Fancy a log?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I have wanted to make a Bûche de Noël for years - it's definitely been on my baking "hit list," but I never seem to get it done during the holidays, and a yule log cake in July just never makes since. As Steve and I celebrated Christmas day with just the two of us (and Charlie!), I decided I would go for the yule...if it worked well, we'd have a fantastically beautiful cake to feast on, and if not, we'd hopefully at least have some cake bits and pieces to munch on. Either way, there was no pressure.

Searching all over, I settled on this recipe from Saveur. It was fairly straightforward and traditional but with great instructions. My biggest complaint was the order in which they broke down the recipe, so I'm going to share it at the end of the post in a more user-friendly format.

{Note: not interested in baking details? Skip to the end for a picture of the final product!}

I started off Christmas morning with making my meringue mushrooms. They needed to bake for an hour and a half and then cool in the oven for an additional hour, so they were great to get out of the way (you could also do these a day or two in advance).

I piped out some sorry looking mushroom stems...

...and then some mushroom caps. I know, they look sad. I've only made meringues once before so I'm wondering if the consistency was just off - I couldn't get them to pipe nicely, nor could I get rid of the tales on top of the mushroom caps.

After they had cooled, I used a paring knife to carve holes into the underside of the mushroom caps...

...and then used frosting (made while the meringues were baking) to "glue" the mushrooms together. Not the prettiest, but I think it resembles a mushroom somewhat...a funny mushroom, that is.

As I said, I started on the frosting while the meringues were baking, because it had to thicken up for 4 hours at room temperature. I started with semi-sweet chocolate chips. I like the Whole Foods 365 brand chocolate chips - they're very reasonably priced as taste a 100 times better than any other brand I've bought.

I also grabbed my Whole Foods unsalted butter...

...combined the two and melted together in a sauce pan over a double boiler.

Once the two had melted together, I removed from heat and whisked in heavy cream. Organic heavy cream that is...nothing but the best for this bûche!

This picture isn't the greatest, but hopefully it gives you an idea of how silky smooth this frosting was. I was pretty skeptical that this super runny mixture would turn into a thick wonderful frosting, but over 4 hours it thickened up wonderfully, just as the recipe said.

For the cake or "roulade" the recipe called for a semisweet chocolate, so I used Green & Black's Dark Chocolate. Mmm.

I don't have step-by-step pictures of the cake, but it's a very light and airy cake composed of melted dark chocolate and cream folded into whipped egg whites. Using a 16 1/2" x 12" baking panned lined with buttered parchment paper, you then pour in the batter.

Then you pop it into the oven until a toothpick comes out clean (note: I baked over the 12 minute suggested time as I struggled to tell if it was done. After I removed it and it cooled, it was so delicate I thought it was underdone, but I think that's just the nature of the cake).

Once the cake is cooled, you spread with a filling that's a combination of semi-sweet chocolate, egg yolks, and simple syrup.

Using the parchment paper as an aid, you gently roll the cake bit by bit, pulling it away from the parchment. Steve was a huge help into rolling this up - 100% a two person job!

And voila! A rolled cake. At this stage, I wish I had popped the cake in the fridge for a bit to let it firm up. It cracked a bit when rolling, and overall was just really soft. Firming up in the fridge would have helped a lot.

When you are ready to decorate, you cut off a couple of inches from each end to create the tree "stumps." Again, if my cake had been cooler at this point, the stumps would have been easier to work with because they would have been firmer.

Use frosting to "glue" the stumps to the top and then heat some of your frosting to then pour over the stumps - an easy way to get them frosted. After that, frost away, add in your 'shrooms and dust the whole log with some powdered sugar.

The final product! Overall, I think this was a great first attempt. I wish I had made the stumps nicer, more realistic mushrooms, and a cleaner frosting job overall. But the taste? Amazing. It was perfect after chilling in the fridge for a bit and was so over the top chocolate goodness.

Bûche de Noël
from Saveur

For the icing:
12 oz. semisweet chocolate
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
2⁄3 cup heavy cream

Melt chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water over medium-low heat, whisking often. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in cream. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until icing thickens, about 4 hours. (Don't refrigerate; it makes icing hard to spread.)

