A Yule to Remember

Eldred

Introducing Bûche de Noël 2012

Buche de Noel

I’m kind of old school when it comes to my yearly bûche de Noël, I follow Julia Child’s recipe from “The Way to Cook”. The recipe is a little fussy, but it’s worth it. The cake is an orange almond spongecake baked on a flat sheet so that you can roll it up, and it’s filled with and frosted with a chocolate frosting that involves mixing melted chocolate into an Italian meringue and then adding whipped cream. Not for the faint of heart. Her recipe also includes making a nut brittle and crushing it to include in the frosting, I leave that out along with the spun sugar she decorates the finished log with. I have a limit of carmelizing only once per recipe, hanging over a pan gently swirling the sugar water in deadly fear that it will crystalize is too nerve racking for me to do multiple times for one cake. Also, I usually end up making it at my parents’ house in Connecticut, which is challenging in itself.

I actually did the same thing this year that I do every year that I’ve been making the bûche de Noël, the difference this Christmas was almost purely aesthetic. I finally made the meringue mushrooms that traditionally decorate a yule log. Every year I plan on making them, but I either run out of time or interest. This year, after I made the Italian meringue – which turned out perfectly, I may have brought family members over to the Kitchenaid to admire it – I still had another hour that the oven was free and I was still feeling pretty energetic. So, I pulled out my pastry bag and went to work. Fortunately, when I was still at home I  had looked up the recipe for meringue mushrooms in my copy of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts for tips on how to pipe out the meringue fungi. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right pastry tip, so I just used the bag without a tip, which worked well for mushrooms that are supposed to look like they’ve just been plucked from a woodland scene. I also sprinkled a little cocoa on them to give them a more woodsy look. Once they had baked, I then used a little frosting to stick the stems to the tops and spread it a bit on the bottom of the cap to replicate the gills. I then tucked the squat little guys around the sugar leaves I picked up at the last minute at N.Y. Cake and Baking Distributor on 22nd Street. Sprinkled a little powdered sugar over it, and… Voila!

Not only does it look great and festive, but it’s also a really tasty combination of flavors, the orange almond cake complements the chocolate really well.

Me and my buche de noel

Have a wonderful new year!!

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Bread for two… plus dessert

Eldred

I’ve had a couple of disastrous experiences baking with yeast – cinnamon rolls that could have been handy hockey puck replacements and a loaf of bread that, used strategically, could have been a very efficient and dangerous projectile weapon.  I’ve become a bit intimidated by the idea of working with yeast, but I love a good loaf of bread. So, a few years ago, in search of decent bread in Inwood, Mark and I bought a Zogirushi bread machine. With the limited counter and storage space in our apartment, the smaller one pound mini bread maker appealed to us. It’s the perfect size for two people – or one gluttonous person.

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Now, if you’re looking for one of those wonderful crusty, earthy, chewy loaves of bread, book a flight to France. The bread machine is not going to deliver and I’m guessing that purists regard it on the same level of food sacrilege as biscuits in a tube and store-bought pie crust. But, if you want a good, standard loaf that is great for sandwiches and toast and a good fallback for general use – and love the smell of baking bread – the Zogirushi is great.

bread After exhausting the recipes in the booklet that came with the machine, I bought The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook. There are 300 recipes in this book, everything from your standard white bread to “Roquefort Cheese Bread with Walnuts” to hot dog rolls. I experimented with a few recipes, buying some of the harder to find ingredients online at King Arthur Flour and for awhile our apartment was a mini bread factory. Then the novelty wore off and the Inwood farmer’s market expanded to year round, so good bread became more readily available. Our little Zogi just sat tucked away, unused for a couple of years.

Recently I had the brilliant idea of bringing Zogi up to our cottage for the same reason that we bought it in the first place. Although our farmer’s market in Barryville offers us great bread in the warmer months, in the winter we have to drive at least 45 minutes to find a decent loaf. So Zogi is now back in action, and Saturday  was its re-inauguration.  It was a cold, rainy, foggy day and there’s nothing like the smell of baking bread to make you feel warm and cozy. I threw in the ingredients for my favorite brioche recipe and 3 hours and 40 minutes later I wrenched out a small loaf from the small pan – the blade on the bottom of the pan makes it a little bit of a struggle to get the loaf out of the pan, but it’s worth the work.

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It was devoured with butter and a very tasty wine jelly from Eminence Road Winery  that we had picked up at our local farmer’s market before it closed for the season. It’s made from Gewurztraminer  – try saying that fives times fast…actually, just try saying it.

Our mini brioche was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner and there was even some left over for toast the next morning. A toasted slice of homemade bread with butter and jam and a cup of tea on a Sunday morning. Bliss.

Now, the brioche recipe required two egg yolks.

Hmmm…. what to do with the remaining egg whites?….

meringues