Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DB: French Yule Log

Well, here it is! I completed my first Daring Bakers challenge! And they weren't kidding when they said "challenge." The first time I looked at the recipe I went, "Oh, boy. What have I done? Is it too late to back out?" This was not your average, everyday, roll up a cake, put some frosting on it, yule log. This is a frozen French concoction that involved no less than six separate recipes and 3 days to pull off. But I hung in there, and this was my result.

Gotta love the Jackson Pollack look.

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.  

I'm not going to write out all the many recipes for this. Check the links to the hosts' sites if you want more info.

That's the official part. Now for the what I thought part.

This was a pain in the butt to make. Thank goodness I had time off from school, otherwise I would have had to spend a whole weekend putting this together. I will never make it again. It's simply too much work for a dessert.

That being said, I'm glad I did it. I have now officially beaten egg whites to stiff peaks, piped stuff with a pastry bag, used a double boiler twice, made mousse with a Pate a Bombe (which I choose to pronounce "pat a bomb"...sorry French diction professor), made ganache, and discovered dacquoise (which I choose to pronounce correctly because it sounds cool. Say it with me...dah-kwah. Don't you feel so oo-la-la?) Of course, because it is a French recipe from French people and translated from French, it was fairly confusing and I had trouble with every step. And I'm usually good at this stuff. Let's review, shall we?

Note from the editor: (That's me, by the way.) My friend Brenna, the francophile, says it is pronounced dah-kwahz. With a Z sound on the end. Sorry Brenna. Sorry french people.

I started with the Creme Brulee layer. Because it was only one layer in a multi-layered dessert, I was working with really small quantities. Which meant when I poured this in the pan to cook, it was about half an inch high. I had read on the Daring Bakers forum that most people had trouble getting this to set because the translated temperature of 200 degrees F wasn't working. I doodled around online and decided to go with 275 degrees for an hour. Apparently this was too long, and I got distracted and didn't check it. So I ended up with overcooked brulee. Since this step required a $12 vanilla bean, I was not excited to remake it. I tasted it, and it actually wasn't too bad. I decided to go for it. Here it is in its frozen state:

See the little missing spot on the upper right corner? Mmmmm..
Next, I tackled the praline layer. This is really a misnomer, since I didn't want to come up with or make my own praline. So instead, I did a white chocolate/coconut variation. Did I mention that the original recipe was over 18 pages long? This was mostly because every layer had multiple variations and recipes for each one. Once I cut that all out, it was down to a manageable 12 pages. Whoopee! Anyway, this is basically white chocolate, toasted coconut, (which I almost burnt...who knew coconut toasted so fast?) butter and smooshed up Rice Krispies. I'm a little concerned that it won't cut well in the dessert. I tried to make it super thin, but I guess lots of people had it squish everything below when they tried to cut it. I probably should have broken it up. But I managed to cut it to size and I was happy, so I left it in one piece.

Next came my big fear. I was really worried about the chocolate mousse that basically holds this whole thing together. The recipe had really tiny quantities to work with and at one point there are about four things that have to happen at once. The Pate a Bombe is just whipped up egg yolks and a sugar syrup.  It took FOREVER for my egg yolks to reach the right consistency. There were only 3 little yolks in my big KitchenAid stand mixer, and they barely got touched by the beater. I should have used my hand mixer, but I needed it to whip cream, which I think I over beat. Besides that, my chocolate seized up...I'm assuming that's what it means when it turns into a big blobby lump instead of being melted and smooth. Again, I had read about this on the DB forum and I remembered someone saying they added some more cream and just kept stirring. I also turned the heat up a bit and it smoothed out. The most tricky part was trying to make the sugar syrup. Thank goodness I have these:

You probably can't tell, but these are teeny tiny cooking tools. The pot is only one cup. Here it is in comparison to my one quart pot.
Isn't it cute?

