Sunday 28 December 2008

Daring Bakers December Challenge: Frozen French Yule Log

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

What is a French Yule Log and how is it different from the Yule Log I made last December with the Daring Bakers? In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either a Genoise and Buttercream log shaped cake , or a frozen Yule Log containing many different layers including Dacquoise Biscuit, Chocolate Mousse, Ganache, Praline Crisp, Crème Brulee and Chocolate Icing. That’s right 6 components and the mousse and dacquoise biscuit can make more than one layer! I’m sure you can understand how I sank to the floor in a daunted state of disbelief upon reading the 18 page document that made up the recipe. Thankfully nearly half of that were options on flavour variations for the components but it still results in the most multi stage/component recipe I have ever made. That being said, once I had sorted out the recipe in my head I found each component to be relatively straight forward and apart from the chocolate icing (which is best made the day you serve it) I got the challenge completed in one day without any disasters. The log is frozen overnight before being turned out and covered in a glossy chocolate icing before being returned to the freezer for a few hours before serving.

We could choose what shape to make our ‘logs’ but I decided to go with a loaf tin instead of a cake tin to try and resemble the thinner shape of a log. We were given many options for flavours but I decided to keep things quite simple as I was serving the dessert on Christmas day and wanted to make something I knew everyone would eat. My dacquoise biscuit was made with ground almonds and is similar to a genoise you make for a swiss roll. Once baked, I then cut around the base and top of my loaf tin to get the correct sized layers. The mousse and ganache were half milk, half dark chocolate, the praline crisp hazelnut and the crème brulee vanilla and I love the resulting pale streak in the middle of the log. The chocolate icing and mousse both call for gelatin, but as I’m Vegetarian I left this out. We were told that we could use agar agar if we didn’t want to use gelatin, but I read the recipe and couldn’t see a reason why gelatin was needed in the first place, especially as the whole dessert is frozen so I skipped that part completely and my dessert didn’t suffer in the slightest. If anything I suspect it turned out smoother and creamier than if I had used gelatin as this would have given it a slight gelatinous consistency, which I don’t like.

The chocolate mousse component in its unfrozen state is just divine. I was initially a little concerned as my mousse was very thick and stiff but as I mixed, it suddenly transformed into a rich and creamy mousse that was velvety smooth. I couldn’t help eating a few spoonfuls before it even got near the tin. I plan to make this again and serve it in little espresso cups, it was so good.

I pleased to say it went down very well with everyone on Christmas day, the only thing I would change if I made it again is to try and flatten my praline crisp into a thinner layer as it was rather thick, but this wasn’t particularly a bad thing. Once again, I’m so pleased the Daring Bakers made me make something I wouldn’t normally have attempted, as the results were well worth the effort. Don’t forget to check out the other Bakers Yule Logs and click here for the recipe.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Christmas Cake Stage 5 – Icing and Decorating

500g – 1kg fondant icing
1 tbsp vodka, rum or gin
2 small pins
Food dye
Icing sugar for dusting

Christmas is nearly upon us and it’s now time to ice and decorate your Christmas cake. You can cover it in fondant or royal icing, but I much prefer fondant. Not only is it much easier to work with but I think it’s also nicer to eat than a hard layer of royal icing. You will only need 500g of fondant to cover your cake, but if you want to make extra decorations such as holly leaves or little figurines then you will need nearer to 1kg. You cover the cake in the same way as you do the marzipan, only this time use a clear alcohol instead of the jam to stick the fondant onto the cake. Working with 500g of fondant, roll it out into a large circle on a work surface dusted with icing sugar. Test if the circle is large enough to easily cover your cake by holding the cake board over the top like before.

