Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yule logs...fake and real!

This is the scene outside right now...winter has arrived with a vengeance and we here in Maine are girding ourselves for quite the snowstorm.....up to 18 inches are expected by tomorrow morning so we are not dreaming of a white Christmas, we are indeed, going to be living it! Grab your snow shovels and get the kettle on!!
Now...on to the Yule Log/Buche de is a pic of the meringue mushrooms in their seperate parts and 'glued' together with melted chocolate...I have to be honest with you...I am very pleased with how these little darlings turned out...James said they look like the animated mushrooms in 'Fantasia' which I am taking as quite the compliment.

Ta dah!!! My first Yule Log in all it's glory...the genoise didn't turn out as thick as I hoped but I am very happy with the finished results.

Firstly you need to make those cute little meringues!
2 egg whites
4oz fine sugar
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature to ensure the greatest volume when you whip and do not attempt to make meringues on a wet/humid day...they won't work at all or will be a disappointment!
1. Beat the egg whites until stiff
2. Gradually beat in the sugar
3. Mix vinegar and vanilla extract together and fold in to egg whites
4. Using a large plain tip pipe the meringue mixture into small rounds and small upright tubes...see pic above for shapes. You will probably get little peaks on can smooth these out with a WET finger....if you don't wet your finger all you will do is drag the meringue around.
5. My recipe then says to cook the meringues in a 250 degree oven for 1 hour which will give you adequate meringues with chewy centres...more like a French macaroon....but I prefer a meringue that is like ceramic so I bake in a 175 degree, if your oven will go that low, for about 4 hours and then I turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there for about 5 hours...the meringues will be dry and crisp and beautiful.
6. Melt the chocolate you are going to use for the buttercream in a pan over boiling water and use to 'glue' the meringue tops to their stalks.
7. Stand back and admire your incredibly cute work....they are irresistible aren't they?
NOW FOR THE CAKE PART: Chocolate Genoise, adapted from 'The Christmas Cook book' by Marilyn Bright with lovely illustrations by Bridget Flinn
3 eggs
1 extra egg white (whipped to stiff)
scant 1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1. Grease and line with buttered parchment paper an 8 x 12 inch jelly roll pan
2. Whisk the 3 whole eggs and sugar in the top of a double boiler until the mixture is pale and thick and leaves a definite trail when you lift the whisk out. DO NOT stop whisking at any point for fear of curdling the mixture and ending up with scrambled eggs!
3. Remove from the heat.
4. Sift the flour and cocoa together and gently fold into the egg mixture.
5. Fold in the whicked, or whisked!, extra egg white.
6. Pour into the prepared jelly roll pan and smooth evenly with a spatula...I didn't and the cake baked didn't seek it's own level as other cake batters very rude of it and lazy!!
7. Bake at 425 for about 10 minutes...until the cake feels firm to the touch.
8. Carefully flip over onto a wire rack and flip again onto a flat surface, trim any uneven or crusty edges and roll up with the parchment still on it....allow to cool completely.
9. Whilst cooling whip 1/2 cup of heavy/double cream with a few tablespoons of sugar to taste and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
10. Unroll the cake/genoise, peel off the parchment,which probably involves another flip....spread with the whipped cream and reroll.
I like really simple mucking around with melting butter and whipping egg whites etc...AND I like to use salted butter to give that nice counterpoint tang that is so popular with caramels right now...I always use salted butter when I bake which I have recently found out is a very European thing to do, I just thought it was because I like the tang of salt with sweet. ANYWAYS...
4oz softened butter
an inordinate amount of confectioners/icing sugar...I just keep adding until it tastes the way I like....
2oz melted semi-sweet chocolate...again I do this by eyeball and tastebud so you may want more or less.....and cooled so it won't melt the butter.
1. Beat the butter..
2. Add sifted sugar to taste.....
3. Add melted chocolate to taste.
1. Cover the rolled Yule Log with chocolate buttercream...I don't cover then ends as I like to see the cake and cream...but you can do otherwise of course! When covered to your satisfaction pull the tines of a fork lenghtwise along the buttercream and wiggle as you go to make the buttercream look like the bark of a log!!! Very easy and very effective I might say!
2. Add the ridiculously cute meringues anyway you like....see my picture above.
You will get great praise for this dessert so happy baking!!!
Now for some info on real Yule Logs......WOW!, is it snowing wasn't supposed to start 'til midnight but we already have about 2" accumulated and it's only 4pm!!!
The celebration of the Yule Log began in pre-Christian times as a counterpart to the midsummer celebrations those crazy guys held way back then. The fire festival they began so long ago has developed into the burning of the Yule Log either for the modest 24 hours of Christmas Day or more ambitiously the whole twelve days of Christmas from Christmas Eve to January 6th. You are supposed to kindle to the new Yule Log with a piece saved from the log the year before. In years gone by people choose their log from those fallen on their land and the log was brought into the dwelling with great ceremony...we are talking here about castles and grand houses that had hearths the size of a modest family home nowadays. The ashes of the log are scattered over the land to promote feritilty in the crops the following year and a piece of the charred wood is to be kept under the bed to protect the house from thunder and lightning. Oak is the traditional wood for a Yule is a poem, whose origin I could not determine, that tells the properties of all manner of wood.....
Oak logs will warm you well,
If they're old and dry.
Larch logs of pine wood smell,
But the sparks will fly,
Beech logs for Christmas Time,
Yew logs heat well,
Scotch logs it is a crime,
For any one to sell,
Birch logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all,
Hawthorn logs are good to last,
If you cut them in the fall,
Holly logs will burn like wax,
You should burn them green,
Elm logs like smouldering wax,
No flames to be seen,
Pear logs and apple logs,
They will scent your room,
Cherry logs across the dogs,
Smell like flowers in bloom,
But ash logs all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way,
They are worth their weight in gold.
I can indeed attest to this about ash logs now that I have been using a good old wood burning stove to heat the house these last nine years...I have also discovered I am allergic to oak, love the smell of birch bark and love ash because it does burn when green and puts off amazing heat.
Happy baking and burning...Patricia

