Saturday, December 22, 2007

Daring Baking! Buche de noel.

This was a wonderful challenge, my favourite yet. It was a delicious product but also very challenging and fun. I think it was wonderful at this time of year to do something festive, that reminds us of the true meaning of all our different holidays, Hannuka, Divali, and Christmas and other festivals that we think of something that will bring light and warmth into all our homes, which is what the Buche de Noel is supposed to represent.

I tackled the meringue mushrooms first, they were so much fun! It was really easy to produce something so fun and whimsical, just a case of piping tops and bottoms out, baking them, then attaching with a bit of saved meringue and baking to seal.

I then tried the buttercream, so it was ready for when I'd made my cake. It was hard, and I could imagine how it could have caused problems, trying to whip butter into egg whites is always a bit risky. Mine came out great. I added some chocolate for flavour and a darker colour. It tasted absolutely wonderful.

The genoise went well, although I worried I lost some of the volume as it was really hard to fold in the flour at the end.

The rolling of the genoise was hard, but I managed it, another stressful first crossed off the list!!
I made a few little marzipan mushrooms with regular and red dyed store bought marzipan for a bit of extra fun and then assembled the whole thing. I created the wood effect with a fork. A pastry comb was too uniform.

I served it to a crowd of hungry cyclists and it was literally gone within seconds. Everyone really loved the meringue mushrooms, they just thought they were sooo cute!! This is a very impressive creation, especially amongst people who don't do much baking!

I'd say if you follow the recipe really carefully you shouldn't have too many problems and its a wonderful centerpiece to any holiday gathering.

Sources: Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert
Serves 12
Cake should be stored in a cool, dry place. Leftovers should be refrigerated
Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

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 400 degrees F.

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, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

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
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) 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.

Filling and frosting the 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.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. 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 ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (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.

4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

WCB-Can you tell we're having guests

This seems to be every cat's dream. Nice clean bedding to shed all over.

Mum and Grandma are coming into town on Tuesday and she wanted to welcome them by leaving a little bit of cat litter and fur, so they feel at home.

Thanks Tina!

To see all the others, go to 'a cats perspective'.

Spinach Balls-healthy fare for holiday potlucks

I had these at a recent bookclub and they seemed a perfect thing to have in the fridge for mum and grandma to snack on or make into a little lunch without too much trouble. They'd be great for a potluck or a holiday party and its always nice to have something healthy around this time of year with so many temptations! Lots of wholegrain goodness, spinach for vitamins and cheese for a bit of calcium.

Be very careful to carefully remove as much water from the spinach as possible, and use lots of seasoning as some of the ingredients are a little bland. Mine could have done with lots more flavour and I forgot to add lemon juice. I had a lump of cheddar cheese in the middle but they'd make a great vegan snack without it.

Greek Spinach Rice Balls adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favourites

Makes 36 balls

2 pounds fresh spinach
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked bulgar wheat (or any grain on hand thats a bit mushy)
1 tsp dried dill
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
dash of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
6 oz low fat cheddar, cubed into 36 pieces
1 1/2 cup plain or herbed bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350f

Steam the spinach, drain carefully and set aside.
Fry the onions with the sundried tomatoes gently for 5 mins, then add scallions for a further minute.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix together, squishing the ride up a bit with a fork. Taste for seasoning, remembering that a lot of the flavor might dissipate into the rice.

Take a piece of cheddar, wrap some mixture around it and roll in breadcrumbs. Place in an oiled baking dish. Once all the balls are formed, bake in the oven for 25 mins until the balls are heated through and crispy on the outside.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Pudding

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

As soon as my mum decided her and Grandma would be coming here to celebrate Christmas, the talk turned to Christmas pudding. Its been a tradition for several generations in our family and the recipe comes from my dad's side, although I dont know how long its been in that side of the family. This seemed a perfect entry for this month's sugar high friday.

It differs from other puddings I've tried in that there is very little binder, its mostly just delicious succulent fruit, so the better the fruit, the better the pudding. I normally notice some alcohol is added, but in this case I think brandy goes all over it just before serving and it is set on fire. You can get really creative with the fruit, I think currants are grim so I substituted candied fruit, ginger and dried tart cherries. I also added dried plums so I could call it plum pudding!

