one day before christmas: simple bûche de noël

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I was crazy ambitious to try Bon Appetit’s recipe for Bûche de Noël two days before Christmas. And I should have been warned; anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I accidentally added too much cream to the mascarpone filling and ended up with cream soup instead of cream cheese. I needed a save. So I did a quick search and found Nick Malgieri’s recipe on Food Network for Bûche de Noël that called for a simple coffee buttercream filling. So I married parts of the two recipes together, using the BA recipe for cocoa syrup and sponge cake, and Malgieri’s coffee buttercream frosting. Figuring I was pushing my luck,  I simply cut the log in two rather than try to decorate it.

Bûche de Noël (adapted from Bon Appetit and Food Network)

Make the Cocoa Syrup (makes 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon rum

Cook sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; add cocoa powder and rum and whisk until smooth. Cool, cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

Make the Coffee Buttercream (makes 3-4 cups)
4 (120g) egg whites, room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar
340g unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee powder
2 tablespoons dark rum

Dissolve the coffee powder in the rum and set aside.

Put 2 inches of water in a large saucepan on the stove and bring it to a simmer. Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in the sugar. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan of simmering water—the water shouldn’t touch the bowl. Continue whisking the eggs whites until foamy and opaque, and the sugar dissolves. The egg white mixture should be warm to the touch and not at all gritty.

Remove the bowl and attach it to the mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg white mixture on medium speed until the egg whites have cooled—the bottom of the bowl will be cool to the touch.

Turn off the mixer and switch to the paddle attachment. Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating on medium speed until the buttercream is smooth. Slowly pour the coffee mixture into the buttercream while the machine is still beating. The buttercream will curdle but keep beating because it will come together, about 1-2 minutes to completely blend in the coffee mixture.

Can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature then beat with paddle attachment on medium high speed until smooth and it comes together again.

Make the Sponge Cake
Melted butter for brushing the pan
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus more for dusting
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar

Increase oven to 400°. Line a 12x17x1″ rimmed baking sheet parchment and brush melted butter on it. Flip it over and brush butter on the other side of the parchment and the pan sides and corners. Set aside

Whisk flour, cornstarch, and ⅓ cup cocoa powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

Bring milk, butter, oil, vanilla, and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Keep warm over low heat. It should be body temperature.

Cake Baker’s Note: If the milk mixture is too hot it will cook the eggs. I tested a drop on the inside of my wrist.

Meanwhile, using the paddle attachment, beat eggs and egg yolks with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Increase speed to high; beat until doubled in volume. With motor running, gradually add sugar; beat until very light and fluffy and mixture falls back on itself in a slowly dissolving ribbon (it should be at least quadrupled in volume), about 5 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium and gradually stream in milk mixture. Stop the machine and remove the bowl. Sift one-third of dry ingredients over the top of the batter; gently fold in until only a few streaks remain. Working in 2 additions, repeat with remaining dry ingredients, scraping bottom of bowl and using as few strokes as possible to keep eggs from deflating (a few streaks are fine). Scrape batter into prepared baking sheet and gently spread to edges of pan with an offset spatula. Tap sheet lightly on counter to pop any large air bubbles.

Bake cake until surface is puffed and springy to the touch, 10–12 minutes. Let cake cool in pan 2 minutes, then run a knife along edges to loosen. Spread a towel on a large work surface and sift cocoa powder on top. Invert cake on top of cocoa powder and carefully peel away parchment. Dust top of cake with more cocoa powder. Starting at one of the long sides, gently roll up warm cake inside towel. Let cake cool, seam side down, 30-35 minutes. Can be made 1 day ahead and stored tightly wrapped in plastic at room temperature.

Assemble the Bûche de Noël

Unwrap the thoroughly cooled cake and brush off any excess cocoa powder. Dab the cocoa syrup all over with a pastry brush. Spread about half of the coffee buttercream in a 1/2 inch layer, keeping away 1 inch from the longer edge opposite. Roll up the cake using the towel, but keep the towel on the outside. Chill, keep the seam side down, until filling is set, about 30 minutes. Don’t worry if there are any cracks in the cake; the frosting will hide it.

Transfer the cake to a serving plate. Evenly spread the remaining buttercream all over the cake. Using a serrated knife, trim 1/2 inch pieces from each end to create clean edges. Eat the trimmings!

If desired, create branches on the log by cutting off a 4 inch piece from one end. Cut it in half at a 45 degree angle leaving 1 inch at the opposite end. Attach the angled ends to the cake by using the remaining buttercream to attach the pieces and to fill in the spaces. Put one piece on top and the other on the side. Use an off set spatula to create the appearance of tree bark. Leave the cut ends unfrosted.

