Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

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.

Holy cow, what a challenge this yule log was! It had so many different elements, many of which I had never tackled before, that had to come together to form this beautiful dessert.

Besides being challenged by the recipe, I was also facing the issue of time. This month, we were allowed to post on any one of three days (thanks Lis and Ivonne!!) and even still, I'm getting my post in just under the wire.

Of course there was Christmas to deal with this month that took up a whole lot of my time, but there was another obstacle - an ice storm that left us without power for six ... count them SIX ... days. I had already begun my holiday baking by the time the storm hit and without power, I wound up having to throw away the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer.

Seven garbage bags of food in the dumpster. What a crying shame! (Lovely image to share when you're expecting a beautiful dessert, no?)

I know, I know ... I was not alone in this storm and many others had it far worse than I did. I should thank my lucky stars that there was no damage to my house or car and that the power was finally restored in time to restart my holiday baking and get my gifts completed (again, in the nick of time - 4 a.m. on December 25!).

When I finally had the time to begin the challenge, I was daunted by the 18-page recipe. But I forged on and went shopping for the ingredients for the log. Two ingredients specified by the recipe were not available in my area but with recipes for each, I proceeded in making the missing ingredients.

This was my first mistake.

Missing ingredient #1: Praline paste
No problem, I thought. It's basically just a brittle that gets spun in the food processor until it becomes a paste.

Except it never became a paste.

I spun that crap around and around for what seemed like 45 minutes (with little breaks here and there for my poor old food processor) and it never changed beyond finely ground nut powder.

With advice from Linda, I added a few drops of vegetable oil. Then a few more. Then a few more. What the frick?! I must have added half a cup of oil before I got a paste. Finally - paste.

A lot of paste. What the heck do I do with all this extra paste?

If only I had seen earlier that Nutella is an acceptable replacement. I had a brand new jar sitting in my pantry the whole fricking time.

Missing ingredient #2: Gavottes or lace crepes
For this ingredient, the recipe specified that Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Special K could be substituted. But stubbon me said, "nah, I'll just make the gavottes with the recipe included in the challenge."

Um, yeah. So the lace crepe wound up thick and pliable instead of thin and crisp. In the trash it went and out came the Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. Lucky I had them on hand (I usually don't).

So steps one and two were done - kind of - and I proceeded with the rest of the recipe.

Next up, step 3: Make the vanilla creme brulee insert.
Mixing this one up was no problem but when it came to pouring it in my mold, it seeped behind the parchment so when I unmolded it later, I lost a chunk to the mold.

My second issue with the brulee was in the cooking. Either the temperature was too low or the time was too short. Either way, I checked it after 1 hour - still liquid. I checked after another 30 minutes - still liquid. What the hell?

I looked to Alton Brown for answers and decided to crank up the heat for 30 minutes or so. Finally the stupid thing set ... um ... maybe too much. The very top of the brulee was overcooked but underneath was perfect. Screw it ... in the freezer it went!

Step 4: Dark Chocolate Mousse
My chocolate seized. Damn. I added more cream which smoothed it out some but not completely. Luckily, Julie had experienced the same thing and advised that I continue on. The chocolate smoothed out in the following steps and came out fine. Though my arm nearly fell off from all that pate a bombe nonsense.

Step 5: Praline Feuillete Insert
Frick, the chocolate seized again! What is it with me and chocolate? I thought we were friends. I continued on and wound up with a crumbly mess. I shaped it and froze it anyway. When it came time to cut it to size, it fell apart. I got one large piece in the mold and then poured the rest in.

Step 6 (isn't this thing done yet?!): Dacquoise
My supermarket doesn't carry almond meal so I made some in my coffee grinder - which worked perfectly. This step was not so bad except that I made my dacquoise too tall and then cut it too small. Gah.

Step 7: Dark Chocolate Ganache
I burned my caramel again - I'll get it right someday - but I had much better luck in adding the liquid to the hot caramel than I did last time. This time, I poured s-l-o-w-l-y and had no issue.

Step 8: Begin assembly (finally!)
The instructions said to line the mold with rhodoid - which is basically a plastic transparancy (remember those?) - or plastic wrap. Well I was fresh out of tranparencies (no, not really) and used the plastic wrap.

