Archive for December, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge : Yule Log


When co-founders of the Daring Bakers Ivonne and Lis announced that this month’s challenge would be a Yule log, I must admit, I thought I would actually sit this particular challenge out. This isn’t really the kind of dessert my family likes, and Yule logs aren’t something that evoke buttercream-tinted memories of my childhood. Eschewing the traditions which we never grew up with anyway, our Christmas meal these days consists invariably of cold cuts, cold seafood and cold salads in a climate controlled setting. The last time mom tried roasting a turkey, it happened to be a stinking hot day and we all found the humour and the ridiculousness in having both the oven and the air-conditioning (to cool us down while the turkey heats up) running at full blast. Never again.

So I didn’t know what I would do with the log of cake if I made it. As some sort of faux artistic statement, I considered incorporating gellan into the buttercream and then setting the completed Yule log alight at the dinner table. A flaming centrepiece complete with toasted mushrooms and quite possibly, the aroma of singed hair. Obviously I’ve been watching too much Heston! Also, work had been really busy recently, and I didn’t think I had the time, let alone the inclination, to whip this up. But then this weekend arrived; and inbetween the buying and wrapping of Christmas presents, I suddenly found the impetus and my Christmas spirit, and thought, stuff it, embrace the Daring Bakers’ ethos and make time!

On several positive notes, this recipe is very easy and a complete joy to follow. The sponge in particular is so pillowy, I wanted to rest my weary head on it, then sink into a sugary sleep and dream of flying through clouds of coffee buttercream surrounded by cute-as-a-button mushrooms. If traditional Christmas fare is your thing, as well as creamy, spongey cakey treats, maybe you should try this recipe out. ‘Yule’ love it!

Yule Log :
(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)

Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
168g castor sugar
62g cake flour
36g cornflour

one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 210’C.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm.
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
225g sugar
340g unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
105g castor sugar
40g icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 110’C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each 12 mm wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, 2 cm tall, and spaced about 12 mm apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 3 cm wide and 2 cm high, also spaced 12 mm apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

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[Note: The weather being what it currently is, my Yule log started to wilt a little, so I redecorated it and took more pictures (below) before the time came to serve it up.]

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No mincing around


Ah, Christmas. How I love this time of the year. Despite the excessively long queues in Borders, the little kids at Pitt Street Mall playing shrill versions of Christmas songs on their (insert musical instrument here) and the piles of junk food repackaged as Christmas products in the supermarkets. I spent Christmas in Belfast, Northern Ireland one year, and couldn’t believe how packed the shops were. There were queues in every conceivable shop – even the ones you wouldn’t think were typical places to go to (like the chemist!), to do your Christmas shopping, were bulging with customers. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it even snowed and I felt like a little kid with my nose pressed up against the window pane, peering out over the ice covered landscape.

What I love about Christmas in Sydney is that it’s the one time of the year that my family makes that extra special effort to get together. This year, my sis and her family are over from New Zealand for a couple of weeks. I don’t get to see my nieces (7 yrs and 4) very often, so am thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time with them. As they get older, I hope I’ll get a chance to do some baking with them too.

After being tortured last Christmas by the sight and smell of Andy’s fruit mince tarts, I had resolved to bake my own. If you’re thinking of baking your own mince tarts, there is now only one recipe I would recommend. It comes from Matt Moran’s cookbook and is called Baked Winter Fruit Tart. Having tried this one, there’s no turning back, not even to Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat. This one is equally guilt-free with no added fat in the fruit mix, and only about 75g of butter in total, in the pastry (well, depending on what your pastry recipe is like, that is). I’ve already made about ten of these as gifts (some with frangipane and flaked almonds on top, instead of the lattice of pastry), so can also vouch for the fact that the recipe multiplies very well indeed.

A very Merry Christmas to everyone!

Baked Winter Fruit Tart :
(serves 8-10; recipe from Matt Moran’s cookbook)

45g dried apples
35g dates, pitted
100g dried pears
130g dried apricots
150g prunes
100g dried figs
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
100ml brandy
200g castor sugar
2 egg yolks
30ml cream
pinch salt
350g apricot conserve

sweet shortcrust pastry – recipe of your choice

Place all the dried fruit and spices in a bowl and add the brandy. Add enough hot water to cover the fruit, then cover and leave to soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Make the pastry, allow to rest for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the pastry to 5mm thickness and use it to line a greased 27 cm diameter tart tin, then place in the refrigerator. Roll out the other half of the pastry to 5mm thickness and cut into 1cm wide strips using a zig-zag cutter.

