Easy Christmas Yule Log Cake – Bûche de Noël

Photo Oct 08, 5 10 03 PMBûche de Noël is a traditional French holiday dessert. It translates to “Christmas log.” It’s formed by filling a moist sponge cake with icing and rolling it up, then cutting one end off and reattaching to form a stump. Yule log cakes are often decorated with cute meringue mushrooms, and I garnished mine with tree bark (shards of dark chocolate) and a faint dusting of snow (powdered sugar). This classic French cake will be the centerpiece of your holiday dessert table!

 

Bûche de Noël (French Yule Log) Recipe

1/4 cup Swan’s Down Cake Flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a 10 in. x 15 in. sheet pan with parchment paper.

Sift together the cake flour and cocoa powder. In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt. Using an electric mixer, whip it on high speed until foamy; add cream of tartar. Continue whisking until the whites are glossy and form stiff peaks, about 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl, whip the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Carefully fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites and all of the sifted flour/cocoa mixture into the beaten yolks until just combined. Add the remaining beaten egg whites into the bowl and gently fold until they are totally incorporated. Spread the batter gently into the parchment lined pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 7-8 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back when touched. Remove from the oven and immediately loosen the edges with a butter knife and turn out onto a clean kitchen towel. Remove the parchment paper from the back of the cake and roll the cake up from the short side and let cool completely, seam side down.

For Meringue Mushrooms:
2 egg whites at room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat until the meringue is very dense, stiff, and glossy. Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe 1 inch long cones for the mushroom stems and quarter-size circles for the mushroom caps onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dip your finger in water and press down any harsh points, especially on the mushroom caps. Dust the caps lightly with cocoa powder and bake until the meringues are completely dry, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Cool completely. Attach the stems and caps with a dab of icing or melted chocolate.

For Filling and Icing:
4 whole eggs
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pound unsalted butter at room temp
6 ounces dark chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt. Set over a double boiler over simmering water and whisk frequently until the mixture reaches at least 140°F on a thermometer.

Whip the hot mixture at high speed with an electric mixer until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch. While beating on medium-low speed, add the butter, one chunk at a time, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined.

To assemble the yule log, unroll the cooled cake cake and spread 2 cups of vanilla icing over, leaving about 1/2 inch on every side clean. Re-roll and chill while preparing the chocolate. Melt 6 ounces of dark chocolate. Pour about 2/3 of the chocolate onto a parchment lined pan and spread into a thin layer. Use a spoon or a spatula to make irregular marks vertically all over the chocolate. Refrigerate to set. Pour the rest of the melted chocolate, which should be cooler by now, into the remaining vanilla buttercream and stir or beat until completely incorporated.

Make a 2 inch cut at a 45 degree angle at one end of the cake for the stump. Place the long piece of the cake on your serving plate. Attach the 2 inch cut stump with chocolate icing to the top or side of the cake, with the cut side facing outwards. Ice the rest of the cake with chocolate buttercream.

Break the cold chocolate sheet into large shards and arrange around the outside of the cake. If the chocolate begins to melt while working with it, just pop it back into the refrigerator or freezer for a minute before continuing. Attach the meringue mushrooms to the top and around the sides of the yule log and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes about 12 servings.

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The Hottest Gingerbread Boy

D.J.’s favorite Christmas cookie is gingerbread, and I thought that we could have a little holiday fun with it. Can you guess who’s is who’s?

Beth and DJ as Gingerbread People

I baked out a couple of giant gingerbread cookies using Wilton’s Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookies recipe.

Nudie Gingerbread Peeps

The regular-sized gingerbread boy is there for size reference, and as a snack to bolster our energy and merriment during the decorating process. They were made from the same gingerbread dough, which rolls out like a dream and has a great blend of spicy flavor with a strong molasses background.

I pulled out my aresnal of icings, gels, and chocolate, and we got busy. Sprinkles were spilled. Tongues stained blue.  For a few minutes, we got to be kids, except for the bourbon that was mixed into my eggnog. We laughed a lot, and it was fun.

Check out that sparkly grill!

D.J. nailed it, don’t you think? The resemblance is uncanny, right down to the rainbow-starred shirt and unfortunate sixth toe. Ok, maybe the extra toes are not true-to-life, but they are good for a chuckle. Either way, that is the hottest gingerbread boy I’ve ever seen.

Twin Blondes!

Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas with lots of opportunities to reconnect with your inner child!

