Blog Post de Noel

How did you spend your New Years holiday? I spent mine separating eggs! At least, looking back on it, it seems that way. You see, thanks to a shortage of oven and refrigerator space, I wasn’t able to make the dessert I was planning on for Christmas, so we put it off a week, and had our yule log for New Years. Or rather, our Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noel.

I found this recipe during my usually desultory magazine flip-through when my latest issue of “Food & Wine” is delivered. It’s from the December ’09 issue, and despite being wildly unenthusiastic about food production during the last few months, I was still totally inspired to give it a try. I’ve never had a buche de noel, nor have I ever really yearned for one, but for whatever reason, this stump version spoke to me. So heading into the long weekend, I prepared for making it.

The first step for me was to check, when I got home early from work on New Year’s Eve, whether I needed to be making any cake components so it would be ready to eat the next evening. I read all the active parts of the cake and frosting recipes, neglected to read the “make ahead” instructions about what could be kept for how long before assembly, and decided it all had to be made in one fell swoop. That was my first mistake. But at least I did think to make my meringue mushrooms ahead of time.

Meringue Mushrooms

Having never baked meringues in my life, I did consult a recipe for assistance with this. I’m glad I did, too, because it never would have occurred to me that you pipe the stems and the caps of the mushrooms separately, then assemble them with a tad more meringue and bake until the “glue” is set. I would have just tried (and failed) to pipe mushrooms in one fell swoop, and would have gotten angry, cussed a lot, and declared that we weren’t having a stump de noel after all. So thanks, Joyofbaking.com! You’re a lifesaver! Or at least a stump de noel-saver.

Makin' Mushrooms

So here’s how I made them:

Ingredients:

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have that, just run regular sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds)

Instructions:

Using a mixer with clean, grease-free beaters (or whisk attachment), and in a clean, grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Then add the sugar in a gradual stream while still beating on high speed. Continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks (about 5 minutes).

Position two racks in the oven to allow room for two sheets of meringues, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-large piping tip; I think the one I used was about 1/2 inch. Put most of the meringue into the pastry bag, reserving enough to pipe later as the “glue” in the mushroom assembly (about 1/4 cup), and then get to piping those mushrooms. For the caps, pipe circles about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high, and try to twist the pastry bag so you don’t end up with peaks on the top. If you’re like me and do end up with peaks, just smooth them out with your fingertip, dipped in water. For the stems, just pipe like a little hershey kiss shape, dolloping a base onto the tray, then just lifting the pastry bag straight up. Make more bases than you have caps, because they won’t all work out, and because you’re going to want to eat them.

Bake the caps and stems for 1 hour, or until they are dry and hard, rotating the trays once after 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and using a pointed knife or toothpick, make a little hole in the center of the undersides of the caps. Put the reserved meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip (or in a sandwich bag with a fine tip cut from the corner), and pipe a small dollop into the hole. Then fit the pointy end of a stem into the hole, and put the mushroom, cap-down, onto a parchment-covered baking tray. Once they’re all assembled, return to the mushrooms to the oven for about 25 minutes, until they’re set.

After they’re fully baked, you can sift cocoa powder over the tops for decoration, and then either gobble them all up on the spot, or save for decorating your buche/stump de noel. I know it was touch-and-go there for me whether the meringues were going to survive an entire day while waiting for the cake assembly.

Dressing the Stump de Noel

So, New Year’s Day dawned for me with a platter full of mushrooms and the prospect of baking a stump hanging over me. I hadn’t read the recipe very carefully, so I had no idea what was in store for me. When I cracked open the magazine and really looked at it, I realized I had horribly miscalculated how much work was going to go into this thing. There are a lot of steps in this cake. A lot. But with no hockey but the dumb Winter Classic on TV, I decided to forge ahead, and set to separating all those eggs. (Counting the meringue, and the one broken yolk I had, this whole baking affair used 22 eggs. All separated. I don’t think I’d separated 22 eggs in all of 2009.)

In case you don’t want to follow the link to this recipe (again, it’s from the December 2009 “Food & Wine”, just to give credit where it’s due), here it is:

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Malted buttercream and dark chocolate buttercream (recipe below)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely. Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.

5. Spread the Malted Buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the Dark Chocolate Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.

Ingredients for the frostings:

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 cup malt powder, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
12 malted milk balls, crushed

Instructions:

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Beat the dissolved malt powder into the remaining buttercream, then beat in the milk balls.

(For the record, I omitted the malted milk balls.)

