Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Thrown Gauntlet: December DB Challenge

Another challenge been and gone. Christmas the most anticipated holiday of the year, comes and goes in a flash. It tends to be hectic and nerve racking and we all know the 1 thing we are supposed to be doing is slowing down for some much needed time with our families and those around us we love the most.

This month's challenge was especially exciting for me. First, the challenge itself. As you can see by the description of the title, this one was what you call a doozie. 12 pages of mind warping instruction and recipe, set out for those of us that crave the greatest of challenges.

Second, it comes at the most perfect and appropriate of holidays. The dessert with all the "WOW" factor you could possibly muster.

Last but most certainly not least was the fact that I would be able to do this challenge with another DB' sister, who I missed so dearly since leaving to do her Masters degree.
Long gone all the way across the pond to jolly old England, she would be coming home for a mere 10 days! and in this time we would get to collaborate together, to build the most wonderous of desserts!

The greatest part about the challenge??? and I'm sorry ladies who brought us this challenge...but it was the time I got to spend with my sister. Laughing, talking
, up to our elbows in chocolate and just slowing down and being around the ones you care about the most.

We served this wonderous of wonders at our family Christmas dinner.

Thanks Jess for doing this challenge with me. Hopefully we can make this a new family tradition.
Love you, Nika. xo

Now on to the Challenge:
This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

Intimidating, yes. Don't be afraid though. If you make 1 component at a time everything will be "A-OK". Promise.

Element 1: Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

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.
3/4cup + 1Tbsp almond meal
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 medium egg whites
4 Tbsp granulated sugar

- Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
- Sift the flour into the mix.
- Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
- Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
- Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
- 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).
- Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
- Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element 2: Milk Chocolate Cremoso

2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 pound good-quality milk chocolate, chopped

- In a saucepan, heat the cream with the granulated sugar until hot to the touch.
- In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks.
- Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the hot cream. Scrape the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until slightly thickened, 3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and let stand until melted, 5 minutes.
- Whisk until smooth.
- Transfer to a shallow bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours.

Element 3: Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

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.

4 Tbsp granulated sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp unsalted butter, softened

- 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.
- 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.
- Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
- 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

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:

3.5 oz milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp praline
2.1oz rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

- Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
- Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
- 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
** We used a pastry cream piped insert, but I think I would stick with this element instead**

1/2 cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
4 medium-sizedegg yolks
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

- Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
- Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
- Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
- 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.
- Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element 6: Dark Chocolate Ganache Icing

* We used a ganche beacuse my sister is a vegetarian and this recipe called for a lot of gelatin use. So we made up our own variations**
2/3 cup heavy cream
5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped

- Heat cream and then add chocolate.
- Leave chocolate to melt off heat for 5 mins.
- Stir and glaze

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

- Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.

-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.
- Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
- 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.
- Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
- Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
- 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.
- Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the ganache.
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.

Friday, December 5, 2008

It's beginning to smell alot like Christmas...

As Christmas creeps up on us all, some a little more quickly then others,we are reminded about everything that Christmas entails. Lights, trees, crazy packed malls, but most of all and my personal favourite, FOOD!

It seems the baking bug hits me the most during this winter time holiday. As the kids gear down for vacation from school, I as a parent feel that I should show some small sense of gratitude towards the teachers and caregivers that watch over my little one everyday.
I thought this year that I would try something homemade as opposed to the usual gift card or candle. This way the kid(s) can help and feel proud they made something for someone who gives so much of themselves everyday.
I adapted this recipe from Epicurious, I omitted the almond extract simply because I didn't have any, took out the nuts, and soaked some dried cranberries in Frangelico.
I also increased the brown sugar quotient to 3/4 c. to make a chewier cookie.
These are fab and they fill your house with a warm oatmeal meets fruity, chocolate smell.



1 c all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c sugar
3/4 c (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 c old-fashioned oats
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 c white chocolate chips
1 c dried cranberries or dried cherries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Sift Flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.
Cream butter and sugar together, add egg and vanilla.
Add flour mixture to butter and mix.
Stir in oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried fruit.
Place 8 rounded tablespoons of dough on a prepared cookie sheet or 2 cookie sheets.
Bake 15 minuted for 1 sheet or 12 minutes for 2 sheets and then rotate and bake another 4-6 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Paris Dreams

You know those dreams you have that leave you refreshed and enlightened to lift you through your day? Well mine are always about food. Some have included a personal tasting menu at The French Laundry, a Pierre Herme Croissant with a cafe au lait in the streets of Paris, an eating tour of Italy, and finally Jamie Oliver...I think you get the point.
So when my mum was on her way to Paris last week, she asked me what I would like from the City of Lights. "Easy", I thought. Herb du Provence and Fleur de Sel. Simple, clean and something I have been told that needs to be in every good cooks pantry.
I also decided to give my mum a piece of my Paris fantasy and gave her web links to Pierre Herme and Fauchon before she left so she could feast on a Isaphan croissant or Fauchon's famous eclairs.
Tonight she brought over my gifts. Actually gifts is an understatement. In this present extravaganza are 4 different types of spice and salt rubs, Herbs du Provence, Fauchon Fleur de Sel, maybe a few smuggled morel mushrooms, and white truffle flavoured fleur de sel, which the salesman told my mum that are excellent on scrambled eggs.
I had to share this amazing culinary treat with all of you, because I know a whole bunch of you will appreciate where I'm coming from. I actually used some black truffles tonight (I forgot to mention those) in some yummy potato gratin.
So dream on culinary fanatics, dream on and dream big!