 

Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Cookies

I’ve been invited to a cookie exchange this weekend, and I’m fantastically excited because:

  1. It’s being held in a bar that doubles as an arcade. You’ll find me by the pinball machines,  cocktail in hand.
  2. There are hundreds of people invited, which means thousands of cookies. If the words “thousands of cookies” don’t get you excited, you might be reading the wrong blog.

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It takes me forever to decide what foods to bring to share at parties. As a professional baker and an overly-competitive person, I feel a weird, self-inflicted pressure to over-perform. Mediocre cookies will not be tolerated. My struggle is real.

This holiday cookie exchange is no different. I waffled for too long, sifting through tried-and-true recipes only to shun even the best ones. I racked my brain trying to invent brand new cookies with never-heard-before flavor combinations.

And then I realized that I was trying way too hard.

You’ve heard it a million times before, and it’s true: The best food is made from a few great ingredients and really simple techniques. Christmas cookies are no different. So why not take a classic cookie and up its “cool factor” with a couple of easy tweaks?

Helloooooooo, Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodles. You are the current apple of my eye.

Who doesn’t love a snickerdoodle cookie with its crisped edges leading to  crackled, chewy centers, all encrusted in a fragrant coat of cinnamon and glimmering sugar? They are beloved and delicious just as they are. But browning the butter first gives a toasty complexity, and using smoked cinnamon enforces that.  The traditional vanilla is purposefully omitted to let the caramelized, nutty, and smokey notes shine on their own.  These changes are subtle but worthwhile, taking the humble snickerdoodles of your youth and classing them up a notch. Yup, these cookies are totally “exchangable.”

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Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening*
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons smoked cinnamon**

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and place a smaller bowl inside, resting on the ice. In a small saucepan, cook butter over medium heat until it is very brown and smells like roasted nuts. Expect the butter to bubble and spatter audibly for a while as it cooks. When it quiets down, start watching the pot so that it doesn’t burn, but the butter should get quiet dark, like really good caramel. Pour the butter into the small bowl over the ice, stirring every few minutes to cool it to room temperature. Don’t let the butter get so cold that it hardens completely. It needs to be soft, but not liquid, to make the cookies.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.

Measure out 3/4 cup of browned butter; reserve the rest for another use.***

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the browned butter and shortening until it is smooth and creamy. Add 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until it is light in color and very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl very well after each egg to get everything well combined.

Add the dry flour mixture in 2 parts, beating on low speed and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl often. Beat just until a dough is formed.

In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar with the smoked cinnamon Roll cookie dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat completely on all sides. Place on parchment-lined cookies sheets 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until until centers of cookies are set. Remove from the hot pan to the cooling grid immediately.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
*Oh, you’re opposed to vegetable shortening, huh? Well, good for you. Feel free to substitute for all browned butter, but you need to know that your cookies will be much crunchier as a result. The shortening keep the cookies moist and soft, especially at days 2 and 3, if they last that long.

**Looking for smoked cinnamon, or any other delicious spices in the Chicago area? Check out Epic Spices at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. You’ll never meet a more friendly, knowledgable, or accomodating spice guy than Stephen, the shop owner.

***Awesome on pasta, fish, chicken, bread…Actually, I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t be better with a little bit of browned butter. Make it your new refrigerator staple.

Advice to my 25-Year-Old Self

I’m 35 years old today*.

Yeesh, that sounds old. I’m usually not affected by birthdays or adding another year, not even when the big 3-0 hit. But this year feels different. 35 seems significant. It’s a new box to check on surveys when you’re asked for you age…18-24, 25-34, 35-(the end).

Yesterday I could say that I was in my early-30s, but today there’s no getting around it. I’m firmly planted in my mid-30s.

I’ve been reflective over the past week. I got the urge to look back to where my life was 10 years ago, in 2004, when I turned 25. I was living alone in an apartment in the Andersonville neighborhood, just one month away from finishing my pastry degree at CHIC (now Le Cordon Bleu Chicago), dating a total d-bag, and going out most nights of the week.

If my 35-year-old self could give advice to my 25-year-old self, this is what it would be:

1. Good job busting through the pastry degree while working full-time, but there’s no time to pat yourself on the back. Keep working hard. Getting that degree is the best decision you’ve ever made, and it’s going to enable you to work towards a fun and fulfilling career with loads of opportunities that you can’t even imagine yet. Keep working hard. It pays off. You get to be a part of a small group of people who really love their profession, and that is very special.

2. About that douche bag...He broke up with you on your birthday. On the actual day of your birth. Who does that? He’s not worth your heartache. It’s going to take you a little longer to find the right guy, but it happens. And on that note…

3. Be open to dating blonde guys. Yes, seriously. Let go of the notion you’ve had since childhood that blondes only look good with other blondes. So what if Barbie and Ken were both blonde, and you’re not? It’s a weird and irrational thought.  There’s a tall towhead coming your your way that you don’t want to pass on.