Preheat the oven to 170’C. Strain the fruit, reserving the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the fruit and set aside. Place the liquid in a saucepan, add the sugar and heat, stirring occasionally until the syrup is a light golden brown. Moisten the fruit with a little of the syrup to help it stick together – at this stage, feel free to add more syrup or brandy to suit your taste. Spoon the fruit mixture into the tart shell and lace the pastry strips on top in a criss-cross pattern. Lightly whisk the egg yolks, cream and salt together and brush over the top of the pie. Bake for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

While the tart is still hot, bring the apricot conserve and 150ml of water to the boil in a small saucepan, stirring until the conserve has completely dissolved, then brush over top of the tart to glaze.

[Note: For my tart, I used what fruit I had at hand, which included raisins, cranberries, candied ginger, prunes and figs; all the kinds of things I’d like to see in a mince tart. As an additional tip, I would add a bit more fruit than it states in the recipe, so that you get a nice full tart and if you happen to have any leftover unbaked fruit, they can always go into the next tart, or be saved for next year! For the brandy, I substituted with Calvados (apple brandy) to further enhance the apple component of the tart. I also rather predictably, increased the spice content. After combining the sugar and strained liquid, I reduced it in the pan until it looked thickened and almost caramelised (but not burnt). When baking the tart, be sure to have a tray underneath to catch any drips from the syrup within the tart that might bubble over – it’s nothing major, but it could save some cleaning-up time later]


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A very edible Christmas


I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do,
now there’s poetry, in an empty coke can.
I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do,
now there’s majesty, in a burnt out caravan.

You got me off the paper round, just sprang out of the air,
the best things come from nowhere,
I love you, I don’t think you care.

I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do,
and the symmetry in your northern grin
I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do,
I can see myself in the refill litter bin.

You got me off the sofa, just sprang out of the air, the best things come from nowhere, I can’t believe you care.

–Made-Up Love Song #43 by The Guillemots

Christmas gets here too quickly, I’ve decided. In March, you can’t imagine making it to the end of the year and every month seems to dribble by. Then suddenly it’s the 24th of December and you’re frantically pacing around Westfield, wondering what to get Aunt Jan for Christmas.

For me, Christmas isn’t so much about the actual day itself, as the build up to the day. Christmas Day often takes place in a blur of excessive eating and gift unwrapping. But in the lead up to Christmas, the excitement gathers pace particularly in the kitchen as we bake off an assortment of treasures that I associate with Christmas : gingerbread, panforte, fruit cake and pain d’epice.

This year has been particularly busy for me at work, and now that things are almost slowing down a little, it feels as though a great weight as been lifted off my shoulders. Good bye to rising at 4 and 5 in the morning for work, though I must say it has been very character-building, in it’s own adorable little way. To celebrate having two days off in a row, I’ve been dancing around in the kitchen, listening to the Guillemots and Sufjan Stevens, decorating little gingerbread biscuits I made a few days ago. The inspiration came from a recipe for gingerbread men by Andrew McConnell in last week’s Good Weekend magazine. Instead of men, I made stars and snowflakes, and just for something a little bit unusual, the Sydney Harbour bridge. The bridge cutter was one I rescued from a bargain bin at Chefs Warehouse several months ago, but never found an excuse to use until now.

The biscuits are either slightly chewy if you roll them out thick, or more of a gingersnap, if rolled thinner. (I was a bit of a greedy child and when my sister and I used to make gingerbread, mine would often be slightly thinner; the logic being that I was actually yielding more biscuits. But these days I like my gingerbread to be on the thicker side so that it’s more bread and less biscuit). Below is the original recipe, which is meant to make 12 large gingerbread men, or more than enough small stars and snowflakes to fill the sky.

These gingerbread biscuits are my contribution to Francesca’s Waiting for Christmas event.

[Note: My smaller sized biscuits took less than the recommended baking time. Also if like me you like your spice, I would increase the spice content (and at least double the volume on your stereo speakers to get you in the mood!)].

Gingerbread Men :

200g butter
90g white sugar
90g soft brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
4 whole cloves, pounded in the mortar
1 egg
550g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the molasses, spices and egg and mix well.

Sieve together the flour, bicarb soda and salt, and add to the butter and egg mixture a bit at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Knead the dough a couple of times to make sure it is well mixed and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Then, on a floured bench, roll out the dough, in small batches, to about 3mm thick. If you are making large gingerbread men you may need to roll the dough out a bit thicker. Using a cookie cutter, cut out as many gingerbread men as your dough allows.

Place them on a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 180’C for 12 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned. Cool on a wire rack, then ice as desired.

The biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Royal Icing :
(recipe from Rose’s Christmas Cookies, by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

3 large egg whites (90g)
460g pure icing sugar

In a large mixing bowl, place the egg whites and sugar and beat, preferably with the whisk beater, at low speed, until the sugar is moistened. Beat at high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted (5 to 7 minutes). The tips of the peaks should curve slightly. If necessary, more icing sugar may be added. Keeps 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature. Rebeat lightly.

gingerbread.jpg gingerbread-snowflake.jpg

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