Once upon a time, there was a six-months pregnant lady who loved to bake but was having a hard time with all things kitchen and particularly baking-related because she was pregnant. A year and a half before this moment, she'd joined the Daring Bakers and, a few months after that, she'd snatched a vacant spot in the hosting schedule. At least even as she was just pregnant but didn't know it, she'd had the presence of mind to ask her friend Marion if she would host the challenge with her. This turned out to be her best move by far because hosting with Marion brought its fair share of smart choices and laughs about what the challenge recipe should be. (Marion, btw, is having technical difficulties with her blog and is away on vacation right now, so she will not be able to post her challenge until the New Year).
What Marion and I asked the Daring Bakers to do this month is a Yule Log in the French style which is an entremets or cream dessert in English for those who don't know what an entremets is; as such it was not imperative that it be made as a log or as a Christmas dinner dessert. In France yule logs you might encounter at a Christmas Eve dinner are fairly evenly divided between the rolled genoise and buttercream type which we made last Christmas and this kind which is a layered dessert with mousse or ice cream as its main component and various inserts.
In searching for a recipe that we both liked and both wanted to make, Marion came up with a fantastic website called Florilège Gourmand written by a woman named Flore (thus Flor-ilège Gourmand, Florilège means a collection of remarkable things or an anthology in French). She seems to be a kitchen fairy who is constantly coming up with more delicious-looking desserts one than the next, and so we decided to build a basic recipe for our challenge out of components from various entremets recipes on her website. Thus was born the Daring Bakers' December 2008 Challenge.
The recipe calls for the following 6 elements: A Dacquoise (a nut meringue), a mousse with a stabilizing component that will allow it to freeze smoothly, a creme brulee insert, a ganache insert, a praline feuillete insert (a chocolate, praline, and crushed crunchy cookie layer), and icing. Essentially the log is composed of the dacquoise as a base with the mousse and inserts interlayered over it and icing to finish the whole thing off. The dacquoise can be used all around the log rather than just as a base, and this option was given, but I chose to make mine more an as entremets so with dacquoise as the base only.
We are now somewhere close to 1600 active Daring Bakers and Marion and I knew that, given that there are 6 elements in this recipe and that not everyone likes chocolate (gasp), it would be better if we let the DBers have as much freedom as possible, so we gave the Bakers as much latitude as they wanted to pick and choose their own flavor combinations and the only rule we set forth was that they needed to make all 6 of the recipe elements.
My log is composed of pecan dacquoise, chocolate-caramel ganache, banana mousse, pecan praline feuillete (with dark chocolate instead of milk and cigarettes russes cookies for the crunch - and here I confess that having used those, I was inspired by Aran of Cannelle et Vanille to surround my log with them in the same fashion as her decoration for the last DB challenge), chocolate-cardamom creme brulee, and milk chocolate icing.
Since I'd made all of the elements except for the praline feuillete at one point or another in my baking lifetime, and as the praline feuillete recipe is very simple, I knew this would be more of an issue of organization than anything else. I do, however, have to point out that when one is suffering from pregnancy brain (aka what's my name again? what am I doing here?), doing anything that requires concentration and organization can be a formidable challenge. I mean, seriously people, my Dad called me on the phone the other day and the sound was terrible so I told him I would hang up and call him right back, and I hung up...and forgot to call him back. There's also the issue of carrying a basketball around in front of you (aka directly in the way of everything) which can hamper your center of gravity and general dexterity. Generally speaking, in spite of pregnancy brain striking along the way such as when I restarted the mixer after stopping it because the Italian meringue for the mousse was done (has a tendency to kinda ruin your Italian meringue, but I salvaged it), measured and cooked only one measure of sugar for the praline (when I was doubling the recipe) before adding the pecans (I added sugar and winged caramelizing it so that turned out ok too), and being pretty sure that I did not portion out the mousse correctly when I put the log together, the log came together nicely and the only major challenge was my overall fatigue, especially since the little squatter (as we call her) has a tendency to watch Bruce Lee movies and try to emulate them in there, which can be quite painful sometimes.
Here are a couple of things I thought would be useful to point out for any of the Bakers (or anyone else) who would make this recipe again (or for the first time):
- In our private forum, many of the bakers who wrote about their log-making experience said that their creme brulee was very icy and did not melt as fast as the rest of the log, causing difficulty in slicing the log. I thought about this for a little bit and after making my own creme brulee, which was not icy, realized that the issue here is probably one of fat content in the cream and the milk. If you've made ice cream before you may catch on to what I'm getting at immediately. The reason you want to use whole milk with as much cream as possible in it (as in not whole milk that's been pasteurized to the point of oblivion), and heavy cream that has at least 35% fat content in it, is that fat does not freeze. The ice cream champion himself, David Lebovitz, devoted a post to the issue of obtaining ice cream rather than just ice sometime last year and I believe this was one of his main points.
