Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge December 2008 - 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.

Last December's Daring Baker's Challenge was to make a Buche de Noel, which seemed complicated at the time but was nowhere near the steps required for this French Yule Log. All the steps were fairly easy, just time consuming. And it took a lot of planning ahead of time to make sure everything required for each part was ready to go.

Milk chocolate praline feuillette
Take the Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert layer. It only had four ingredients, but two were items we had to make - the praline paste and the lace gavottes. Praline paste necessitated the peeling and roasting of hazelnuts, which I had in the freezer, but this time around I found the best way on the internet which made life so much easier. Rose Levy Barenbaum describes a way to peel hazelnuts that involves boiling them in water and baking soda, what a life saver.

Sister helping with photo shoot
My little sister Julianna is visiting from Christmas through New Year's Eve, so we devoted an entire day to the making of this French Yule Log. (There she is while I was working on taking photos.) She made the feuillette and the crisps and helped with everything else as well. It was definitely helpful to have an extra pair of hands!

Layers out of the freezer
As I made this recipe I discovered I didn't have a loaf pan. I'm sure I used to, but either I threw it out or it is hiding with the springform pan that has also taken a vacation. I looked around and discovered the ice tub that comes with the fridge sitting on top of the fridge, and it was just about the right size, so I lined it with cardboard from the chocolate boxes, plastic wrap, and we went from there.

We had slices of the French Yule log tonight after making pizzas (a la Daring Bakers Challenge October 2008) and the verdict was torn. The person that didn't do any of the work thought it was great, and loved all the different tastes and textures. Those of us who did the work would have made less components. I could have done without the chocolate creme brulee - it was icey in the slice and didn't have a lot of flavor (while excellent slightly chilled, it just takes the longest to unthaw). The dark chocolate mousse was amazing and was a nice companion to the ganache and feuillette.

As 2008 comes to a close, I'll take this opportunity to extend best wishes to everyone for 2009. You never know what's in store!

Categories: Cake, Chocolate, Daring Bakers, Hazelnuts, Holiday, Mousse

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gingerbread trio

Gingerbread trio
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
One set of my in-laws is here this week, and we had a birthday to celebrate today. I made gingerbread on request, and decided to offer various toppings for it.

I have memories of applesauce with gingerbread growing up, whipped cream (specifically from a squirty can) seems essential, and I also see lemon curd offered with gingerbread on restaurant menus.

So I did all three. The gingerbread recipe I used was a modification of Ina Garten's Old Fashioned Gingerbread, and if you are a fan of raisins I would go ahead and use mine. Nobody here was really a fan, plus I was out of rum and didn't want to go out to the stores on the day before Christmas Eve just for that. And fair warning - the only sweetness in this recipe is the orange juice and molasses, so this may not be sweet enough for some palates. Personally, after a season full of sugar, it was perfect for me.

Here is my modified recipe!

Old Fashioned Gingerbread

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp orange juice
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup minced dried crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8 inch cake pan and line with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Place the butter and molasses in a small pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cool for 5 minutes, then mix in the sour cream, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt together in a small bowl. Mix with your hands until combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and mix only until smooth. Add the crystallized ginger to the mixture with a spatula. Pour (or scoop, it will be thick) into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.

For my method, remove the cooled cake from the pan and cut into 25 or 36 squares. Dollop various ones with heated lemon curd, whipped cream, and applesauce.

Happy holidays everyone, from JennyBakes!

Categories: Bread, Ginger, Molasses

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cucidati - Fig Cookies

Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I have been wanting to make these cookies for several years and finally got my act together. They are a little time consuming because the dough and filling have to be made ahead of time. I think the flavor is nice - the spices and sweetness are a good balance with the dough, but these are more adult cookies than for kids. They remind me of the mincemeat-filled cookies my Grandma sometimes makes during the holidays.

According to the cookbook, cucidati are the Sicilian version of buccellati, which means "little bracelets."

from A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
4 large eggs

2 cups dried whole Calimyrna figs (about 14), halved and stemmed
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup blanched or natural whole almonds
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup 100 percent apricot spreadable fruit
1/4 cup diced candied orange peel
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 large egg
coarse sugar
multicolored nonpareils or sprinkles

1. Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in food processor. With the machine on, add butter and shortening a few pieces at a time through feed tube and process until evenly combined and mixture resembles coarse meal. Pulse in eggs one at a time until mixture forms large, moist clumps. Scrape dough onto large piece of plastic wrap, cover completely with wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

2. To make filling, combine figs, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until figs are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to food processor and process into a thick, smooth paste. Add almonds and process until nuts are finely chopped within the paste. Add remaining filling ingredients and pulse until combined. (Filling can be made up to 4 days ahead and refrigerated in airtight container).

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cucidati - dough and figgy filling
4. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece by rolling beneath your palm on a lightly floured surface into 1-inch-diameter rope; then roll rope out float with a rolling pin to a 1/4-inch thickness, about 3 inches wide and 20 inches long. Spread filling down center, making a 1-inch-wide x 1/2 inch-thick strip of filling. Fold both sides over the filling and pinch firmly to close. Use hands to squeeze the cylinder gently and roll back and forth to coax into a round shape; have seam side down. Make slashes at 1/4-inch intervals all along the pastry, then cut into 3-inch lengths. Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets and bend into a crescent shape. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Cucidati - unbaked cookies ready
5. To make topping, whisk egg until frothy. Brush egg on cookies and sprinkle with coarse sugar, sprinkles, or nonpareils. Bake until light golden brown around edges and on bottom, about 20 minutes. Slide parchment onto racks to cool completely.

The only change I made to this recipe was to use orange juice instead of water, because I didn't have candied orange peel but still wanted an orange flavor element. It seemed to work fine.

I'm not sure these cookies will prove good enough to warrant going into the JennyBakes Family Annual Tradition for holiday baked goods, but I'm still glad I made them!

Categories: Cookies, Figs, Holiday

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bakery Review - The Bunnery Bakery & Cafe, St. Augustine, Florida

The Bunnery Bakery & Cafe
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I just got back from a cruise, which was a nice way to spend what would otherwise be a very cold week in December. We decided to drive to Miami instead of fly since we had not seen much of Florida, which put us in St. Augustine the first night.

Window of cooling treats
The first night was Thanksgiving, so many shops were closed, but we came across what looked like a cute bakery on St. George St., and decided to stop there the next morning on our way to Miami.

Waiting Line
Some mornings, there is a line before the bakery opens. Inside you can order from the menu (eggs, etc), get a drink (tea, mocha), or get a baked good. I have to admit that once I saw the baked goods I didn't have any desire to look at the regular menu. There were scones, croissants, danish, sticky buns, cinnamon buns, cookies, biscotti, and squares of various varieties.

Scone and croissants
We got a few croissants and a Lady Sarah scone to try. The croissants were among the best I've had - the perfect crunch as you bite into it, paired with the softness of the buttery layers inside. When we drove back home and stayed in St. Augustine again, you can bet we made a repeat trip to this bakery. I also purchased their cookie recipe cards that they make available and hope to try some of them soon.

I loved St. Augustine and it seems to have some interesting places to eat. The next time I go there, I might be convinced to branch out, but it will be hard to resist coming back to The Bunnery. They are open daily from 8 am - 6 pm.

Categories: Bakery