Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very Frenchie Thing

I was very happy to join The Daring Bakers and waited with excitement to find out what the first challenge would be. 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. I was hoping it would not be a Yule Log. So, indeed, a Yule Log it was! Not just any Yule Log, but a frozen dessert the French call entremets. The recipe included mousse, crème brulee and all kinds of layers with difficult to pronounce names. After reading through the 18-page recipe and all its variations, I knew it would be great. I love chocolate and hazelnut and….rice krispies.

The hosts, Hilda and Marion, gave us all kinds of variations for flavors for each component, but the challenge required that we complete a dacquoise (almond cake layer), crème brulee, mousse, praline feuillete layer (hazelnut and chocolate crisp layer), a ganache layer and icing. All of the recipes seemed familiar enough to me, except the feuillete layer. It is made with praline (a hazelnut paste with caramelized sugar), and with crushed gavottes (crispy crepe cookies, commercially available in France). Upon researching how to make my own praline and my own gavottes, I discovered the amazing world of Pierre Herme, one of France's premier pastry chefs. In Dorie Greenspan's translation of one Herme's cookbooks, his recipe for praline feuillete calls for Nutella and rice krispies. I decided if it was good enough for Dorie, it was good enough for me.

There was some initial frustration when I was trying to figure out the pan size or mold shape. There were lots of suggestions but the recipe is a compilation of different recipes and not really an established recipe. So there was lots of room for interpretation and experimentation. I decided to embrace the lack of specificity in the recipe as part of the challenge.

All the layers were relatively easy to make. I followed the original recipe relatively faithfully, using the chocolate crème brulee and the vanilla mousse. I used agar-agar instead of gelatin in both the mousse and icing. Agar-agar does not act like gelatin. After making the entremets twice now, and researching all different recipes for the components, I now know France's dirty little secret: gelatin. I don't use gelatin as many people I know don't eat it and I wanted to make a dessert they could enjoy. But gelatin is everywhere in the pastry world. Agar agar is much firmer, and resists melting at much higher temperatures, so it doesn't melt in your mouth the way recipes with gelatin do. The second time I made the entremets, I used no gelatin in the mousse, as it had plenty of cornstarch, and made a delicious, shiny and smooth icing without gelatin.

I enjoyed making the creme brulee but found that it didn't add much in the way of a different texture or flavor. Everyone at my house liked the mousse so much that the second time I made the entremets I eliminated the brulee and increased the volume of the vanilla mousse. That was perfect. In my opinion five components is plenty.

This challenge was so much fun and really delicious. It truly is not difficult. I don't usually make pastries or cakes. I learned so many new things and I loved reading and researching so much about entremets and French desserts. So many thanks to the hosts and the many Daring Bakers who fielded all kinds of questions about the many components and products unfamiliar to many outside of France. You can read the original recipe
here. Below is my recipe, very adapted and sans the brulee layer and sans gelatin. This is the recipe that I will be using to make the Buche Noel yet a third time before the month is out.


Note: the recipes below make enough of each component to fill one 8" or 9" loaf pan. I've used both a Pyrex pan with relatively straight sides and a metal pan with a more traditional loaf shape. Both worked fine.


3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 egg whites
4 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix together the almond meal and confectioner's sugar. Add sifted flour and mix.
Beat the eggs whites until foamy. Continue to beat and gradually add the granulated sugar until stiff. Pour the almond meal mixture onto the egg whites and fold in delicately with a spatula. With a pencil, trace the shape of both the bottom and top of your mold/pan on a piece of parchment. Grease the parchment paper and set it on a baking sheet. Spread or pipe the batter onto an area slightly larger than your traced shapes to a height of 1/3 inch. Bake at 350°F for approximately 15 minutes until golden. Let cool.

Vanilla Mousse

2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Add salt. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves into milk and put the vanilla bean in as well. Heat to until ready to just under a boil. Turn the heat off, cover and let milk infuse with vanilla bean for at least 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until white, thick and fluffy. Add the cornstarch, beating carefully to ensure that there are no lumps. While whisking vigorously, pour some 1/3 of the warm milk into the yolk mixture to temper it. Put infused milk back on the stove on medium heat. Pour yolk mixture back into the milk while whisking vigorously. Keep whisking vigorously over medium heat until mixture thickens considerably, about 2 minutes. Do not let mixture come to a full boil. Remove from heat. Once removed from the heat, cover the pastry cream by putting plastic film or buttered parchment directly on the surface of the cream (this prevents it from forming a thick and unappetizing skin as it cools). Let cool at room temperature then thoroughly chill in refrigerator. Whip the the whipping cream until stiff. Add whipped cream to the pastry cream by folding in delicately with a spatula. (Do not whisk, beat or stir.)

Praline Feuillete Layer

2 ounces milk chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
6 tablespoons praline or hazelnut/chocolate spread
1 cup crisp rice cereal

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Add the hazelnut/chocolate spread and the rice cereal. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread the mixture between two sheets of wax paper, and press and smooth with a rolling pin into a size slightly larger than your mold/pan. Refrigerate until firm.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Layer

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate adding it to the log during assembly.

6 tablespoons heavy cream
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons butter

Bring heavy cream to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate and butter. Stir until melted and smooth. Cool until ganache is somewhat thickened but still pour-able.

Dark Chocolate Icing

4 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 tablespoons Kaluha or brandy

Melt chocolate and butter together in double boiler over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in corn syrup and alcohol. Use immediately. Icing is ready for pouring/glazing.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Using an oiled and parchment lined mold or pan:

1. Cut the Dacquoise to fit into both the bottom and top of your mold/pan.
2. Set the smaller Dacquoise layer into the bottom of the mold/pan.
3. Pipe two-thirds of the Mousse component evenly onto the Dacquoise.
4. Cut the Feuillete layer to the size of mold. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
5. Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Feuillete.
6. Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
7. Pour Ganache onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn't seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
8. Close with a layer of Dacquoise.
9. Freeze until the next day.

The Next Day:

1. Prepare Icing.
2. Unmold the log and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
3. Pour Icing over log, allowing the sides to drip over in order to glaze entire cake
4. Return to freezer.

Transfer to the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Slice with very sharp knife into 1/2 inch slices. Serves 12-16

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