Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bûche de Noël

Christmas for me is all about the food. I love spending time with my family and keeping the tradition alive by cooking up a big feast and sitting around the table and eating until we can't eat anymore. I also like introducing new traditions and this year for Christmas, inspired by my in-laws, it was the Bûche de Noël.

The cake is meant to represent the log that once burned in European homes throughout Christmas. Made of layered or rolled genoise sponge cake filled with buttercream and decorated with meringue mushrooms, forest creatures, or holly leaves the cake is prepared, presented, and garnished to look like a log.

There are hundreds of variations of this cake, with flavours ranging from chestnut, coffee and peppermint but i think the orange perfectly compliments the rich chocolate buttercream.

Orange Vanilla Genoise Sponge
2/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons Cointreau
2 teaspoons orange zest
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
130g (4.5oz) cake flour (or substitute for plain flour, less 2 level tablespoons)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Butter a 25cm(10") by 38cm (15") swiss roll pan and line it with baking paper and butter lightly. Set the pan aside.

In a stand mixer (or using hand-held beaters) beat the eggs for 5 minutes, until they turn thick and foamy. Add the sugar, orange liqueur, orange zest, vanilla extract, and salt to the eggs and continue beating for 2 minutes. Fold the flour, a few tablespoons at a time, into the whipped egg mixture. Once the flour is incorporated into the batter, stop mixing. Do not over mix or the cake will be tough.

Gently spread the batter into the prepared pan. There will be peaks of batter; gently smooth over them, but do not press the batter down. Bake the cake for 10 minutes, until the cake is just set. Invert the baked cake onto a clean, dry kitchen towel and peel off the baking paper. Wait 3 minutes and then gently roll the cake, still in the towel, starting at the 10-inch end. Allow it to cool completely.

Orange Cointreau Mascarpone filling

500g mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon Cointreau, or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

In a medium sized bowl, beat all ingredients except heavy cream, until smooth. Gently fold in whipped cream. Use immediately, or refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days. If you're refrigerating the filling, bring it to room temperature and beat until smooth before using.

Chocolate Meringue Buttercream
5 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup extra caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
113g good quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled

Place the water and 3/4 cup caster sugar into a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat, begin melting the sugar and water and stir until all the sugar has melted. Now turn up the heat and boil until the sugar syrup reaches 118C.

While the sugar syrup is bubbling away, place your egg whites in the bowl of a stand or hand mixer and start whipping them. When they look foamy, add the cream of tartar. Whip some more, and once you get to soft peaks, then slowly add the 1/4 cup of sugar and whip until you get glossy, stiff peaks.

As soon as your sugar syrup hits 118C, slowly add the boiling syrup to the egg whites and continue to whip on medium speed until they thick and shiny and are completely cooled. Try not to hit the beaters with the syrup.

Add the softened butter to the meringue, 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating on high speed, until all of the butter is incorporated into the frosting. If the buttercream becomes runny at any time in this process, refrigerate the meringue until it has chilled through and continue the process of beating the butter into the meringue.

Now that all the butter has been mixed in, add the vanilla extract and then pour in your cooled melted chocolate and beat until it has all incorporated.

Meringue Mushrooms

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Prepare a baking tray by lining with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 100C.

Place room temperature egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. It is important that the bowl and whisk both be very clean, so that the egg whites whip properly.

Begin beating the egg whites on medium speed. Once they are very frothy, stop the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Start the mixer again and continue to beat the egg whites. Once they form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Beat the whites until they are very shiny and hold stiff peaks, but are not dry or crumbly.

Spoon the meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.

To Pipe Caps: Holding the pastry bag upright and close to the baking paper, pipe the meringue with even pressure, into even rounds building up the meringue to form a 5cm (2") round that is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) high. Sharply twist the bag and stop the pressure as you slowly move the tip off the meringue. Try to make the top as smooth as possible but use a wet fingertip to smooth out any bumps.

To Pipe Stems: Holding the pastry bag upright and close to the baking paper, pipe the meringue with even pressure, into a cone-shape, making the base of the stem a little larger than the top. The stem should be about 2.5 cm (1") high. Try to keep the stems as straight as possible. Some of the stems may fall over on their sides during baking, so it is a good idea to make extra.

Bake the meringues at 100C for about 90 minutes, turning them halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking. The meringues should be hard and dry to the touch, and you should be able to easily lift one from the parchment. Once the meringues are done, turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven for several hours or overnight.

To assemble the mushrooms, melt the white chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Use a toothpick to carve a small hole in the bottom of a mushroom cap. Dip the top of a stem in the white chocolate, and stick the chocolate-covered stem top in the hole of the mushroom cap. Place the mushroom on a baking tray to set, and repeat with remaining caps and stems.

Place the cocoa powder in a sifter, and lightly sift cocoa over the tops of the mushrooms. Mushrooms can be stored for up to a month in an airtight container in a cool, dry room.

To assemble the Bûche de Noël:
Unroll the cake and set aside the towel. Evenly spread the desired amount of mascarpone on the inside of the cake following its natural curve, gently form it into a cake roll. Cut off the ends of the cake roll on the diagonal and reattach them in the centre of the cake with a bit of mascarpone to fashion a “branch” coming off the main Yule log.

Spread the exterior of the Bûche de Noël with enough chocolate buttercream to cover it and gently pull a butter knife or small, offset spatula through the frosting to give the appearance of rough tree bark. Decorate with christmassy figurines, meringue mushrooms and dust with icing sugar to complete the festive look.