For the meringue:
10 tbsp. sugar
2 large egg whites
2 pinches cream of tartar
Pinch salt
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup cocoa powder
1⁄2 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 200°. Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling pan several times until sugar has dissolved, 1–2 minutes. Uncover pan and continue to boil until syrup reaches softball stage or 236° on a candy thermometer, about 4 minutes more.

Put egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk and beat on medium speed until frothy, then add cream of tartar and salt. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in sugar syrup while continuing to beat until whites cool to room temperature and become thick and shiny, about 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain pastry tip. To make meringue mushrooms, hold pastry tip perpendicular to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and pipe meringue into the shapes of mushroom caps and stems of various sizes, then set aside for 5 minutes. Lightly moisten a fingertip in cold water and smooth out any "tails" left behind on mushroom caps.

Bake meringues for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and allow meringues to rest in oven until dry and crisp, about 1 hour. Bore a small, shallow hole in center of underside of each mushroom cap with the tip of a paring knife. "Glue" stems to caps by dipping tips of stems into icing, then sticking into holes in caps. Sift a little cocoa powder on tops of caps. Meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

For the roulade:
2 tbsp. softened butter
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
7 egg whites
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 16 1/2" × 12" heavy baking pan with buttered parchment paper, cut large enough to hang over sides of the pan by about 1". Put chocolate in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Bring cream just to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat, then pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Beat egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk on medium speed until frothy; increase speed to medium-high and gradually add sugar, beating constantly, then increase speed to high and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, 30-40 seconds more. (Don't overbeat.) Mix one-third of the whites into chocolate using a rubber spatula, then gently fold in remaining whites in two batches, taking care not to deflate batter. Spread in prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 10–12 minutes. Set aside to cool in the pan.

For the filling:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
6 tbsp. sugar
3 egg yolks
12 tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate with 2 tbsp. water in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water over medium heat. Stir to combine, then set aside to cool. Combine sugar and 3 tbsp. water in a small heavy saucepan; cover and bring to a boil over medium heat, swirling pan several times until sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Uncover and continue to boil until syrup reaches the softball stage or 236° on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, beat yolks in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and gradually pour in hot syrup. Beat constantly until mixture cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Allow butter to soften, then beat into egg mixture 1 tbsp. at a time, waiting until it's completely incorporated before adding more; continue beating until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes total. Stir in cooled chocolate and set aside.

To assemble the bûche:

Transfer roulade with parchment to a clean work surface, sprinkle with rum (note: I skipped the rum), then spread filling evenly over top using a metal spatula. Grab the long edge of the parchment paper with two hands and gently roll roulade onto itself, pulling off paper as you roll. (At this point, I would refrigerate until cake feels firmer.) To make stumps, diagonally cut a 2" length from each end of bûche; then, to make the stumps thinner than the bûche, partially unroll each piece, trim off flap, and discard. Set stumps aside.

Using two long metal spatulas, carefully transfer bûche to a serving platter lined with strips of waxed paper. "Glue" stumps onto bûche with some of the icing. Melt 1/4 cup of icing in a saucepan over low heat, then spoon it over stumps to coat completely. Spread remaining icing on bûche, dragging spatula along icing to simulate tree bark. Remove waxed-paper strips. Decorate with mushrooms, then sift confectioners' sugar over mushrooms and bûche.

Sprout has Sprung

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In January, Steve and I were SO excited to eat at Chef Dale Levinsky's restaurant Sprout. Dale has always been one of our favorite Top Chef competitors, from his fun and playful dishes to his fun and playful personality on the show. Needless to say, we loved our dinner.

Since my parents were up this past weekend to celebrate an early Christmas with us, it was a perfect excuse to go back to Sprout! Sadly, I forgot my camera so you'll have to make do with mouth watering descriptions and a few sub-par iPhone pictures. There was plenty of food p*rn on the plate, just no camera to capture it in its glory!

I started with the Egg first course: pork belly, truffle, frisee, potato. DIVINE. A perfectly poached each on a bed of greens, fries hidden underneath and tender, delicious pork belly on the side. A perfect start.

For my second course, I did the Lamb: white bean, anchovy, sausage. I was toying between this dish and the venison. As soon as my server said the lamb was prepared with duck fat, the decision was made.