4. Speaking of hair, for the love of all holy things, DO NOT EVER cut your hair into a pixie cut with blonde highlights again. That one “friend” who told you it looked great? She turned out to be a bitch, and you looked ridiculous. For a long time, ridiculous. Keep growing that shit out. It looks better long.

5. A Short Poem About Sunscreen:
Slather it on,
Every Day,
Just little dab,
Keeps wrinkles at bay.
Embrace the paste (of your skin)!

5. You enjoy living alone. You enjoy silence once in a while. You’re doing it right now, but it’s going to be a long time until you can afford it again. The next time you do it, you’ll have a huge sense of pride because you’ve bought your very own space in the city that you love. Tom Hanks’ place will have nothing on this money pit, so start saving.

6. You’re going out. A lot. You’re staying out late, dancing until you’re sweaty, and probably spending too much cash. Keep doing that for as long as you can, because this time doesn’t last forever. Friends are getting married. They’re getting really involved with their careers. Soon they’re going to start families. Slowly, as time goes by, you just don’t see each other as much. Reality is a beast. Take full advantage of this time now. Say yes to every invitation. Enjoy the people in your life. They’re amazing.

7. The migraines are coming! The migraines are coming! There’s not a whole lot you can do about this, but enjoy your 25-year-old so-called “hangovers” while they last. You won’t know real day-after pain until you hit 30 and are forced to swear off the booze for a bit until you can get those headaches in check.

8. Get a personal trainer. You don’t know it yet, but you love it. It feels good to work out really hard. The soreness that comes the day after a session actually feels great. Plus, you can eat a ton and not gain weight which is a total bonus, as your burgeoning cake career is going to involve copious amounts of buttercream frosting.

25Beth
Me at 25.
Beth35
Me at 35. Wrinkle-free, thanks to the magic of candlelight. Pie beats cake!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Written on my actual birthday, but held for digestion for a few weeks before posting.

Perks of Working in a Test Kitchen – Part 1

Sometimes the homemade pates de fruits you make for your boyfriend turn out more like dark, amorphous sugar-coated blobs than the gem-toned, sparkling squares of gummy perfection they were meant to be. Shit. Valentine’s Day is ruined!

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Slouchy. Super slouchy.

It’s times like these (and lots of other times, really) that I am thankful for my job. In the Wilton Test Kitchen, there’s always extra cake batter or cookie dough. In just a few minutes, I can go from candy failure to cookie savior and still bring something sweet to my sweetie on Valentine’s Day.

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Never too old for sprinkles. Ever.

I love, love, love Wilton’s Roll Out Cookie recipe, and I’m not just saying that because I work there. It doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling, which is a huge time saver, but if they are rolled, cut, and chilled for just a few minutes, the cookies hold on to their shape really well. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts and a healthy pinch of salt. The cookies are crisp at the edges, and as a crunchy cookie person, I can appreciate that.

Thank you Test Kitchen job, for saving Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be back for those pathetic pates de fruits soon.

Homemade Caramel Corn for Christmas

  I don't know what the deal is, but I am really, really, inexplicably into the holidays this year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working on holiday stuff at work for months.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in love.

Perhaps it’s because this is the first time in my life that I live in a place large enough to host my entire family for Christmas dinner, 17 large, including Grandma.

It’s probably a combination of all of these things, but at this point, I’m so damn Christmas-y that I’m beginning to annoy the people around me. I’m even annoying myself. Since when do I think it’s a good idea to listen to the Glee Holiday Station on Pandora, anyway? I’ve never even seen an episode of Glee! And I made a wreath for my front door out of twigs that I gathered from the park across the street, and then SPRAY PAINTED WHITE. I freaking crafted!?

Since this is my first time hosting Christmas for my family, I want to make it special. I’ve borrowed the appropriate amount of folding tables and chairs. I’ve purchased 21 pounds of short ribs and all of the trimmings for the big meal.  I’ve wrapped the gifts.  And this afternoon, I did what I can only hope will be my final cutesy activity of the season. I cooked up a delicious batch of homemade caramel corn with peanuts.

Homemade Caramel Corn with Peanuts

Nothing cutesy about that, right? Just delicious, buttery, sweet, crunchy goodness.

And then I maybe I blacked out, because somehow the caramel corn ended up packaged in theselittle bags that look like Santa’s fat stomach. 

What is happening to me???