- Another issue having to do with the creme brulee was that the recipe calls for baking it at 100C (210F) for one hour. Again, many of the bakers seemed to have trouble with this because their creme brulee would not set in that amount of time. Since I only had to cook my creme brulee for 10 more minutes than stated in the recipe at the stated temperature, there are two main things which strike me about this issue: The first is that the higher the fat content in your milk and cream, the more quickly they will thicken when cooking, so fat content is important in this regard as well as in managing your creme not being icy. The second thing is that if you do not have an oven thermometer, you really cannot know how accurate your oven's temperature is, no matter how many other things you may have been able to cook in it at temperatures you were given in other recipes. That's not a matter of my being difficult about keeping this recipe the way it is, it is just a statement of fact (and as someone who worked with an oven that kept no consistent temperature at all but who managed to make many of the DB challenges and other pastries with it because I had an oven thermometer, albeit with strange cooking times, it makes sense). Well-known pastry chef Pierre Herme states that you should have an oven thermometer, as a basic kitchen utensil to save you major headaches, before trying the recipes in several of his books.
And now to some of my thoughts about hosting this challenge: First, a big thank you and gros bisous to Marion for being so much fun to work with; I couldn't have picked a better co-host. Second, thank you Lis and Ivonne for creating this group at all and for letting me host this month to begin with, you are brave souls; a big thank you to Daring Baker Fairy Tartelette for providing help with recipe variations, general guidance, and listening to my kvetching. A huge thanks to Flore of Florilege Gourmand for graciously letting us use her recipes.
Although I know there were Bakers out there who were unhappy with the choice of recipe for various reasons, whether it be the perceived length of it, the perceived cost, or really anything else, Marion and I knew that we couldn't put up a recipe that was going to please everyone, not with 1600 people to consider, so we went with a recipe that neither one of us had made before, that we felt would challenge most of the bakers with the exception of our pastry chef and very advanced members, and out of which we could be sure that most of us would learn at least one thing provided the recipes were followed. The keywords here are challenge and learn, remembering that the name of this group is the Daring Bakers and that the dictionary definition of Daring is "venturesomely bold in action or thought." I know some of the Bakers hated this recipe because it didn't work out for them, but I just want to remind them that the spirit of the group is to try new things and to stretch your baking limits, trying it and challenging yourself is what matters, not whether you had a perfect outcome or loved the taste of the outcome (although the taste thing would obviously be preferable). For the Bakers who enjoyed this challenge and especially those Bakers who wrote comments to me or Marion to say that they were scared but looked forward to it or were pleased to have challenged themselves through it, Mazel Tov, we are very happy that you took pleasure in trying this out and we appreciate your comments because we worked very hard to put this recipe together.
You probably will want to make the elements in this order because of what you can get done while some elements are baking and given some of the prep times:
1) Creme Brulee
2) Praline Feuillete (Crisp)
Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking
Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper
Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.
2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
1. Finely mix the almond meal and the caster sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.
Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse
Preparation time: 20mn
Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula
Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.
2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1+1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler (or one small saucepan in a larger one), heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the rest of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.
Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Preparation time: 10mn
Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have a plunging mixer it comes in handy.
Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened
1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.
Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)
Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or use an empty bottle of olive oil).
Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. If you do substitute cereal you should use half of the stated quantity, so 1 oz of cereal.
If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008 over at Mele Cotte.
To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.
Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K
1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking
Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper
Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...
1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.
Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing
Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)
Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan
Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.
How To Assemble your French Yule Log
THIS IS FOR UNMOLDING FROM UPSIDE DOWN TO RIGHT SIDE UP.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.
1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR saran wrap or cling film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.
You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:
2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.
2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9B) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.
If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with TWO pieces of Dacquoise the order is:
3) Creme Brulee Insert
5) Praline/Crisp Insert
7) Ganache Insert
If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
2) Creme Brulee Insert
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
6) Ganache Insert
THE NEXT DAY...
Unmold the log and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the log with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
[Version en Français à venir tout en bas]
Having said that and stepped down from my tower, here is the basic recipe (without all the variations we offered up on the DB website) for a French-style yule log or entremets by Flore of Florilege Gourmand: