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This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberryand Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.  They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.  I was this close to skipping this month’s challenge as I was up to my eyeballs in cocktail parties, cookie baking, gift shopping and holiday meal preparations.  I certainly was not up for step-by-step photographs of an 18 page long recipe, even if I did decide to brave this month’s challenge.  In spite of the daunting nature of the tome they were passing off as a recipe,  I decided that this buche de noël was going to be the perfect dessert for Christmas Eve. 

The recipe is available here for those brave enough to tackle this time-consuming but exquisite dessert.  Just be prepared to go through ungodly amounts of cream, eggs and butter.   Also realize you will dirty every single bowl, whisk, pan, food processor, stand mixer, and hand mixer that you own.  And maybe some of your neighbor’s as well.

A few things I learned while making this dessert:

  1. Planning goes a long way.  Always read the recipe completely (all 18 pages) before starting.
  2. Let the yule log thaw completely before attempting to cut and eat it.  (or photograph it for that matter).
  3. caramel + chocolate (mixed together) = heaven on earth

I made all 6 elements of the recipe (mousse, creme brulee insert, praline (crisp) insert, ganache insert, dacquoise biscuit, and icing) exactly as suggested, with no variation as I was still Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  I also had no time to make pretty decorations (hence the sprig of holly plopped on top) and I especially had no time to wait for the yule log to come to room temperature.  I like to think the frost on the chocolate icing is in keeping with the wintry “Jack Frost” feel.

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My husband, who has tasted all of my culinary endeavors, proclaimed this was the most delicious thing I have ever made.  Too bad my photos couldn’t do it justice.

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Yesterday on a long drive from Baltimore, I listened to scientist and baker Shirley Corriher explain the chemistry of baking on NRP.   Several things she said piqued my interest, but I raised the volume when she explained how chocolate chip cookies sometimes flatten and spread, making that unwanted crepe-like cookie.  She said to do two things to keep those cookies thick like one sees in bakeries.

  1. Use bread or unbleached flour since they have a higher protein content.
  2. Make the dough and refrigerate overnight to let it hydrate for a longer period.  The longer the moisture can combine, the better for more gluten strands and breaking down starches and sugars.

I decided to make a test batch using both techniques (I used unbleached bread flour to hedge my bets).  I used the classic Toll House recipe (I usually do) with Ghiardelli semisweet chip and walnuts.  The results?  Absolutely no spread whatsoever.  I’m not sure if it was the bread flour or the refrigeration, but these cookies were the perfect thickness.  Try one or both of these easy steps to ensure perfect chocolate chip cookies the next time you bake a batch.

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It’s one of those philosophical questions that all bakers and cooks must face at some point:  when is a cake worth saving?   You’ve baked an amazing dessert for a function, the house smells amazing, you turn over the bunt pan and … half the cake remains stuck in the pan.  The good news is the kids can now have a piece of that delicious chocolate cake they’ve been smelling for the past couple of hours.  The bad news is your cake is ruined.

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Or is it?  Well, there’s the obvious solution of a glaze on top.  Tried it.  Still looks like the second hole on the golf course with all the missing divots. 

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I needed something to cover the glaze and the flattened top.  Sugared fruit is a wonderful and seasonally appropriate way to decorate a cake and cover a multitude of flaws.  All you need is fruit (hard skinned fruit works best), egg whites (I use meringue powder) and super-fine sugar (pulse regular sugar in a food processor if you don’t want to make an extra trip to the market).

Simply brush the fruit with the egg whites,  cover with sugar, and let dry.  Simple as that!

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Doesn’t it look like I always meant to put those gorgeous sugared fruit atop my chocolate cake?  It’ll be our secret.

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(I use this recipe for my go-to chocolate cake.  Try it – I know you’ll thank me.)

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I am in the midst of preparing for our annual Christmas party, so forgive me if the entries are sparse this week.  We have been throwing this adults-only cocktail party for about 8 years, taking the occasional year off because of burn out.  Last year was our most recent bye year, but our party is back, better than ever (hopefully).   As with any annual meal/party, I always keep a few favorites and introduce a few new recipes.  I recently stumbled on this savory biscotti recipe on Epicurious, and wow – it’s a keeper.  It is perfect with a glass of red wine (or white for that matter) as it is a dry cookie, as biscotti should be.  The bite of the cracked black pepper elevates what would have been simply a good cheese cracker to fabulous savory biscuit. 

PARMESAN BLACK-PEPPER BISCOTTI

1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Pulse peppercorns in grinder until coarsely ground.

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Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups cheese, and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

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Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quarter dough. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened 12-inch-long log (about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch high). Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

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Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper. Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Carefully transfer 1 warm log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool biscotti on baking sheets on racks, about 15 minutes.

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Hitting the Spot: Pot Roast

December 3, 2008

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Who doesn’t love a pot roast on a cold, dark December night?  I’ve tinkered with my pot roast recipe over the years, but I’ve pretty much settled on this variation since everyone in the family loves it as is.  A few pot roast tips:  always buy chuck roast (sometimes labeled “pot roast”), use leftover marinara sauce, skip the crock pot and use a heavy dutch oven.

Pot Roast
serves 6

2.5-3 lb. chuck roast
3 Tbs. olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 Tbs. flour
1/2 C. dry red wine
1 C. beef stock
1/2 C. crushed tomatoes (or marinara sauce)
3-4 whole allspice berries
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
16 oz. broad egg noodles
2 Tbs. chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350º.  Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven on medium high heat.  Dredge chuck roast in flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sautee garlic until golden – take garlic out of the pot and put aside.   Brown pot roast on both sides – about 4 minutes per side. 

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Take out chuck roast and set aside.  Pour red wine in and scrape up brown bits with a wooden spoon.  Cook for a few minutes until liquid is reduced by half. 

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Add beef stock, crushed tomatoes, cooked garlic, chuck roast, allspice berries and bay leaves to pot.  Cover and place in oven for one hour.

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Remove pot from oven.  Turn chuck roast over and place potatoes, carrots and onions in pot.  Recover and place in oven for 45 minutes more.  Ten minutes before pot roast is to be removed, cook noodles according to directions.  Remove pot from the oven and slice meat against the grain.  Serve over noodles with parsley.

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