything wrong with complex bûche de noël recipes; it's just that I'd rather spend my down-to-the-wire holiday cooking time recreating favorites from my youth.
But the Daring Bakers aren't so into nostalgic gooey bar cookies. At least not formally.
Even though it's far outside the realm of my traditional Christmas cookery, I was pretty stoked nonetheless by the December challenge. 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. This is not the kind of yule log/bûche de noël that you might be thinking of -- the one made from genoise with all the buttercream that looks like an actual log, with meringue mushrooms and little decorations of woodland creatures. No! This is the French kind of yule log -- the one one made from various layers of cake, mousse and other confections, frozen in a mold that looks like a half-pipe. This challenge gave me the opportunity to make some dessert elements that I'd never made before, and it gave me the excuse to buy a bûche de noël mold. Which is thrilling to me: I am always looking for excuses to add to my vast collection of cookware and bakeware.
My plan was to present the yule log for dessert on Christmas Eve, when my family would be gathered for our traditional fish dinner. But life got in the way and I wasn't able to complete the dessert for Christmas Eve. No matter -- dinner on Christmas Day needs dessert, too! I was very pleased with the final result and it was definitely worth the patient work required to create it. I chose almond, orange, chocolate and cinnamon as my primary flavors and they came through the finished yule log beautifully. As Mom said, "This is the kind of dessert best enjoyed by a refined palate." The cinnamon mingled happily with the chocolate, lending a spicy assertiveness that prevented all the chocolate in the dish from taking over with a one-note flavor. The almonds and orange were a wonderful counterbalance. When I first beheld the bûche de noël mold -- which is rather small and dainty -- I wondered what would be the point of all that work only to fill a tiny mold? Well, it all makes sense now: the dessert is so rich that a slice any larger would be overwhelming. It's hard to imagine that a dessert with so much chocolate could be dainty, but it is. There you have it.
As you will see, the recipe that follows is lengthy. Which means that I should probably stop talking now. I hope that someday you do try this yule log -- it truly isn't as much work as it seems and you will impress yourself and others with the finished result. And who knows? You may just decide to make a French yule log a regular part of your traditional holiday celebration.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year.
FRENCH YULE LOG
Adapted from recipes found on Florilege Gourmand
I strongly encourage you to attempt this glorious show-stopping dessert. Though the recipe is lengthy, rest assured that the individual elements are certainly manageable...easy, even! Just give yourself two or three days to complete the dessert; you will thank yourself, as your planning and time management will allow you to make a very impressive dessert with little stress.
The other thing that will allow you to make a very impressive dessert with little stress? A kitchen scale.
A note about the pan: I used a classic bûche de noël mold to shape my dessert. If you don't wish to purchase a special pan, lots of other Daring Bakers used loaf pans to assemble their yule logs. The recipes as written below fit the classic mold almost perfectly. Regardless of the pan you use, you will need to line the mold with plastic of some sort. Plain old write-on transparencies -- the kind you used to use with an overhead projector and that you can find at office-supply stores -- work perfectly.
The six elements, in the order they should be made:
(1) Praline crisp insert
(2) Cinnamon crème brûlée insert
(3) Dark chocolate mousse
(4) Almond-orange dacquoise biscuit
(5) Cinnamon-milk chocolate ganache insert
(6) Dark chocolate icing
In preparing this yule log for Christmas, I made the praline crisp insert on the evening of the 23rd. In the daytime of the 24th I made the cinnamon crème brûlée insert, dark chocolate mousse, almond-orange dacquoise biscuit and cinnamon-milk chocolate ganache insert. I constructed the yule log and placed it in the freezer until the next day. About two hours before serving, on Christmas Day, I made the dark chocolate icing. This way, making the yule log didn't take over an entire day, which it would do if you attempted to make it all at once.
Praline crisp insert
3.5 oz. (100 g.) milk chocolate
1 2/3 T. (25 g.) unsalted butter
2.1 oz. (60 g.) gavottes (recipe follows) or rice krispies or corn flakes
2 T. almond praline (recipe follows)
1/3 c. whole milk
2/3 T. (8 g.) unsalted butter
1/3 c. minus 2 t. (35 g.) all-purpose flour
1 T. beaten egg
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. vegetable oil
1/2 c. whole almonds
1/3 c. sugar
If using, make the gavottes. Preheat the oven to 430 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk and butter together and heat until the butter is completely melted. Remove from heat. Sift the flour into the milk-butter mixture, whisk to combine. Add the egg and sugar; whisk to combine. Make sure there are no lumps. Grease a baking sheet with vegetable oil and spread the batter thinly over it. Bake for about 10 minutes, watching carefully, until it is golden and crispy. Let cool, then break apart or chop the gavottes into roughly 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
Make the praline. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or with buttered parchment. Place the sugar in a heavy skillet. Heat over a low flame for 5-10 minutes until the sugar begins to melt. Watch the sugar closely; there is an extremely fine line between sweet and delicious and burnt and bitter. Swirl the pan to prevent the melting sugar from burning. If the sugar is not melting uniformly, go ahead and stir it gently with a wooden spoon.
When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the almonds with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula and separate the almond clusters as best you can. Return to low heat and cook until the mixture starts to bubble stirring often. Pour the almond-sugar concoction onto the Silpat and spread it out as evenly as possible. Allow to cool and harden into brittle.
Break the cooled praline into pieces and place in a food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine texture and then process until the brittle turns into a powder, then a paste. (You only need 2 T. of the praline for this recipe; store the leftover in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. You can do delicious things with it, like sprinkle it over ice cream. Do not refrigerate.)
