Wednesday, December 26, 2012

French Christmas

Yay!  Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas yesterday!  We had so much fun with my daughter, Marie, and her new husband (since March), Miles!  
Well, every year for Christmas, I like to choose a theme for the dinner menu.  Okay, I know, it's weird!  I've had to endure my share of teasing from the family ("Who knows what it will be for Christmas this year!).  I guess Marie has had to grow up with NO traditional family Christmas dishes, that's true, BUT, she certainly can't say we don't have any traditions-- no matter how unusual :)
We always have our Christmas dinner in the evening (see, there's a tradition right there!).  We wanted to see the opening of "Les Miserables" at the movie this year, so I decided to go with a French dinner afterwards!  I needed to have a menu that would be able to be prepared ahead of time; then we could just put everything on to cook when we returned from the movie.  I decided on Julia Child's "Braised Filet of Salmon" for the main dish and it was YUMMY!  I'll include that on the next post!  BUT for dessert, I made the traditional (there it is again!), Buche de Noel, the Christmas rolled and filled cake, and it turned out SO good!!  This is the perfect Christmas dessert-- you can do it way ahead and freeze it, it tastes wonderful and complicated (but it isn't), and it's really CUTE!  The little meringue mushrooms are the key to the cuteness factor-- but they can be SO easy to make (see shortcut below!).
Julia's Buche de Noel is probably scrumtious, but her recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is pretty complicated.  To me, it's a bit much at the busiest time of the year!  So, I went with this recipe and added a simple, smooth chocolate buttercream icing.
Once you've made one of these and have the method down, the variations are endless!  Pumpkin Rolls for fall, Strawberry Rolls for spring, Peach Rolls for Summer-- your year in desserts is covered-- bring on 2013!

BUCHE DE NOEL(adapted from the McCalls cooking school recipe)
6 egg whites, room temperature (I microwave the eggs--in the shells-- until they lose their cool! Just a few seconds!) 
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 dash salt
confectioners' sugar
1.5 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease the bottom of a 15x10x1" jelly roll pan; line w/ parchment paper; grease slightly. Preheat oven to 375.
In a large electric mixer bowl, at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form when beaters are slowly lifted.
Add 1/4 c sugar, 2 T at a time, beating until stiff peaks form when beaters are slowly lifted. Transfer the beaten egg whites to another large bowl.
With the same beaters and mixing bowl, beat yolks at high speed, adding remaining 1/2 c sugar, 2 T at a time; beat until mixture is very thick, about 4 minutes. At low speed, beat in cocoa, vanilla, salt, just until smooth.
With wide rubber spatula, gently fold cocoa mixture into egg whites just until blended (no egg whites should show). Spread evenly in pan.
Bake 20 minutes, just until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip.
Sift confectioner's sugar in a 15x10" rectangle on a clean linen towel.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it.  Turn cake out on sugar; lift off pan; peel paper off cake.
Roll up cake jelly-roll-fashion, starting with the short end, towel and all. Cool completely on rack, seam side down.
FILLING: Combine ingredients in medium bowl. Beat with electric mixer until thick; chill while the cake cools.

TO ASSEMBLE: Unroll cake; spread with filling to 1" from edge; re-roll the cake.  This goes a lot easier than you think it will.  Use the tea towel to help you get started.
Place the cake, seam side down on a serving plate.  Cut off the two ends of the cake diagonally and save the ends to be "bumps" on the log.
You can now freeze the cake and the "bumps", covered with aluminum foil, to frost and decorate later.  If you do, frost the cake straight from the freezer and then put it in the fridge until serving time, or put it back in the freezer.  Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving if taken from the fridge, and about 1.5 hours if taken from the freezer (refrigerate leftovers!).

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
10 TBL. unsalted butter, softened
dash of salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Beat all ingredients until fluffy and softly spreadable.

I use Wilton meringue powder to make two things: these mushrooms and royal icing.  Usually, I'm against this sort of thing, but meringue powder is JUST dried egg whites and if you use it, there isn't any worry about using raw eggs.  Plus, it is SO EASY and that's important at Christmas time!  Follow the package directions to make the recipe for meringue shells.  Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Preheat the oven to 200F.
Put the meringue into a decorator's piping bag (or a plastic bag with a corner cut off) and pipe out buttons of meringue of different sizes.  Those are the mushroom tops.  Then pipe out some tall points.  Those will be the stems.  Don't worry about making them perfect-- they will look cute anyway-- I promise!!  Make extras because they taste delicious-- like toasted marshmallows-- and your family will sneak some for sure!
Bake for 1 hour, or until dry and slightly browned.  When cooled, dig out a little indention on the underside of a mushroom top with a knife.  Use frosting to stick the stem into the indentation.  There it is!
Marie helped me put the meringue mushrooms together.  She and her Dad were also constructing and decorating a gingerbread house (Miles was helping by eating the "extra" candy.), so she used royal icing to stick the mushroom stems to the tops.  You can use the chocolate frosting made above, too.
(Marie also took this excellent photo; however, I couldn't get how to publish it without the weird border-- sorry!)
Final Assembly!
Frost the cake ends and attach them to the log, either on the sides or on the top, whichever look you like.  Frost the whole cake except the ends (the swirled filling looks good!).  Use the frosting knife to make lines on your "log" to look like the bark.
Right before serving, put the meringue mushrooms here and there-- whatever way you like.  Put some fresh rosemary (just to look kind of "evergreen-ish") around the log if you want.  Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar "snow".  Joyeux Noel!

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