I decided to fill ramekins with the mixture and then took the puddings out after cooking and stored in wax paper. I wasn't brave enough to keep at room temp and decided to keep in the fridge. The recipe states they can be put in a cool dark place and will keep for a year.

4 oz breadcrumbs
12 oz sultanas
8 oz raisins
8 oz currants
2 oz glace cherries
2 oz ground almonds
8 oz dark brown sugar
4 oz suet (I used vegetable suet-bought from a british store)
4 eggs, beaten

Mix all dry ingredients. Make well in center and add beaten eggs one at a time, stirring hard.
Leave overnight and stir again.

This fills two traditional pudding bowls, or 12 little ramekins. If cooking traditionally, steam 6-7 hours with greaseproof paper over the top (I think this means parchment paper).

I cooked for 3 hours at 225f in a water bath (I put an inch of water in a 1/2 sheet pan and put the ramekins in).

To serve, heat in microwave, around 2 minutes per pudding, stand 1 min and serve with whipped cream or brandy butter.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hokey Pokey Ha ha ha!

Ok, so this is another first. Its the first time I've made something that made me cackle. I dont know why, but the sheer strangeness of the stuff you get out of such an easy process was an awful lot of fun. I was just about to comment on it being great for kids, but bubbling hot sugar and kids dont really go very well together do they?

I do like nigella. She loves her food. I was looking around for a gift to send my favourite vegan and I was watching 'Nigella Express' and she made this hokey pokey as a hostess gift. Perfect.

This stuff is absolutely lovely in ice cream, its big in New Zealand although I've had it at the fair in England, and we also have a version of it enrobed in milk chocolate, known as a crunchie.

This works great. I decided to double the recipe. The only thing I'd have caution about is that my idea of maple syrup is obviously darker than hers, I think I was close to overcooking it.

Be sure to get this into an airtight container as soon as its cool (within an hour). It goes all sticky and gooey. If you're popping bites in to a selection I'd advise wrapping them individually.

Hokey Pokey- Nigella Lawson

1/2 cup sugar

4 tablespoons golden syrup (dark corn syrup is ok, but golden syrup is better)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (I sifted this in, lumps of bicarb-bad)

Put the sugar and syrup into a saucepan and stir together to mix. You can't stir once the pan's on the heat, though.
Place the pan on the heat and let the mixture first melt and then turn to goo and then a bubbling mass the color of maple syrup(very light maple syrup!) - this will take 3 minutes or so.
Off the heat, whisk in the baking soda and watch the syrup turn into a whooshing cloud of aerated pale gold. Turn this immediately onto a piece of baking parchment or greased foil.
Leave until set and then bash at it, so that it splinters into many glinting pieces.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Its my birthday, so I can bake what I want to!

Oh dear, what a mess, completely stuck to the pan! We had to just eat it out of the cake tin. So I know what is first on my christmas list! Springform pan! Thankfully it was delicious and it was my birthday, so I can have a rubbish falling apart cake if I want to. Its a lovely cake with a crispy top and dense chocolatey middle that most people will only want a little sliver of, being that its so rich

I'm so glad I halved the recipe, this was enough for about 12 people already, it would have fed a gigantic army! This almost overflowed in my 9" cake pan.

I also got a wonderful bunch of flowers, thanks to my mum, and being the total nutcase I am, I got all sad to find them sitting on the doorstep as they might have been there all day. Gosh I'm silly!

Bitter Chocolate Roasted Hazelnut Torte -adapted from River Cafe cookbook two-Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

250g shelled hazelnuts
250g bittersweet chocolate
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
6 medium eggs (I used 5 large)

Preheat the oven to 300f. Line a 9' springform pan with buttered parchment paper

Roast the hazelnuts in the preheated oven for about 20 mins. If they have skins then you can remove them by rolling in a tea towel.

Put the nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are roughly chopped. Dont let them become a fine flour.

Break the chocolate up and melt over a double boiler.

Meanwhile, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between eggs. Add the melted chocolate, mix and then fold in nuts.

Pour the mix into a cake tin. Cook for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out dry. Leave in the oven for a further 30 mins with the door open a little, then wait to remove from the tin until cooled.

Chocolate Ganache Topping
2oz heavy cream
2oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 oz butter

Heat cream until nearly boiling, add chocolate, stirring. Add butter then drizzle over cake. Top with hazelnuts

Monday, December 10, 2007

Night out in North Park

We braved the rain on Saturday and got a cab over to North Park. I'm glad we did. We went to Urban Solace for dinner and it was really nice. I was surprised it wasnt as cozy as I'd expected, perfectly lovely decor, mind, but we were immediately happy with the beer selection and we got a seat at the bar while we waited for a table. We were a bit disappointed that reservations weren't possible, but we did get a table fairly quickly.

I'm really happy with the recent trend in having nicer and more diverse beers on tap, that can only be a good thing.

We chose biscuits and 'nibbles' for starters, the biscuits were outstanding and we had lovely pickled mushrooms, salty olives and sweet and spicy pecans. Mmmm.

For entree we had beef cheeks, and I had a lobster pot pie. Really good stuff! The beef cheeks were succulent, the mash was delicious and the pastry was all crumbly and nice on the pot pie. It was really nice not to be paying too much too, the entrees are around $15, which was very reasonable indeed.

I was too full for a dessert, but was tempted by the time we walked to heaven sent desserts. I chose a sarah bernhardt which was delicious, some kind of macaroon with chocolate mousse over it and a layer of dark chocolate. The plate was fussy (look at me, one semester of basic baking and I'm all hoity toity!) and the mexican chocolate I had wasnt great. I didnt care for the atmosphere, it was very bright and family oriented, I'm more interested in a dark and naughty dessert place with a nice dessert wine selection. Having said that, I'd probably find myself drawn to the place for that small confection I enjoyed if I was passing!!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

WCB-Festive felines

We decided to put up our rather pathetic IKEA christmas tree this weekend, and it got us all festive. Tina found a new favourite spot on the sofa. Thankfully she's not showing much interest in toppling the tree!

You can see she was happy to be indoors all cozy sleeping with all that rain and snow we've had here. Am I glad I decided not to ride up palomar this weekend, its very snowy!

Friday, December 7, 2007


Just went for the most delicious szechuan food at Dede's on Convoy. Mmmm.

I steered clear of the husband and wife, as I dont eat meat, but they had delicious cold appetizers with edamame, bamboo shoots and seaweed type stuff.

The dishes that we had and really enjoyed were a dry fried whole chili shrimp, mushroom tofu, green beans, broccoli greens, I'm told the cumin lamb is just delicious, and the szechuan fish was really wonderful. It is really nicely fried with a crispy coating without being greasy and served with a spicy sauce. There were other beef and pork dishes that people really liked too.

I've been before, and I've been a little disappointed with my choices, but if you pick right, and go with tons of people and eat family style its an absolute gem!

Dede's Teajuice City
4647 Convoy St (between Dagget St & Opportunity Rd)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-5999

Sunday, December 2, 2007

WCB-Tina likes to roll around in the dirt

This is tina's favourite thing to do as soon as we open the door, she'll run out to the back patio concrete or the steps and roll around for ages, especially if its sunny!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Marzipan fruits

I spent a stormy Friday evening having a lot of fun at 'Do it with Icing'. Its a wonderful shop tucked away in a strip mall next to the 805 freeway. I didn't have a chance to look around the shop after the class finished, but I'm sure I'll be back. Its definitely the best place to go in San Diego for any kind of baking or cake decorating requirements, and they are all very passionate and friendly.

Linda went through a plethora of fruits and vegetables step by step and we all followed her eagerly. There were only 6 of us on the course, so we got lots of attention and lots of help if we were having trouble. I think my favourites were the pumpkins, they are just too adorable for words. Now I've had a poke in the right direction I'm sure I'll be trying much more of this as it is super cute and lots of fun!

I'm also hoping my Mum will be able to bring lots of marzipan over when she visits as its so much cheaper at home. Its available in big blocks even in your regular supermarket. We use it much more extensively, as a first layer in fruit cakes below a fondant or royal icing cover, or in the absolutely delicious battenburg cake (I must have a try of one of those soon! can I do Mr Kipling justice?!).