Back to the praline insert. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Add 2 T. of the praline and chopped gavottes (or rice krispies or corn flakes). Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread the chocolate mixture between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
Cinnamon crème brûlée insert
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. whole milk
4 egg yolks
2 T. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
A 3- or 4-inch cinnamon stick (I like Ceylon softstick cinnamon)
Heat the milk, cream, scraped vanilla bean and cinnamon stick to just boiling. Remove from the heat and let the vanilla and cinnamon infuse for about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks. Pour the vanilla- and cinnamon-infused milk over the sugar-yolk mixture and whisk until well combined.
Prepare the baking molds. I find that three small disposable aluminum loaf pans work well for this task, and are easily found in the grocery store. (You will have some crème brûlée left over; only about half of this finished recipe fits in the bûche de noël mold.) Wipe the pans with a wet cloth or paper towel, then line them with parchment paper. Prepare a bain-marie: fill another loaf pan about 3/4 full with water and place on the oven rack. Pour the cream into the three parchment-lined pans and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center. Cool completely in the pans, then place the pans in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
Dark chocolate mousse
3 egg yolks
3 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. light corn syrup
.5 oz. (15 g.) water
1 1/2 c. heavy cream, divided
6.2 oz. (175 g.) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 t. unflavored powdered gelatin (can be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks until very light in color, for about 5 minutes.
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the sugar, corn syrup and water over medium heat until the mixture reaches 244 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage). Add the sugar mixture to the egg yolks by pouring it into the bowl in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. Continue beating the mixture until cool, approximately 5 minutes.
In a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or a double boiler) heat 2 T. of the heavy cream until bubbling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
While the chocolate mixture is melting, whip the remaining heavy cream in a medium bowl to stiff peaks.
Add the gelatin to the melted chocolate mixture and stir. Let cool slightly, then stir in 1/2 c. of the whipped cream. Add the egg yolk mixture and fold in carefully. Add the remaining whipped cream to the mousse and fold until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Almond-orange dacquoise biscuit
3/4 c. plus 1 T. (80 g.) almond meal
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
Zest of one orange
3 egg whites
1/4 c. sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal and confectioner's sugar. Sift the flour into the mix.
In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar, to stiff peaks. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and fold gently with a large spatula to incorporate. Take care not to deflate the egg whites.
Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or buttered parchment paper. Spread the batter on the Silpat or parchment to an area that is slightly larger than your desired shape (for the traditional bûche de noël mold you'll need one rectangle that is wide enough to line the bottom, half-pipe of the mold as well as a narrower rectangle to fit over the top of the mold). The spread batter should be about 1/3-inch tall.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Let cool, then, using a wide spatula, release the cake from the pan. Trim into the desired shape and set aside.
Cinnamon-milk chocolate ganache insert
2.7 oz. (75 g.) milk chocolate, finely chopped
3.2 oz. (90 g.) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 c. sugar
2/3 c. minus 1 T. (4.5 oz.) heavy cream
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 T. plus 1/2 t. unsalted butter, softened
Place the chopped milk and dark chocolate in a medium bowl; set aside.
Place the sugar in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching carefully, until the sugar begins to melt. Swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to an amber color.
As the sugar is melting, whisk together the heavy cream and cinnamon and heat until boiling. Pour the cream mixture into the melted caramel, whisking constantly. (Be careful; at this stage the caramel can spatter.) Whisk together the caramel and cream until well combined.
Pour the caramel-cream mixture over the milk and dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds then stir until smooth. Add the softened butter and whisk until smooth and shiny. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.
P.S. Something excellent to do with leftover ganache: chill it, then scoop it with a tablespoon and roll it into balls. Dust the balls in cocoa powder or confectioner's sugar and...mmm, truffles.
AT THIS POINT, ASSEMBLE THE YULE LOG. Line the mold with plastic transparencies, cut to size (allow a little overhang from the top of the mold; it will make it easier to grab and unmold later).
Place the piece of dacquoise in the mold, gently curving it to fit the mold.
Prepare a piping bag with the fittings but without a tip; fill with dark chocolate mousse. Pipe 1/3 of the mousse onto the dacquoise in an even layer.
Release the crème brûlée from the pans and cut in half lengthwise; arrange on top of the chocolate mousse, nestling it into the mousse.
Pipe the second 1/3 of the mousse on top of the crème brûlée.
Trim the chilled praline crisp insert to fit the mold; cut in half if necessary. Place the crisp on top of the mousse.
Pipe the remaining 1/3 of the mousse on top of the praline crisp. Place the yule log in the freezer for several hours to set.
After a few hours, remove the yule log from the freezer. Place the ganache in a piping bag or in a plastic bag with the corner snipped off; pipe the ganache on top of the frozen mousse.
Place the second strip of dacquoise on top to "close" the yule log. Freeze until the next day.
The next day -- the day you are going to serve the yule log -- prepare the dark chocolate icing.
Dark chocolate icing
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1/2 c. water
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T. powdered gelatin
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, water and cocoa powder to a boil. Cook an additional 3 minutes after it reaches a boil. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture; whisk to combine well. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture coats a spoon, it is ready to use immediately.
Remove the yule log from the freezer, unmold and place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
Pour about half of the chocolate icing over the yule log. Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the chocolate over the yule log to coat. This coat doesn't have to be pretty and shiny and lovely; just make sure all of the dacquoise is covered in chocolate. Let set for about 5 minutes. Then, pour the remaining chocolate icing over the yule log and allow it to flow over the sides. Let set, then transfer the yule log to a serving plate and return it to the freezer until ready to serve.
Decorate as you wish. If I had more time, I would have liked to decorate this yule log with some orangettes. Next time!
To serve, cut into 1/2-inch slices with a serrated knife.
Makes about 24 servings. Store any leftovers in the freezer covered in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil.