French Yule Log

As you may have guessed, I have not been doing much cooking lately, at least of the variety that anyone would care to read about. December was an especially lean month for us financially, and I’ve not even been to a proper grocery store since Thanksgiving. Then we had over a week of snow and ice storms leading up to Christmas, a nearly unheard-of phenomenon in Oregon: it left us housebound, and I had to do some seriously creative pantry-diving to come up with meals for Christmas, sans onions and potatoes. We had chicken piccata over couscous for Christmas Eve, with no-bake cookies for dessert so that I could save my last three eggs for Belgian waffles in the morning. Our wafflemaker disagreed with that plan, however; it died on the first attempt, and I ended up using the batter for pancakes instead. Christmas dinner was an Asian-inspired beef stew made with two small tri-tip steaks and all my remaining root vegetables: 2 tiny carrots, a huge shallot, and a daikon radish. I seasoned it with soy, garlic, sesame oil, and 5-spice, and it was actually very good; I didn’t miss the potatoes at all.

Anyhow, we got rain on Christmas Day that washed away most of the snow, so the next day we finally ventured out into the wide world again to pick up a few essentials. In my case, that meant ingredients for this month’s Daring Bakers recipe, which I was determined not to miss out on. 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, a rather more stylized variety than last year’s traditional genoise-and-buttercream sculptures. These consist of several different layers—dacquoise, ganache, crisp, and creme brulee—all frozen together interlaced with mousse and coated with a chocolate glaze. We were given a range of flavoring options to choose from for each layer, and I decided to go with an Almond Joy theme maximizing the bits and bobs of dark, milk, and white chocolate I had in supply. My cake is still in the works, as it will be the centerpiece for a New Year’s Eve get-together at our home, but I’ll do a supplemental write-up with photos of the sliced cake after the fact.

I started on Sunday with the creme brulee. In keeping with the Almond Joy theme, I decided to flavor my cream with toasted almonds, which I chopped and steeped in the hot cream for an hour. While it infused, I kept myself busy toasting unsweetened coconut and making the lace crepes for the coconut feuillete (crisp) layer. I’ve never had authentic French gavottes, and mine certainly didn’t look like the photos provided, but they were crisp and lacy, so I think they fit the bill, generally speaking. I used a rolling pin to press the feuillete mixture as thin as possible between waxed paper and my Silpat, but it was still a fairly solid slab of about 1/4″ thickness, so I ended up chopping it into crumbles for easier slicing in the finished product.

My creme brulee layer mixed up very easily, but took much longer in the oven than the recipe indicated. After an hour in a water bath at 210F, it had not set at all, and I ended up raising the temp to about 250F and adding half an hour or so to the cooking time. In the end, I may have overcooked it a bit, but I was concerned about it liquidizing in the completed yule log, so I wanted to err on the cautious side. The cream also seeped around the edges of my parchment and stuck to the loaf pan a bit; once it was frozen and ready to be layered, I had to do quite a bit of prying with a hot knife to release it from the pan, but it came out intact.

The next day I made the milk chocolate chantilly cream for my mousse layer, and a coconut-almond dacquoise, using equal parts almond meal and unsweetened coconut. I used a loaf pan as my mold, and decided to try lining it with dacquoise, since the sheet pan I used turned out to have the exact measurements I needed. My cake was a little sticky releasing from the parchment, and required a little finessing to insert into the loaf pan intact (especially since I lined the mold with parchment that kept shifting about). I didn’t bother with piping my mousse—a spoon seemed to work out just fine and cleaned up much more quickly. I did have to trim one edge of the brulee layer to get it to fit, but the rest of the layers filled up the mold just right. Then I wrapped my remaining dacquoise cap while the layered portion chilled in the freezer, and made little layered desserts with the cake scraps and leftover chantilly and coconut crisp.

This morning, before Nolan woke up, I made the dark chocolate ganache to finish assembling my log. I’ve never made ganache that incorporated caramel before, and it came out shiny and silky smooth with a nicely complex flavor. Then I gave the finished cake several more hours to freeze before attempting the glaze and decorations this evening.

For my decorations, I decided to go fairly simple and use chocolate leaves, which I’ve never made before. They were incredibly easy to make: wash some fresh camelia leaves from my front yard, paint their undersides with melted chocolate, and pop them in the fridge to harden. The only remotely tricky part of the operation was removing the leaves from the delicate chocolate without melting it all over my warm fingers.

I chose to make the dark chocolate glaze, but found that the recipe did not make remotely enough to cover my entire log. I spread it around as well as I could, but the ends were still totally bare, so I threw it back in the freezer and made a second batch of glaze. If I make this again, I will certainly double the glaze recipe from the start. Because my glaze went on in two applications, it was rather lumpy and dull, but nothing a liberal application of sliced almonds and chocolate leaves couldn’t fix.

I’ll amend with a few more photos of the sliced cake on New Year’s, to show the layers and give our verdict on how it tastes, so check back! In the meantime, be sure to look at all the other French yule logs on the Daring Bakers’ blogroll.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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