If you are brave enough to make this, go to the office supply store and buy some transparencies. If you don't and you just use plastic wrap, you'll have a lumpy bumpy log like I do.

The log was assembled and frozen until the next day when it was to be iced.

Step 9:Dark Chocolate Icing
The hardest part about this - well one of the hardest parts - was knowing when the icing was cool enough to use and not yet too cold to use. It had to be just the right temperature to pour and not clump up or run right off. The first go around, mine was too warm and just ran right off the log and pooled in the parchment below.

No biggie, I thought. I picked up the parchment, poured the excess back into my saucepan and let it cool a bit longer. Then I poured again, this time covering the top nicely but leaving mostly naked sides. So I poured the excess back into my saucepan and poured it over the sides. By this time, the icing had cooled off considerably and left me with an odd edge between the top and the sides. I considered leaving it until I noticed the partially naked side.

So, I made another batch of icing and did the whole thing over again. I finally got a decent coating on all sides and I popped that bad larry in the freezer to set up.

So how to decorate, I wondered. I considered doing chocolate ruffles but was so ready to be done that I gave up on the idea. I decided instead to just pipe a border along the bottom edge. I wanted a frosting that was dark and shiny like the icing and thought a whipped ganache would do the trick. Well, in the end, whipping the ganache lightened it up to about the same color as a chocolate buttercream ... but I didn't care. On went my border and I wound up with so much extra frosting that I did a top border too.

Finally, this sucker is done! It definitely tastes good - not too sweet - and I adore the flavor of the dacquoise.

Am I glad I stuck with it and completed the challenge? Absolutely. Did I wish I had pastry-queen Tartelette on speed dial? Oh yes. Will I make this again? Hells no.

If you'd like the recipe, visit Hilda's blog. And be sure to check out the blogroll to see the Yule Log trials and tribulations of the other Daring Bakers!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

So good, it's gone!

I had a few lonely pieces of bacon left over from yesterday's breakfast and needed to use them up. I found this recipe and thought it sounded great ... and indeed it was. It was so good, we ate it up before I could take a proper photo!

Bacon and Egg Puffs
Adapted from Modern Classics (Book 1) by Donna Hay, as seen on 80 Breakfasts
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Thaw pastry on countertop until soft and pliable - don't let it get too warm or the layers of butter will begin to melt. This took me about 20 to 30 minutes.

Place bacon on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes - just enough to crisp the edges. Remove from the oven and transfer to paper towels to drain.

Cut pastry to fit four 5-ounce ramekins. I used one of my new round cutters for the bottoms and then cut strips for the sides. Spread mustard on the pastry bases and sprinkle with the cheese.

Line sides of each ramekin with a piece of bacon - just bend it and follow the shape of the ramekin. Break one egg into each ramekin.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the eggs have set - remember to pull them a little early as they will continue to cook for a short time after being removed from the oven. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A spicy kick

Around here, we're always up for a spicy dish. Indian? You bet! Thai? Yes, please! Mexican? We're on board!

When I saw this recipe for boneless buffalo chicken strips, I was excited to give them a try. The preparation was fairly quick and easy and the outcome was mighty tasty. The strips weren't quite as crispy as I was expecting, but that may have been due to the large amounts of buffalo sauce that I drizzled over the strips.

All in all, this was a pretty good dish that I will make again.

Buffalo Chicken Strips
Adapted from Cooking Light, as seen on Amber's Delectable Delights
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed cornflakes
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Cooking spray
1/3 cup hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup ranch dressing
4 celery stalks, cut into sticks
4 carrots, cut into sticks or a handful of baby carrots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Place cornflakes in a shallow dish. Working with one chicken strip at a time, dredge in flour mixture. Dip in egg whites; dredge in cornflakes. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken strips, flour mixture, egg whites, and cornflakes.

Lightly coat chicken strips with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until done, turning once halfway through.

Combine hot sauce, pepper sauce, and Worcestershire in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer one minute. Remove from heat; stir in butter. Drizzle hot sauce mixture over chicken. Serve with ranch dressing, celery, and carrots.