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Story of the Yellow Emperor" by James Strickland

James created this box as a touchstone for the myth of the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, patron of Taoism, inventor of the principles of Chinese medicine and possesor of many gifts of wisdom and knowledge. He reigned from 2497 BC to 2398 BC. The box is made with the chinese cedarwood salvaged from an antique tea caddy, it is gilded with 24k gold leaf, lined with Japanese patterned washi paper and is filled two hand lettered packets of Omani frankincense and Yemeni myrrh.
It looks so lovely in the mellow glow of candlelight and reminds me of the movie "Lost Horizon" which I used to watch again and again with my Mum when I was little. The thought of a mystical city in the Himalayas fascinated me and this sculptural box looks like the city in my mind, I hope my photographs do it justice!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Pudding or Plum Pudding?

The ingredients...minus the egg I forgot!
Look at the apples, they are Black Oxfords grown
in Paris, Maine...they are beautiful!

The 'pud' mixed and ready to rest overnight,
apparently this helps with the lightness
of the pudding and helps marry
the flavours!

The 'puds' ready to be steamed with their
little discs of buttered paper and aluminium foil covers...
So forgive me the lateness of this posting.....I should have done this a week ago so all you wooden spoon and pudding basin wielding Anglophiles could have made your Christmas Puds on Stir-Up Sunday, the traditional day for making one's puddings but, alas, Thankies got in the way and here I am making my puddings late...although the one I have chosen for you doesn't need too much time to mature, it is quite grown up already....By the way the reason it is also called a PLUM pudding, even though it has no plums (!!!!) is because in Elizabethan times imported plums were held in such high esteem that the word plum came to be used in reference to other dried fruits......I use it myself to mean something is great as in "What a plum spot thou hast given to my Plum Pudding on your delightful Christmas prandial table!!!"...and other such comments!
I have chosen a vegetarian pud as I read something on David Lebovitz's blog that has put me off kidney suet for perhaps the rest of my life.
...and away we go....."Gourmet Christmas Pudding" from Rose Elliot's Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking with slight variations by me
INGREDIENTS: (If you need conversions from weights to cups please check out Sue Pallett's website..the link is listed in my blogroll, Thanks!)
8oz fine wholewheat crumbs (about five slices of good bread, I crumbed it in a coffee grinder with excellent results)
4oz butter
4oz whole wheat flour (I only had white and it worked fine)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cardamom (my change, the recipe called for 2 teaspoons mixed spice but I like cardamom, especially with the lemon in the recipe)
1 teaspoon nutmeg (again my addition 'cos I like nutmeg)
2oz fine brown sugar
4oz sultanas (golden raisins)
4oz raisins
4oz currants
2oz candied peel chopped
2oz crystallized ginger chopped
grated rind of one lemon (organic if you can)
grated rind of one orange (ditto)
2oz flaked almonds (I toasted these quite dark as I like that nutty flavour)...honestly though I think you can leave them out as I don't remember almonds in the puds from my childhood
1 egg
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I added an extra tablespoon of lemon 'cos I like the tang of it against the dried fruit)
4 tablespoons brandy...I used port because it is all we you can use whiskey too - or 4 tablespoons of apple juice/cider/pomegranate juice/orange juice - your choice if you don't want to use alcohol.
10 fluid oz brown ale...or you can substitute apple juice/cider

Phew, I'm exhausted with typing already....the rest is easy though!!
Put everything dry into a nice big mixing bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg with orange and lemon juices, add brandy (port or whiskey) and finally brown ale, add the liquids to the dry bits and stir very well. Cover well and leave in a cool place, but not the fridge, for a few hours or overnight to help lighten the pudding. When you are ready to steam, spoon the mixture into greased pudding large one (2 and a half pint size) or a variety of small ones to give as gifts, put a circle of buttered paper on the top of each pud and then cover tightly with aluminium foil and put into a double steamer basket so the basins are not touching the water and steam the little darlings for about 3 hours, make sure you keep checking the water isn't getting too low.
Take puds out and let cool, then store away in a covered container til Christmas Day (again not the fridge) when you will retrieve them from their resting and maturing place and you steam them ,YES AGAIN, for about another three hours. You will end up with a delicious fruity, moist pudding which you decant from their basins, serve hot and slather in brandy butter which is a simple combination of butter (12 tbsps), brown sugar (1/4 cup) and 6 tablespoons of brandy...cream butter and sugar together until light, beat in brandy a little at a time...very simple, a little crunchy and oh so delicious on a Christmas can also do the traditonal lighting of the Pud by pouring a couple of tablespoons of brandy over the top of the pud and lighting it with a burns off quite quickly and looks beautiful. Happy steaming!!