Brush the top and sides of the cake with the alcohol and drape the icing over the top in one fluid movement. Use your rolling pin to help you pick up the icing from the work surface without tearing it. Smooth the icing down the sides of the cake using the side of a cupped hand until it looks like a hat with a frilly rim. You can now either trim off the excess to the edge of the cake or if you have lots of excess icing you can even flatten it down over the top of the cake board too, and trim off the excess at the very edge of the board. If you decide to cover the board too, then place the cake on top of a large can and use a large knife to carefully cut away the excess icing.

You are now free to decorate the cake in any way you wish. One of the simplest ways is to just wrap a length of ribbon around the bottom edge and secure it with a few embroidery pins (just remember to remove them before serving!!) This not only looks stylish but also covers up any jagged edges from any icing mishaps. You can then add ordainments, candles, stencils, wring, piping, fondant models, cut out shapes or flowers on top – it’s up to you to make your cake your own – make it as wild and wacky or simple and traditional as you like.

Last year I made a poinsettia and this year I wanted to try making a holly wreath with little red berries and pine cones out of fondant. To do this I made a long sausage shape out of white fondant and wrapped it around the edge of a large jar to form a circle and placed it onto a thin cake board that I first covered with cling film. I then dyed some more fondant green and cut out lots of holly shapes. I then draped these over the ring of white icing and left it to dry. I then made some tiny berries and dyed the last of my icing brown for the pine cones. I wasn’t sure these were going to work but I had an idea in my head of forming a cone shape out of fondant and then using small sharp scissors to made little cuts all over them. I gave it a go and I think it looks quite effective. I had a few scraps of coloured icing left over and decided to make a little cheerful robin too. Use a paint brush and a little glace icing or clear alcohol to stick the shapes in place. And…. finito!

That’s the end of my Christmas cake step by step guide. For all of you who had made your own cakes I hope you enjoy them and for everyone else, I hope you have enjoyed reading about the stages. Don’t panic if you accidently stab your finger into the icing, gently try to smooth it out with the palm of your hand or failing that, just cover it up with a decoration or some ribbon and no one will be any the wiser.
Happy holidays everyone.

Saturday 20 December 2008

The Cake Slice – Decembers Cake: Chocolate Hazelnut Nutcracker Cake

An intriguing sounding cake that is perfect for this festive season. Below are the author’s words as to how the cake got its name.

“This cake is delicious any time of year but it was specially designed for the Christmas holidays – The Nutcracker is a play on the hazelnuts which are a key ingredient and a play on the popular ballet associated with this season.The layers can be baked in advance but the cake is best served the day it is assembled, allow it is best to leave it 6-8 hours before serving to allow the flavours to meld together and the crème to set up. The cake can be stored in the fridge for 3 days but the recipe contains so little flour that it will start to turn pudding-like.”

Sounds delicious doesn’t it? I played around with the recipe a bit for this cake. I chose to bake cupcakes instead of the large cake and used walnuts in place of hazelnuts as I had some that needed using up. I also replaced the crushed biscuits crumbs with leftover gingerbread cookies, which I had great fun attacking with a rolling pin and I think added extra flavour to the batter. The recipe suggests blitzing the nuts in a food processor but while away at uni I don’t have access to one of these and so I chopped the nuts by hand as finely as I could but I still ended up with a few largish chunks. However, I loved the texture this gave the cupcakes and I think it helped keep them very moist and wonderfully light. I also topped the cupcakes with leftover royal icing that I stored away in the fridge after making the gingerbread cookies from the previous week – I can’t let anything go to waste! Baked into pretty liners and topping with a few chocolate sprinkles I think the cakes look quite festive. Due to such a small amount of flour used, the cakes have a springy soft texture and a wonderful nutty flavour. They certainly went down a treat with my flat mates.