Chill the cake before serving it, and refrigerate any leftovers.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake

I made this light (in texture, not calories) white chocolate cheesecake for some boxing day festivities in which I was designated dessert duties.

It is the first recipe I have used out of a cookbook I bought in France and it turned out super dooper well. It is creamy yet light so it doesn't give you weighed down feeling that heavy baked cheesecakes give, also, the tartness of the raspberries cuts through the sweetness of the cake.

I garnished mine with some gorgeous white chocolate curls to finish off this elegant cheesecake.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake
200g biscuits (such as nice or scotch finger)
80g butter, melted

500g cream cheese, at room temp
400g condensed milk
300ml cream, beaten to soft peaks
150g white chocolate, melted
3 tsp gelatin
2 tblsp hot water
1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)

Grease and line a 23cm springform pan with baking paper.

Crush the biscuits until you get fine crumbs, add the melted butter and stir until combined. Press evently over the bottom of the prepared pan and refrigerator while preparing the filling.

Put the gelatin and water in a small bowl. Stand in a small saucepan of simmering water and stir until dissolved. Cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and condensed milk until smooth.

Stir the gelatin into the cream cheese mixture, then fold in the beaten cream and melted white chocolate. Spread over the the biscuit base then sprinkle with the raspberries (gently push them slightly into the mixture). Refrigerate overnight.

If you wish, decorate with white chocolate curls and dust with icing sugar.


It was a tradition each year for Christmas that my nanna would make batches of her shortbread and give some to my mum and each of my uncles. My nanna is gone now, but I think it is nice to keep some of her traditions alive - even down to the sprinkles and glacé cherry toppings.

Traditional Scottish Shortbread
200g(7oz) butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
85g (3oz) caster sugar
250g (9oz) plain flour, sifted
57g (2oz) corn or rice flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 150°C. Brush 2 baking trays with melted butter to grease. Use an electric beater to beat the butter, vanilla & sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy.

Fold in the sifted flours and use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 1/2 cm. Using a small round cutter cut out shapes from the dough (I use an old-school metal milk bottle cap that my nanna used to use) and place on the prepared trays. You don't have to, but I garnish mine my using a cotton reel to make an imprint then top them with either sprinkles or quartered glacé cherries.

Bake in oven for about 30 minutes, swapping trays halfway through cooking, or until shortbreads start to change colour underneath. Leave to cool on trays and then eat!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Black Forest Cake

This Black Forest Cake was to mark my beloved’s 30th birthday. I promised him I would make him an enormous B.F Cake after seeing Gary’s version on Mastercheft many months ago, and boy did I deliver!

I myself am not usually a fan of B.F Cake, I think it has something to do with the chunks of cherries littered throughout the cake (reminds me of the fruit “bits” in yoghurt and jam – yucky!)

I headed over to the Masterchef website, printed a copy of the recipe and keenly started making the chocolate sponge, only for it to turn out disastrously. It was flat, dense and found a new home in my bin. Disheartened, I scoured the internet for another chocolate cake recipe to try. 12 eggs later, my second cake turns out to be just as crappy as the first. In a final bid for the perfect chocolate cake, I turned to a friend who said she had a recipe that worked – bingo!

Due to time constraints, I decided not to include Gary’s mousse layer, but still adapted the cherry compote and ganache topping. I also opted for a more traditional cream filling as opposed to mascarpone.

So as it turns out, there isn’t much of the original Masterchef recipe in my version, but it was delicious and absolutely fabulous.

Happy Birthday Babe!

Black Forest Cake
250g Butter
1 tbsp dry instant coffee
1 1/2 cups hot water
200g dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups castor sugar
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

600ml Thickened Cream, beaten until firm peaks form
Chocolate curls/shaving
Fresh Cherries (I used 12)

Grease a deep 23cm round cake pan, line base and sides with baking paper and grease well.

Melt butter in saucepan, stir in combined coffee and hot water, then chocolate and sugar; stir until smooth.

Transfer to large bowl and cool until warm. Beat the cooled mixture on low speed with electric mixer, gradually beating in sifted flours and cocoa powder in three lots.

Beat in eggs one at a time, then essence. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in slow oven (150 degrees celsius) for about 1 3/4 hours. Stand 5 minutes to cool before turning out on to wire rack to cool completely.

Cherry Compote
1/3 cup caster sugar
600g canned, frozen or pitted fresh cherries
1 tbs brandy

Add the sugar to a non-stick saucepan and place over medium heat. Once the sugar begins to dissolve add the cherries and cook until they start to release their juices. Add the brandy and cook for about 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and thickened.
Note: I used canned cherries as fresh cherries are still quite expensive and not very tasty yet. I included about 1 ½ cup of the juice and thickened it with about a tablespoon of cornflour (mixed with a little water to make a paste)

Dark Chocolate Ganache
150ml cream
200g chopped dark chocolate

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Gently warm the cream in a pan until it bubbles around the edges. Pour over the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and blended. Allow to cool until thick but still pouring consistency.

To assemble the cake
Split the cake into 3 even layers (I did 4 as I split the cake mixture into 2 tins when baking); place one layer on to serving plate. Spread with a layer of cream and some of the cherry compote and carefully place a second layer on top. Repeat the layering process (you will have 1 spare slice of cake for the top). If you managed to cut your cake into fourths, make sure to leave enough cream & compote for a third layer.

Place the remaining top layer of the cake on a wire rack sitting over baking paper. Evenly pour the ganache over the cake, ensuring it is completely coated. When the ganache has set, place on top of the layered cake. Decorate with the chocolate curls/shavings and fresh cherries