Stump de Fridge

The stump was too tall for my cake dome, so I had a bear of a time jury-rigging a foil covering for it that wouldn’t mess up my “artful” frosting.

Whew! That’s a lot of recipe there. Oh, it might not seem like it on paper, but dude. I think I used every single bowl I own. Making the cake batter was almost comical, how the steps just would. not. end. I was cool with beating the egg yolks and sugar, then adding the chocolate. And I was cool with folding that into the egg whites. But dude, the folding in the butter? That’s just crazy! Anyway, after what seemed like a lifetime of tempering and folding, the batter (which was delicious, I might add) was ready to bake, and I was ready to wish I’d made the frosting ahead of time. My recommendation if you try this recipe is to read all the notes about how you can make the frosting up to four days ahead of time, and to have someone else do the cleanup for you.

What I discovered about the frosting part of this project is that it didn’t take 8 hours to set, as the recipe suggests (I let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 2 hours before assembling the cake, and it could have been sliced right away, I think). Also, I didn’t have enough of the chocolate frosting to do much more than crumb-coat the outside of the cake. It barely hid all the cracks. I’m not sure that separating out more of the frosting to mix with the chocolate would be a good idea, though, because there was a perfect amount of the malted buttercream for the filling as the recipe is written. I dunno. My advice is to make more chocolate frosting. As it was, I didn’t have enough on the outside to do any artful fluting to create realistic bark to go with my realistic mushrooms.

January 1 2010

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care that my stump wasn’t barkfully fluted. I don’t care that I reached the end of my rope when making the buttercream and didn’t mix in all the butter perfectly. And I don’t care that I didn’t have the recommended rosemary sprigs and used bay leaves to set-dress my cake instead. You know why? Because the cake is AWESOME. I have never made anything that looked this incredible. I am so delighted with it. I love it. When we got out the tripod and staged our stump de noel photoshoot, I was as giddy as if the Devils had just won a huge game. This cake was a total victory for me.

Furthermore, look how cool it looks sliced!

Slice of Stump

I had my concerns when I was handling the cakes that this would be dry, but it wasn’t. It was perfect. As adorable as it looked assembled, it tasted even better. It was a ton of work, with a bit of frustration, but was absolutely worth it. We managed to kick off 2010 with a bang, and so far, it’s been a great year!

[Posted by Schnookie.]

12 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods, Celebratory!, Fancy Dessert, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal, Special Events, You Don't See That Every Day

12 responses to “Blog Post de Noel

  1. pam

    Well it looks completely AMAZING as it is. Seriously I’m dying over it. Those little mushrooms are wonderful. Back in my Martha heydays of the late 80’s early 90’s I considered making this but went with the Croquembouche which was an error. That lovely spun sugar coating melted in the winter humidity. Dang it.

  2. Tram

    Congratulations! I mean it. I look at a buche de noel recipe every year with good intentions of making it. The adorable mushrooms, the bark, the knot holes, etc. Ummmm, you may have cured me of it. I mean, I would LOVE to partake, but even a committed baker like myself…… that is one labor intensive weekend. Even at my most Martha moments I have balked. Oh, the layers!!!! Awesome. Enjoy every mouthful.

  3. Whoa! Croquembouche?? That’s very impressive! Even in my most delusional moments I’ve never considered taking a stab at that. Pam, you’re an inspiration to us all, even if your spun sugar coating melted. :D

    And Tram, this recipe is a lot less labor-intensive if you, say, don’t do it all in one weekend. Heh. Don’t make the same mistakes in life that I have! (Or do the really smart thing and buy a buche de noel from a nice bakery! I might do that next time I get a buche hankering.)

  4. hg

    Myself and the sparkle cats live under that mushroom to the right.

  5. HAHAHAHA!!!! I thought I saw someone who looked familiar (and sparkly) under there!

  6. Sarah

    1. I like your header photo. Tres cute.
    2. I like the way you staged the final stump-the wallpaper, the cranberries, it’s just lovely. Totally magazine worthy.
    3. TWENTY TWO eggs?! Holy cow. I only wish that you had Debraski farm fresh eggs. We’ve got about 3 dozen in the fridge right now. If we lived closer I could have rushed over and brought them to you.

  7. Thanks, Sarah! The staging of the final photo was quite a hoot. We were racing around all in a tizzy, clearing out the kitchen counter behind the cake by throwing all the junk into a heap on a different part of the counter, trying all kinds of lighting options… basically being total spazzes. After all of that, I’m so glad it turned out well! :D

    And you better believe I was thinking of Debraski farm eggs as I was churning through carton after carton of nasty old grocery store eggs!

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