Chocolate Hazelnut Nutcracker Cake
(Recipe from Shy High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman & Peter Wynne)
Makes one 9inch triple layer cake
Ingredients – for the cake layers
140g skinned hazelnuts
150g whole graham crackers (or digestive biscuits), broken into pieces
175g caster sugar
50g plain chocolate, finely grated
10 eggs, separated
55ml vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g plain flour
1½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder

Dark chocolate curls for decoration

Method – for the cake layers
Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter the bottom and sides of 3 x 9inch cake tins. Line the base with parchment paper and dust the sides with flour, tap out any excess.
Spread the nuts onto a baking tray and toast for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to cool completely. Increase the oven temperature to 180C.
In a food processor, grind the graham crackers to crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the toasted nuts to the processor (no need to wash) and add 30g of sugar. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground, but do not blitz too much or else it will form a paste. Add the nuts, graham cracker crumbs (crushed digestives) and grated chocolate together in the bowl and mix.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 70g of sugar using an electric mixer until well blended. Add the oil and vanilla slowly, beating until ribbons begin to form on the surface of the mixture. Then, fold in the chocolate nut crumbs.
Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and beat until thick and foamy. Gradually add the remaining 75g of sugar, continuing to beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture and mix well to slacken the mix. Sift over the flour, spice and baking powder and fold in. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites until no streaks remain but do not over mix.
Divide the batter between the three pans and bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.
To assemble the cake, place a layer on a cake stand, flat side up. Sprinkle it with a third of the rum syrup and let it all soak in for 1-2 minutes. Spread 1/5 of crème Chantilly over the top, right to the edge. Repeat with the remaining layers, letting the syrup soak in before adding the crème.
Use the rest of the crème to cover the sides of the cake. Decorate the top with dark chocolate curls.

Rum Syrup
55g sugar
55ml water
55ml dark rum
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Place over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum. Allow to cool before using.

Crème Chantilly
450ml double cream
3 tbsp icing sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a chilled bowl and whip until the cream is stiff but not too thick or buttery.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Christmas Cake Stage 4 – Covering with Marzipan

500g marzipan
1 tbsp apricot jam
1 tsp water
Icing sugar for rolling

Your Christmas cake should have matured nicely and be rich and moist thanks to its 3 or 4 weekly Brandy feeds. It is now time to cover it with a layer of marzipan. To do this unwrap your cake and carefully peel away the greaseproof paper – mmm doesn’t it smell wonderful! Remember to remove the greaseproof base too (I nearly forgot one year). Place the cake on a 9-10inch cake board. Take a bread knife and carefully trim off the top layer to level the surface – it doesn’t have to be completely flat, just ensure any lumps and bumps are removed. Don’t throw these scraps away – put them on a plate and eat them later as a sneaky preview taster of the kind of flavour you can expect from your cake. (If the top of your cake you’re a little too brown in the oven it might taste slightly bitter, but as you have just removed these bits it doesn’t matter). Once the top is fairly level, turn the cake over and use the base as the top from now on.

If you look closely you will notice that there will be a few tiny holes dotted over the surface. This is just where fruit has cooked down or been accidently pulled out by the greaseproof paper. You want to fill these to prevent the marzipan from sinking into them later. Simply use teeny tiny blobs of marzipan to fill in any of the holes. Don’t worry how many you have, they will not be noticeable once covered.

Next, roll our your remaining marzipan until 3-4mm thick and wide enough to completely cover the top and sides of your cake. To test if it is large enough, hold your cake on its cake board over the top of the marzipan and if you can see it about an inch all the way round the base of the board then it’s big enough.

Heat the apricot jam with a little water in the microwave until syrupy. Then brush the top and sides of the cake all over with warmed jam – this acts as your glue to stick the marzipan to the cake.

Lift the marzipan up with the help of your rolling pin and drape it over the cake (I think it looks like a ghost or a tablecloth). Smooth the marzipan down the sides of the cake using the side of a cupped hand. Trim off any excess using a small round-bladed butter knife – leave ½cm rim from the edge of the cake to allow the marzipan to lay flat against the cake once cut. And you’re done!