Even using my 1 cup pot, it was pretty hard to get the candy thermometer  to stay in it so I could get an accurate reading.
The mini measuring cup I just got from my sister for Christmas (Thanks, Monica!) and measures 1/4 cup at most. This came in really handy later when I had to measure 0.5 oz water. The French people forgot to translate that one.

Fuzzy picture, but look how cute!

After much stress and worry, the mousse came out fine. I will spare you the picture of the chocolate and gelatin mixture. Think mud and squished up Oreos and you're on the right track. But in the end, I had this:

Not bad, right? Shockingly, it was pretty smooth and held its texture. The best part was the Pate a Bombe. I had no idea that egg yolks and sugar could taste so good. Nice job French people.

The next step was the dacquoise (ooh-la-la!) My first chance to beat egg whites. "But wait," you say. "Are you telling me you've never beaten egg whites before? How is that possible?" Well, I say, I have this phobia. It's called toohardrecipeitis. Whenever I see the words "beat egg whites" or "grease and flour" or "pastry bag" I quickly turn to a new recipe. Because I read cookbooks like novels, I know what to do, I've just never done it before. Which is why I became a Daring Baker, to force myself out of my laziness comfort zone.

ANYWAY...I do digress. The dacquoise was the easiest part. I even got to make a trek to Trader Joe's for almond meal. (Does anyone have a use for leftover ground almonds?) I did have problems with the egg whites, having never whipped them before. I'm not totally sure what stiff peaks are supposed to look like, so I guessed. I had decided to put the dacquoise on the top and bottom of the log, so I doubled the recipe. Apparently I would have been okay with just one batch. Here are my top and bottom pieces.
This is a very light, almond flavored cake type dealie. Very yummy.
Since I had a bunch leftover, I baked up the rest of it for me to eat some other purpose. I forgot to take it out of the oven, so it cooked more than the other two. When I took it out, I realized I had undercooked the first two. Sigh. So I used the small one for the top of the log and used this one for the bottom piece.
Can you tell that this one is slightly darker? It was also crisper when it cooled down.

Here is the cakey deal in my old loaf pan fancy log mold. I cut it too short so I added a piece.
The whole mold thing was another big undertaking. There was much debate on the DB forum over what size pan to use. I just used what I had and crossed my fingers. It all worked out. Preparing the mold was also a project. After a trip to Office Max, I lined the pan with Saran Wrap and then cut some sheet protectors down to size and stuck them in there in an attempt at a smooth finish. I used double-sided tape to keep everything in place.
Are you getting tired yet? I am. Are we done? No? Okay. Are you sure? Okay. Moving on.

The last big piece of this was the ganache layer. This one was exciting because I got to pour hot cream into hot sugar. It boiled up to the very top of the pot. So exciting! It kept boiling for a couple of minutes after I turned off the heat. Very funky. I can't really complain about this layer. Not too eventful. I was just tired of the whole thing by then. It turned out well I think, again, never having made it I have no point of comparison. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, so here's the empty bowl:

And here is some evidence that I actually piped the mousse and the ganache using a real live pastry bag and star tips that I had to buy for this endeavor.
Look how clean the pastry bag is...after squirting ganache all over the place! Aren't you impressed? Notice I am not showing you the picture of the bag I used for the mousse as I didn't remember the "fold the bag down when filling it" part and it looked like a tragic chocolate accident had occurred.

Finally. I'm done. I'm not? Oh, crap.

After spending the night in the freezer, I got to put chocolate icing on the log. (Did you catch that? It says that I spent the night in the freezer. Misplaced my modifier. Hate it when that happens.) Take Two: After the log spent the night in the freezer, I got to put chocolate icing on it.

This would be the icing, cooling. Which took a while because my awesome Le Crueset pot really keeps in the heat. FINALLY it was cool enough so I could do this:

I made a double batch of the icing because, once again, the DB forum said they had trouble getting it to cover completely. I got it all except one little spot in the back that I didn't see until it was too late. The only bad thing about the icing is that it stunk to high heaven. I've never used plain gelatin before, and let me tell you, it smells DISGUSTING. I looked up what it's made out of, and I totally understand why. So the icing kind of smells like chocolate guts. GROSS! I am hoping it will smell less when frozen.