The lamb (pictured below) was perfectly prepared, and all of the components worked well together. I realized after the fact that I'm almost positive this was the dish that Dale made for his season's finale, which Tom told him he needed to put on the menu at his (future) restaurant. I concur, Tom. This lamb was nothing short of amazing!

Of course, we all know that Dale (sadly) was eliminated from Top Chef All-Stars this last week. I've never yelled at the TV quite so much as I did when Dale was told to go pack his knives. The only "good" thing to come out of that elimination was Dale's veal dish (pictured below).

While the veal got Dale sent home because it was too sweet, the refined version that is now on the menu is hands down amazing. Steve ordered it and I (begrudgingly) ordered something else because I didn't want us to both try the same thing. And while, as I said above, my lamb was amazing, I just wanted to give this plate of veal a big hug. It's not listed on the menu online right now so I don't know all of the components, but I do know there's popcorn, kettle corn and peanuts on the plate, as well as a whole lot of deliciousness.

And finally, dessert. I'd seen that Dale had been working with vegetables a lot in his desserts, so I was eager to try the Corn: brioche, truffle, macadamia.

The corn bread pudding was wonderful, and the popcorn, corn, and gelato (ice cream?) were perfectly playful and delicious. It's nice to order a dessert that is interesting, tasty and fun without being a heavy and overloaded with sweetness.

I was so excited, as well, to finally get to meet Dale! Last time I chickened out, but this time I was lucky enough to get to meet Dale, shake his hand, and dorkily tell him I am a huge fan. And, of course, I didn't have a camera with me to capture the moment, doh!

It was great to see the changes in Sprout since our first visit: they've renovated/added on space and everything from the staff to the menu seemed just a little bit more playful, fun and reflective of Dale's style. The entire experience was even more amazing this time around.

Thanks to Dale and the Sprout team for a fabulous dinner!

Ditch the brass, bring the class

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our bathroom renovation wasn't all we were up to over Thanksgiving...the light fixtures in our place needed some serious replacing! Brass, brass, everywhere was brass.

The light in our pseudo "entry way" by the front door was this little number:

We replaced it with the most minimal light fixture Home Depot sold:

Our living room fan was the biggest monstrosity of a fan I think I have ever laid my eyes on.

Just in case you wanted to get a really good look at all this BRASS, here's the sucker after we took it down. For some reason it reminds me of an evil octopus.

We replaced it with, again, the most minimal fan we could find at Home Depot. Black blades, brushed nickel fixtures, as low key as possible:

Ok, so it wasn't all brass that we got rid of. This black light fixture in our kitchen/Steve's office area just wasn't our style. A little too, err, busy for our taste.

We got this lovely light from Seascape Lamps. I was a little nervous ordering from a company I wasn't familiar with, but their customer service was great, we were able to customize how long the cord was, and they shipped it quickly. Highly recommend.

Here's a shot of it with the light turned off. Every time I look at it I'm happy! It perfectly fits the space and our style.

Don't work, I kept a little brass for the end. This guy has been hanging over our bed since we moved in (and by "this guy" I mean the fan not, umm, Steve...that would just be weird):

Needless to say, we were excited to change it out with another one of these:

It's amazing what (somewhat) simple changes can make for the look/feel of your home. Since our bathroom now has brushed nickel finishes throughout, pulling that through to the light fixtures and fans in other rooms really brings a consistent feel. Love.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to exterminate all of the brass in our house. The door knobs, hinges, etc are all in brass, so we will at some point have to decide if it's worth the cost/effort to change all of those out. The big roadblock being, of course, the front and back doors that would cause us to involve a locksmith (I assume) to make the changes. Blah.

Disclaimer: I'm sure brass fixtures are great in many homes and if you love them, that's awesome! They just don't match anything else we own, were oversized/outdated and therefore had to go. I would love to see how you rock out the brass in your house!

The Loo: Renovated & Fabulous

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I've been obsessing about redoing our bathroom since July. It was so exciting for Steve and I when demo day officially arrived and we were able to go out with the old and in with a whole lot of new!

As you can see, the bathroom was "blah" with mis-matched cabinets that we had purchased out of a desperate need for more storage on a small budget.

We had manged to get two towel racks in behind the door...

