Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bûche de Noël 2008

This year's baking adventure was a Bûche de Noël, also known as a Yule log cake. It's an old French tradition. Some elements are constants: meringue mushrooms, knots made from the ends of the rolled and filled cake. I suspect that whether one rolls the cake from the short end or the long end is a matter of cake religion.

@kellysue (Kelly Sue DeConnick) and I decided to make this a joint adventure. We exchanged recipe and tip links this past week, then yesterday morning I made my plan:

Cake: chocolate jelly roll
Filling: chocolate mousse
Icing: vanilla buttercream
Syrup: simple syrup flavored with rum extract
Other: marzipan mushrooms, white chocolate shavings, sparkling sugar, a dusting of cocoa powder

Tip link: Jean Francois Houdre

A Bûche de Noël is traditionally made from a génoise, but my lack of skills with that was amply demonstrated during my husband's birthday. Instead, I used the King Arthur Flour jelly roll recipe:

Jelly Roll

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mise en place:

Measure all ingredients plus 1/4 cup of cocoa to go along with the dry ingredients.

If the eggs aren't at room temperature, and I recommend that they are, then put them in a bowl of warm, not hot, water for 10 minutes or so.

Lay out a non-terry towel and sprinkle it with confectioners' sugar. It is essential that this be a non-terry towel; the more texture the towel has, the worse the cake will stick to it. A tea towel is a good choice. The amount of confectioners' sugar that you use is up to you; the more sugar, the more the cake will absorb, which has its bad points in terms of structural integrity. This is a cake that needs to hold its shape, so keep that in mind.

Making the jelly roll...

Preheat oven to 400F. Line the bottom of a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan with waxed paper or parchment.

This is essential. You will not get the jelly roll out of the pan if you don't use parchment. It's that simple.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

I added the cocoa powder to the flour at this point.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Sprinkle in the sugar gradually, beating all the while, and continue beating until the batter is very thick and light lemon in color, 3 to 8 minutes. The batter will have doubled in volume. When the batter is sufficiently aerated, it should fall from the beaters in a thick ribbon and mound on top of the remaining batter in the bowl temporarily before being reabsorbed. Just before you stop beating the batter, add the vanilla.

This is also known as "making the ribbon" and is an essential element of knowing when a given cake batter is ready for the next step. Note that it is not, NOT the case with all types of cake batter. (The less we say about that birthday génoise, the better.) I ended up beating the mixture for the full 8 minutes, likely because my eggs were not at room temperature.

Gently fold in the flour mixture, using a rubber spatula or whisk. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

This is where I usually screw up through undermixing. (Again with the ill-fated génoise.) On the advice of my husband, who is a much better baker than I, I ended up using a whisk to mix it and stirred far more than I thought was prudent. Shows you what I know about prudence.

Bake the cake for 12 to 14 minutes, until it's golden brown and springy to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert it onto the sugary dish towel. Peel off the paper. Starting with one edge, roll the cake and towel together into a log and cool completely on a wire rack.

My cake took 14 minutes exactly. I ran a sharp knife down the long edges of the cake to loosen it, then inverted it onto the towel. I had a ton of sugar on the towel and rolled it from the long edge, not the short. I left it on the wire rack for 30 minutes. It's at this point that I remembered to take pictures. I am so not a camera person.

Mummy Noël

Unroll the cake, spread it with filling, and re-roll it. Place the roll on its serving plate, seam side down, and decorate.

All this sounds simple, right? Heh. It's Bûche de Noël time, bitches.

@kellysue and I tossed around several ideas about filling flavors. I think she went with hazelnut; I decided to go with chocolate so that there wouldn't be a lot of visual contrast with the cake. I also decided to use a flavored simple syrup to moisten the cake while filling and rolling it. Ahhh, the filling...I used the chocolate mousse recipe from Martha Stewart. Yes, all these recipes follow.

Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon extract of choice

Mix water and sugar and in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat just until sugar dissolves and mixture becomes clear. Let cool for a few minutes, then stir in the extract. Add more extract if needed. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Here's a pic of the pot of rum syrup.

Chocolate Mousse

The chocolate mousse was the second major mistake; the first one was the simple syrup.

I made the mousse first, before the cake (I'm telling you this now and not in its proper order, I know), so that it could cool for the required hour. As it turns out, that wasn't enough, and wasn't ever going to be enough; the mousse was liquid, not gelatinous, and even after I put it back in the mixer and added at least 3.5 more cups of sugar, it wasn't firm enough. But I didn't want a buttercream filling, so I stopped there and decided to just use less. We followed the recipe exactly. It might've benefited from the use of unflavored gelatin as a stabilizer, but we were past that point. The caravan moves on.

After the jelly roll cooled, I unrolled it and brushed it with the simple syrup. I spread a thickish layer of filling over the jelly roll, being careful to get it under the tighter edge, then removed about half of it when it started oozing onto the towel. Then I removed some more. I rolled the cake back up, brushing more syrup on the exterior, and with the assistance of my very kind mother-in-law, rolled it onto a foil-covered serving pan.

I watched as the filling continued to ooze. Martha, I don't know what alternative universe you live in, but the gravity on your planet must be lower. Way lower. Like all the people are made of air bubbles or polychromatic dodecahedrons.

I cut an angled piece off each end and laid them on the log at diagonally opposite ends. (This was about the only thing the filling was good for.) Meanwhile, the roll cracked along one long edge and bled filling. Awesome. Clearly, the syrup was a mistake for this kind of cake; it further weakened it instead of making it more pliable. Nevertheless, I was committed to finishing it, even if it turned out to be more like pudding than cake.

Decorating the Bûche de Noël: "Nymph, in thy orisons all my sins be remembered."

Frosting, like wallpaper and gaudy knit sweater vests, hides a multitude of sins. My vanilla buttercream frosting now had to hide what was rapidly becoming a puddle.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I used the full 5 cups of sugar and almost the full 1/3 cup of milk. I made the frosting a good bit stiffer than I normally would have.

Frosting the cake wasn't difficult, though I layered it thick-thick around the knots and the bleeding edge. I ran the tines of a fork down the length of the icing to create texture, running it around the knots (I feel like I'm typing erotica now). I took the icing spatula and flattened the texture in a few places for a more varied texture. Traditionally, the knots have a swirled pattern on the end; I had to fill those with leftover whipped cream because the filling had drained out. No pattern for you.

Frosted Bûche de Noël

Mushroom Mushroom Badger Badger Badger Badger

Time for the easiest part of this recipe, the Marzipan Mushrooms. I sprinkled a little cocoa powder over them once I placed them around the cake.

Le sigh. This damn thing was finally done.


AndySocial said...

Wow, you really had an experience, didn't you? It turned out very nice-looking; hopefully, it tasted good too.

Here's my attempt from last year. The buttercream tried to melt, and was generally uncooperative. The meringue mushrooms collapsed on themselves, and the branch that was supposed to stay on top refused to cooperate, even with about a dozen toothpicks jammed into it.

I didn't make one this year. :-)

ldkelley said...

And this is why I have yet to attempt a Buche de Noel. How you have experience and next year will be easier, right? :| Merry Christmas anyway.

Heather Poirier said...

AndySocial said...

Here's my attempt from last year. The buttercream tried to melt, and was generally uncooperative. The meringue mushrooms collapsed on themselves, and the branch that was supposed to stay on top refused to cooperate, even with about a dozen toothpicks jammed into it.

--Thanks for the very kind compliment! I've decided that this is the nature of this kind of cake. Not to fall apart, but to be irritating to the baker.

Heather Poirier said...

ldkelley said...

And this is why I have yet to attempt a Buche de Noel. How you have experience and next year will be easier, right? :| Merry Christmas anyway.

--Agreed, and I'm changing the name to Shoggoth de Noel.