Seriously, somebody take my temperature. Maybe I have a fever that’s making me hallucinate or something. I’ve been surrounded by this kind of thing for the past 4+ years at my job in the Wilton Test Kitchen, but somehow managed to remain uncrafty, until this holiday season. And now, I just can’t seem to help myself. I just want to make stuff!

So now, please excuse me. I have to go build some teeny-tiny gingerbread houses for my nieces. Probably gonna jam to the smooth vocal stylings of Michael Buble while I’m at it. Ugh.

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Drop one popcorn kernel into the oil. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot and ready. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give it a gentle shake to coat the kernels in oil. You’ll hear kernels beginning to pop shortly. When the popping sounds slow down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to the popcorn to a large bowl. Dump in the peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugars, honey, and salt together, stirring occassionally until the sugars are dissolved. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. The color will deepen slightly, and the mixture will bubble up. If you like your caramel flavor lighter, take the pan off of the heat at 3 minutes. If you prefer a stronger, more burnt flavor, continue cooking the caramel to a darker color, but removing it from the heat before it begins to smoke. Off the heat, carefully add the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel will bubble up angrily when these ingredients hit. Let the mixture settle a few seconds, and stir to combine well.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss it together to coat. Divide the popcorn evenly between the two baking sheets, and spread it into a single layer. Bake the popcorn to dry out the caramel for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the popcorn to break up the pieces every 5 to 6 minutes.

Cool the popcorn completely before storing.

Makes about 4 quarts.

Lamb Cake 2012

I’ve done my fair share of talking about and making lamb cakes: decorating hundreds every season at Tags Bakery, their history in a Chicago Sun-Times article in 2010, and how to successfully bake one on the Wilton blog last year. With all of that floating around on the interwebs, it hardly seems necessary to repeat instructions here. Plus, it’s Easter morning. It’s nearly 11:30 in Chicago. If you’re thinking about starting a lamb cake now for a celebration later today, don’t plan on eating any time soon. The cooling instructions for the baked cake are no joke – skimp on the cooling, and risk Little Lambie’s head cracking right off on front of the children. Think of the children! Follow the cooling times, or risk years and years of expensive therapy for the kids.

Coconut Lemon Meringue Lamb Cake
Coconut Lemon Meringue Lamb Cake

My 2012 lamb is coconut cake with lemony marshmallow frosting. This silky frosting naturally makes the most perfect peaks as it is swirled onto the cake, so decorating is a breeze. Save this recipe for next year, or perhaps celebrate Easter again tomorrow so you have the excuse to make this cute cake today. The awesome sticker is courtesy of the the American Lamb Board…probably not exactly what they had in mind for their promotional piece, but it works for me!

Coconut Cake

2 eggs + 4 egg whites

2/3 cup cream of coconut (stir this well so the fat solids incorporate with the liquids before melting)

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, coarsely ground in the food processor

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1 inch tablespoons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray both sides of the lamb pan completely with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, cream of coconut, water, coconut extract, and vanilla extract until well combined.

In a large bowl, mix flour, ground coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt with electric mixer on low speed until combined, about 15 seconds. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat on low speed until mixture forms a ball, about 2 minutes.

Stop the mixer and add half of the liquid mixture. Beat on low speed until the flour mixture is moistened, about 15 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer still running, slowly stream in the remaining liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium speed for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour 5 cups of batter into the bottom of the pan, the half with the lamb’s face, filling it all the way to the top. Cover with the bottom half of the pan. Truss the lamb with kitchen twine, stringing it through the hole that aligns the pans, and around the neck and body of the lamb. Put the whole lamb pan onto a cookie pan. Resist the urge to open the pans. Bake 42-48 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the hole in the top of the pan comes out clean. Remove lamb pan from the cookie sheet and cool for 5 minutes. Snip the kitchen string and remove the top pan, cooling for 5 more minutes.

Replace the top half of the pan, turn the cake pan over (use oven mitts – it will still be very hot), and remove the bottom half of the pan. Let the cake rest in this part of the pan until it is completely cool, between 3 and 4 hours before decorating.

Lemony Marshmallow Frosting

4 egg whites

3/4 cup granulated sugar

zest of 2 lemons

1 teaspoon lemon juice

pinch kosher salt

pinch cream of tartar

Boil 2 inches of water in a pan that is large enough to hold the bowl of an electric mixer without the bottom touching the water. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until combined. When water is at a boil, reduce heat to low and put mixing bowl on top. Whisk constantly until egg mixture is very hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixing bowl and transfer to the electric mixer. Use the whisk attachment to whip the mixture to stiff, glossy peaks. Decorate the lamb with big swirls of icing.