Place it in an airtight container or tin but leave one corner slightly ajar to allow the air to slightly dry the surface of the marzipan out. This won’t dry out the cake underneath. Leave to dry for 3-4 days before covering with fondant or royal icing and decorating. This time use a clear alcoholic spirit as your ‘glue.’ The idea behind leaving the marzipan to dry slightly is that if you add the icing on top straight away there is a slightly chance that the colour from the marzipan may leech into the icing and you could end up with a blotchy coloured icing, especially if you use golden marzipan. Final stage to come!

Saturday 13 December 2008

Tana Ramsay’s Cheerio Lemon Cheesecake

I was recently asked if I would like to test out a few recipes designed by Tana Ramsay for Nestle, which looked at ways of including more whole grains in your diet by cooking with their cereals. When I received the recipes, one particularly innovative idea stood out, a lemon cheesecake that used crushed Cheerios as the base.

The cheesecake is a no bake cheesecake and yet does not include gelatin like a lot of no bake cheesecakes, instead it relies on lemons to help thicken and set the creamy top layer. As both a Vegetarian and a lemon lover this was ideal for me.

I crushed the Cheerios with a bag and a rolling pin and this produced a mixture of crumbs and cereal pieces which I think gave a nice rocky appearance to the base. The lemon topping was very quick and simple to put together and within half an hour my cheesecake was chilling in the fridge. My only concern at this stage was that the filling was very soft and I had images of it oozing over the counter when I released it from the tin.

The next day, I cautiously removed the tin and found it had set firm enough to hold its shape, although was still nicely soft. I’m afraid cutting a clean slice was less easy. The Cheerio base had absorbed all the moisture form the creaming topping overnight and as a result, had become quite soft and just fell apart when I tried to remove the slice. This also made it have a spongy, slightly chewy texture of damp cereal which is not really desirable for a cheesecake. The topping however was utterly delicious. Creamy with a strong lemon flavour that helped keep it light. As an experiment I cut a slice and then put it in the freezer for 2 hours before tasting it again. This improved the base and resulted in a very pleasant semi frozen creamy lemon topping too. So if you feel the desire to use cereal as a base I suggest making it a semi frozen cheesecake to prevent it turning soft and chewy.

All in all a mixed result. That topping I would make again and maybe serve in glasses to eat on its own but I don’t think Cheerios are really cut out to be a cheesecake base, although the idea is certainly innovative. However, in terms of its ability to include more whole grains in your diet, I can’t help but wonder if the traditional digestive biscuit base doesn’t do as equally well. Some of the other recipes sound good and for more information on Tana Ramsay's recipes and Nestle's Whole Grain Initiative click here.

Tana Ramsay’s Cheerio Lemon Cheesecake
175g Nestle Cheerios
100g butter or low fat spread
400g light cream cheese
Grated zest of 4 lemons
200g fat free Greek yoghurt
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
184ml whipping cream

Whiz or crush the Cheerios until they are broken down but still remain some texture.
Melt the butter or spread and stir in the crushed cheerios. Mix until well coated and then press into the base of a 9inch/23cm springform tin. Place in the fridge to firm up.
Meanwhile beat the cream cheese, yoghurt, sugar and lemon zest until smooth.
Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and then stir into the lemon mix along with the lemon juice.
Pour over the chilled base and smooth the surface. Place in the fridge to set overnight.
Serves 10-12

Sunday 7 December 2008

Christmas Gingerbread Cookies

My flat mates decided to throw an early Christmas party and I thought it would be a good idea to have some festive cookies to nibble on and to decorate the Christmas tree and gingerbread seemed the perfect choice. I made gingerbread cookies last year too, but I found the recipe a bit temperamental and wanted to try something different. I remembered the recipe for my favourite vanilla cut out cookies and decided to try and adapt it to the festive season.