I have always been deficient in presentation skills. Since this was such an involved creation, I didn't spend much time contemplating the decorations. I decided to melt a white chocolate bar and put some stripes or squiggles across it. Then I thought it would be cool to do some little star-type snowflakes. However, I used the ziplock baggie version of a pastry bag and cut the hole too big. So my white chocolate came glopping out everywhere instead of in nice lines.

Can you see the two spots I missed on the bottom left? Oh well!

Actually I meant to do this. Yeah, I wanted those big blobs. They look like leaves or flowers or something. Sure, I did it on purpose. I'm so artistic!

Tomorrow night I will be taking this to my friend Jill's house so we can fight over it celebrate New Year's Eve together. I'll take some pictures of the slices so you can see the inside, and I'll report back on how it tasted. Since I'm not a big chocolate dessert fan, I'm not overly hopeful, but you never know.

Are you still reading this? Wow, you are bored aren't you? Okay, I hereby promise never to write another post this long AND boring again. Long, yes. Boring, yes. But in future, I'll try not to combine the two. I promise! :-)


  1. Holy crap that is a long post. I'll read it all later, it looks so purrrrrty!

  2. Hi Christine,

    welcome to the Daring Bakers and congrats for your first Challenge. Your log looks delicious.
    I don't know, why your gelatine had a disgusting smell. asfaik gelatine (i.e. the sheet variety) has no smell whatsoever, either before and after soaking. And yes, it is made from material you wouldn't intuitively call nutritious. ;)

  3. Thanks Andreas.

    I wasn't able to find any sheet gelatin in my area. I'm not sure if it's a US thing or just my stores don't carry it. The powdered stuff was fine until I added the water for it to soften. That's when I could smell it. Oh, well. It worked, so I can't complain...though I think I just did!

  4. Oh, I hope that you like it! It's just beautiful...all the swirlies distract from the uncovered mousse! My gelatine didn't smell, hmmm. Ha...the modifier part was quite funny, though I did have to go back and read it again! Great job!!! OH, my mom had one of those teeny pots but I think the handle broke off...don't know if she kept the cup part or not. I seriously thought about using it, too but didn't even look for it.

  5. I think it looks wonderful! Good job, woman!

  6. Agree with you - this was a pain. My mom is visiting and she asked me multiple times -- how much time did you spend on making it -- I didn't want to know! I liked your decoration -- thought it mirrored the snow on the bushes. Happy New Year.

  7. Congrats on your first challenge! I used powedered gelatin too (Kroger brand, 'cause it was the cheapest variety available) and didn't have a funny smell. bummer...
    Your log looks great (and I agree with Cynthia above about the decoration looking like snow).
    Happy New Year!

  8. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I'm actually pretty happy with how it looks, even though it wasn't what I planned.

    I'm looking forward to tasting it tonight. I most want to try the creme brulee layer since it tasted so good on its own.

    I'll post pics tomorrow of the slices.

  9. "toohardrecipeitis". Did you get shots to overcome that for this recipe? Tequila shots may have helped, but handling that molton lava sugar might have been dangerous. Yours came out beautifully. I like the blobs. Congratulations for achieving so many milestones and for having it come out so sucessfully!

  10. Actually, I take a dose of suckitup, an over the counter medication. Thanks so much for your kind comments, Lisa. I can't wait to tackle the next challenge.

  11. Geez... I didn't realize this one was your first challenge. This was definitley the most complicated recipe I've done with the daring bakers by far.

    I totally agree with the gelatin-- I live in the US and couldn't find the sheets so I had to go with the powder and it really smelled terrible!!!

    One last thing--- hold on to the almonds for future challenges. I know some people might say that they'll get a bit stale, but I'm still using the hazlenuts I bought for a challenge a last spring as we seem to make daquoise/jaconde fairly often.


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