...and the previous owners had left a hook by the shower and a hand towel ring to the left of the sink. The medicine cabinet was very simple and boring.

Our light fixture was as basic and cheap as they come...

...and the vanity had seen better days with layers of grime that could not be scrubbed off...

...and well-worn cabinet doors. Say it with me: that bathroom was BLAH.

To start off the day of demo, we ripped out the baseboards, removed the wall cabinets, storage cabinets, and towel racks.

The aftermath of removing the baseboards wasn't as bad as I'd expected, but it still wasn't great. To save on money we left the blue tile, although if money, time, and lack of a bathroom for a couple of days wasn't an issue, we would have replaced it.

After we removed the medicine cabinet, to our surprise we found a big patch of unpainted drywall full of holes! Seriously, it looked like the site of a shooting...remember that scene in the "Goonies" where Chunk discovers the bullet holes? I totally had that moment.

Just for giggles, I thought I'd share the top of our light fixture. This is as it was, completely untouched by us. Really? Wires just hanging out like that? Sigh. It was safe enough, but just so ugly.

Steve had great joy in removing the sink!

And we then discovered another "really?" moment when we saw the layer of cardboard filling in gaps. Sadly, we had to do the same thing when we installed the new vanity. Why, you ask? Because the wall ISN'T SQUARE!! There was no way to correctly install a vanity with a crooked wall. Double sigh.

Steve worked on filling many holes throughout the renovation. Repeat after me: Spackle is your friend!

When the room was emptied, I taped all of the edges...

...and put on two coats of bright white paint. It's amazing how much it livened up the space from the almost gray color they had on the wall (I love gray, but the color that was up was just dull at best).

We took a break for beer. Our first day we worked from 2pm-3am, so beer breaks were a must.

On our second day of the renovation, we made sure to give ourselves an extra treat with pizza from our favorite place in the city, Piece. Doesn't get any better than this.

Ok, back to work. We were SO excited to rip down this light fixture! We left it as long as possible because we needed the light, but didn't want to get paint on the new fixture.

After about 2 1/2 days of work, we were incredibly happy with the end results. It was the biggest home improvement project we had ever done, and was the first time we'd had to do any sort of plumbing. As it turns out, I'm a whiz with the plumbers tape, so I can add that to my resume one day.

Where we used to have a wall cabinet above the toilet, we put up two long white shelves (from IKEA) and are keeping only decorative items on them so they're nice and clutter free.

We also purchased this Lillangen floor cabinet for more storage.

And I love our simple toilet paper holder, also from IKEA!

While I had thought we'd get the Lillangen series from IKEA for the vanity, when we saw it in person it just didn't look as great in person. Instead, we went with the Godmorgon series. It was a little more expensive, but we loved the look and extra storage.

You really can't beat the two pull out drawers! It's the best storage in the world. And while it took some more creative plumbing to get everything to fit into place, it was well worth it. All of my makeup, hair dryer, flat iron, etc are all right at my fingertips.

Instead of that old hand towel ring, we got these awesome little hooks that are part of the Grundtal series. Out faucet was also part of this series.

We love our new light fixture that is minimal and simple, and our big mirror is fantastic!

Behind our door, where we used to have towel racks we got this tall wall cabinet for extra storage.

See how much it holds?! Love it, and love keeping our toothbrush and all of the personal stuff hidden away.

Oh yes! And you may have noticed that there aren't any towel racks for bath towels. Nothing really fit our needs, style, or space. Then we happened upon this hanger at IKEA and fell in love! It fits our needs completely, is from the same series as the rest of our fixtures, and works perfectly.

See how great it is with towels on it?!

So, after months of plotting and planning, coupled with hours of work, our bathroom is finished, functional, bright and clean. We've maximized storage, made better use of the space overall, and turned our one and only bathroom into a bathroom that almost feels like a second bathroom. Since Steve meets with clients at our house, we wanted to be very conscious of creating a space that clients could use without feeling like they were walking into our personal space.

All-in-all, I'd say we did this renovation for right around $1,000, including everything we purchased from IKEA (vanity, fixtures, shelves, storage cabinets, etc), everything from Home Depot (paint, mirror, light fixture, new toilet seat, new baseboards, etc) and random extras (new shower curtain, new towels). Money well spent!