I added spices, black pepper and treacle and used light brown sugar instead of caster to give a more golden colour and depth of flavour. The dough came together very easily and after a short rest in the fridge it was a doddle to roll out. The cookies kept their shape well during baking and turned out crisp yet still tender. They filled the flat with their festive aroma and had a lovely lingering taste of spice. I ended up with over 50 cookies and spent a happy hour decorating them before the guests arrived. They were a big hit and even the ones from the Christmas tree got munched, apparently they “fell” into peoples mouths. I’ll be making another batch before the festivities are over.

Christmas Gingerbread Cookies
185g butter
200g soft brown sugar
350g plain flour
1 egg
2 tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp black treacle

Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg followed by the black treacle.
Add the spices and sift over the flour. Using a spatula, work the flour into the batter until a dough is formed. Use your hands towards the end to bring the mix into a dough.
Kneed it gently until smooth. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and flatten slightly into a disc. Place in the fridge for 30minutes to firm up.
After 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cut the dough in half and working with one piece at a time, roll it out on a floured surface until 4mm thick. Cut out a variety of shapes using festive cutters and place on the baking trays. They don’t spread so you have fit them quite close together.
Bake in the oven for 8-9 minutes until golden and crisp.
Allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring the cookies, still on the greaseproof paper, to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Once cooled, decorate with royal icing and sprinkles if desired.
Makes 45-55 cookies depending on size.

Note: If you want to hang some of the cookies on the Christmas tree, cut out a small hole at the top of each cookie using the tip of a small piping nozzle before baking. Tread through a piece of ribbon when cool.

This is also my entry to Food Blogga’s Christmas Cookie event. Click here the ongoing cookie roundup.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Apple Date & Raisin Chutney

This is a lovely winter chutney, sweet and fruity but with a gentle warming glow from chilies and fresh ginger. It’s the perfect accompaniment to cheese and some good crusty bread but would work equally well with ham or a wedge of pork pie. It’s extremely quick to make; in less than an hour you can have 4 jars of chutney cooling on the counter.

You can make it your own by replacing the raisins with dried apricots and one of the apple with a couple of pears. If you don’t like the idea of the chili, then just use one or remove it altogether and add some cloves or mixed spice instead. The only drawback to the chutney is that you will need a change of clothes and shower after making it as the steaming vinegar tends to permeate into your clothes, but that’s a small price to pay for such a yummy reward.

The chutney can be eaten after two weeks but the vinegar may still be quite sharp, the longer you leave it to mature the stickier and mellower it will become. Presented with a little spoon, it would make the perfect addition to a homemade hamper of Christmas goodies.

Apple Date & Raisin Chutney
(Recipe adapted from Tesco Food Club Magazine)
500g stoned dates
150g raisins
1 large onion (150g)
2 cooking apples
3 red chilies
50g chunk root ginger
3 cloves of garlic
300ml water
150g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
600ml (1pint) distilled vinegar

Place four large jars and their lids on a baking tray in the oven. Then turn on the oven to 100C and heat for 10 minutes once the oven has reached temperature. Then turn off the oven but the leave the jars inside to keep warm until required.
Chop the dates into small pieces and place in a large saucepan. Peel and finely dice the onion and apples and place in the pan along with the raisins.
Prick the chilies with a knife, but keep them whole and add to the pan.
Grate the ginger and garlic and add to the pan along with water.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and heat for 15 minutes until the onion and apple are starting to soften. Then stir in the sugar, salt and vinegar.
Bring up to the boil then reduce slightly and allow to bubble for 20 minutes, stirring almost constantly until everything is mushy and thickened.
Keep stirring until a spreadable consistency is achieved and there is no excess liquid.
Remove from the heat and fish out the chilies and discard.
Take the warm jars from the oven and carefully spoon the hot chutney between them.
Screw the lids on immediately, using rubber gloves, and leave to cool before applying a label and storing for at least 2 weeks (preferably a month) before opening.
Once opened, store in the fridge.
Makes 1.5kg (3lb) chutney

This is also my entry to Homemade Christmas Gifts event by My Kitchen Treasures. Click here to see the details and here to see the enteries as they get submitted.