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four days before christmas: mexican wedding cakes and more cookies

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(Left to right) Cherry Garcia and Ginger Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cakes

Because I didn’t have time to bake yesterday, I decided to experiment with refrigerating the cookies for 24 hours before baking. I don’t know if it helped, but I got very plump cookies from all of these recipes.

The first one, Cherry Garcia is named after the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They are filled with cherries, chocolate white and dark, but no nuts. I left that out–just a preference. The second recipe, Ginger Cookies, I used fresh ginger because I had it on hand. I didn’t notice any difference in sweetness, but then I don’t like a very sweet cookie. The third recipe, Mexican Wedding Cakes, is variously called Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes. I used almonds to make this batch but the original recipe from The Smitten Kitchen said to use pecans or hazelnuts.

Cherry Garcia Cookies
(From Marcy Goldman, Pastry Chef, Montreal, Canada, for About.com)

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 10-14 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup dried cherries
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (113g) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar [substitute superfine or caster sugar]
1/2 cup light brown sugar, (packed then sifted)
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely-chopped unsalted macadamia nuts or almonds (optional)

Preparation:
1. Place dried cherries on a cutting board and coarsely chop. For a moister cookie, soak the cherries in hot water or cherry liqueur for a few minutes to plump them up. Drain well or squeeze out the liquid.
2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter and the sugars on low speed. On low speed, beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add flour mixture to butter mixture half at a time and mix on low speed until combined. By hand, fold in drained cherries, white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and nuts, if using.
4. Refrigerate cookie dough 30 to 45 minutes to firm up.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
6. Using a cookie scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, placing cookies about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Bake one batch at a time.

Baker’s Note: I roll each dough ball lightly in my hands to round the cookies evenly.

Bake each batch 12 to 14 minutes (10-12 minutes in a convection oven) until lightly browned around the edges. Cool 10 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to racks to cool completely. Store air tight in a covered container.

Ginger Cookies (adapted from: foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
5 turns freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup (112g) white granulated sugar (use 1/2 cup brown sugar if you’re using maple syrup)
1/4 cup (50g) dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses, honey, or maple syrup
2 tablespoons ginger preserves or grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup demerara sugar for rolling cookies

Preparation:
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, salt and black pepper together.

In a large bowl, beat the butter/shortening and the sugars with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add the molasses and ginger preserves and continue beating until the batter is an even light brown color, 30 seconds more.

Add the dry ingredients all at once, beating slowly to make a soft, smooth dough. Use a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are combined. Then beat again for 20 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 25 minutes.

Put about 1/2 cup demerara sugar in a small bowl. With a cookie scoop or a small ice cream scoop, portion the dough into a slightly heaping tablespoon for each cookie. Roll the dough, by hand, into balls. Roll the tops of the balls in the sugar, and space them 2 inches apart on a nonstick or lightly oiled cookie sheet. Alternatively, line the pan with parchment and do not grease. Refrigerate until firm, about 25 minutes. (The chilling is what gives this cookie a beautiful, crackly crunch on top, and a soft, chewy center.)

Preheat oven to 375˚F. (Preheat convection oven 180˚C). If using a pan with a dark non-stick finish, reduce heat to 350˚F.

Bake until the top is crackly, and the insides peeking through the cracks are dark and moist but not raw, about 15 to 20 minutes (10-15 minutes in convection oven). Cool the cookies 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Serve or store in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

Baker’s Note:
ϖ Ginger preserves give lots of flavor without the hard chunks of crystallized ginger. It is found in Asian grocery stores.
ϖ To substitute for preserved ginger, use grated fresh ginger. Add sugar to taste for every tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. I didn’t add any extra sugar and the taste was just fine!
ϖ Makes about 30 cookies using a 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 cup (227g or 2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds, toasted and finely ground (it will be the texture of demerara sugar)

Preparation:
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then almonds. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Baker’s Note: If you refrigerate the cookie dough overnight, let it sit 5 minutes on the counter top before scooping them into balls. This will allow the butter to soften.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered in pie dish. Set sugar aside.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls.

Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 17-18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire rack to finish cooling. Gently toss cooled cookies in sugar to coat completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.

Baker’s Note: I used 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Sift remaining sugar over cookies and serve. Makes about 4 dozen. With scoop I got about 3 dozen cookies.

Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining sugar.

jamaican pepperpot soup with dumplins

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It’s winter in Bangkok, which means the temperature dips from a sweltering 30 degrees Celsius to a relatively mild 23 degrees. So naturally, my thoughts turn to a spicy soup from Jamaica to brace both body and soul. In texture a pepperpot is thicker than a soup but not as thick as a stew. It’s in between. We eat it with dumplins and a side of rice, but that’s up to you.

Jamaican Pepperpot Soup with Dumplins (adapted from Cooking the Caribbean Way)

Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60-75 minutes

2 lb stewing beef or pork shoulder, cubed
8 oz. salt beef, pork or bacon, chopped (I used bacon)
1 1/2 cups okra, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped
1 bunch callaloo or spinach, chopped
2 scallions, chopped (I used 3/4 of a large onion, sliced)
1 lb yellow yams, sliced (I used 1 1/2 carrots, sliced)
1 coco or large potato, sliced
1 sprig thyme (2 teaspoons dried)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, optional (I substituted 2 Thai chilies)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, brown the salt meat in a little oil or brown the bacon until some oil is released. Add the meat and brown. Add enough water to cover, and bring to a near boil; simmer 30 minutes. Add yams or carrots and coco or potato. Simmer 15 minutes, then add okras, kale, spinach or callaloo, scallions or onions and simmer 15 minutes. Add 2 cups water to the pot. Add thyme, garlic, chili peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. Dumplins can be added to the soup. Stir and simmer another 15 minutes.

Mom’s Dumplins

2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Put flour in a large bowl. Dissolve the shortening in hot water. Pour the shortening mixture into the flour and combine. Pinch off about an inch of dough and roll between your hands to make a cigar shape. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Heat a small pot of water to boiling and add the dumplins in batches. When they float, they are done. Drain dumplins and add to the pepperpot soup. Continue until all dumplins are cooked and added to the pepperpot.

low fat scallion-corn bread

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One of the frustrations of living in Bangkok is not being able to find ingredients for American cooking, or if you do, they are very expensive. Fortunately, that list is short and includes things like cornmeal, molasses, and corn syrup; things which I seldom use anyway. But this is  how you learn to improvise. I found almond meal at Tops which is not too bad at 69 baht for 500 grams; in texture it’s similar to cornmeal. To make it corn bread, I tossed in the corn kernels. And for color, the scallions.

Low Fat Scallion Corn Bread
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes.

1 cup almond meal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tinned corn kernels, drained
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
1 egg lightly beaten
1 cup clabbered milk or sour milk
1/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven 350˚F/175˚C. Grease an 8″ square baking pan. Set aside.

In a one cup measure, put 1 tablespoon white vinegar and top up to one cup mark with low fat milk. Set aside 5-10 minutes to curdle milk.

In a large bowl, put almond meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, corn, and scallions. Stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, put the beaten egg, sour milk, yogurt, and oil. Mix well.

Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a fork until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool a few minutes then serve warm.

white chicken chili

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The last time I made this chili was in New York where all the Mexican chilies are available, so I’ve had to improvise and use what was available in Bangkok. I used sweet bell pepper, goat chili, and green chili in this recipe. It was not bad!

White Chicken Chili

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

3 pounds boneless chicken breast with skin on
seasoning salt to taste
1 tablespoon oil, plus more if needed
2 medium green bell peppers
3 medium goat chilies
2 medium onions
2 medium green chilies, chopped fine
6 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cans white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used 3 cups water, 2 chicken bouillon cubes)
1 small lime quartered
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breast with seasoning salt. Be sure to get some under the skin too.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Fry the chicken, skin side down 4 minutes or until golden brown. Turn, and fry on the second side 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool slightly then remove the skin and discard.

In the workbowl of a food processor, put half the bell peppers, goat chilies, and onions. Process until fine. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Repeat with the remaining peppers, chilies, and onions. Add to the first batch in the bowl. Set aside. Don’t wash out the bowl. Drain and rinse the cannellini beans and set aside.

Re-heat the liquid in the pot and add half the chili-onion mixture, all the garlic, cumin, coriander, and salt. Cook 10 minutes or until the mixture cooks down to one cup. Remove from heat and scrape into the food processor along with 1 cup of the cannellini beans, and 1 cup chicken broth. Process until smooth.

Scrape into the Dutch oven and add the chicken back to the pot. Add the remaining chili-onion mixture, the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth, and half the green chilies. Then cook 15-20 minutes or until the chicken breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside until cool. Add the remaining cannellini to the pot and cook 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. Taste, and add the remaining green chilies if desired. Shred the chicken breasts and add it back to the pot. Turn off the heat. Serve with limes and cilantro, no need to add additional salt.