It is said that “presentation is everything” but of course, so is taste, right? Well, what about the preparation of food? At the very onset I had some reservations about making this holiday dessert given the lengthy and involved instructions. But not one to bow down to a challenge, I enlisted my mother-in-law, Mary Cochrane, who was out visiting from Western PA.
Truth be told, it was like an episode of Laverne and Shirley! Every step of the way we blundered one thing or another. The initial misstep was the separation of 5 egg yolks and whites. The very first egg I broke, I cracked the entire thing into a bowl, and realizing my mistake, I unsuccessfully tried to scoop out the bit of yolk left in the whites. Against my better judgement, instead of discarding that first egg, I continued to separate the remaining four into the bowl.
Mary getting ready to sift the 1/2 cup of flour a gazillion times.
When Mary noticed the yolk in the whites, she did say it probably would not beat into stiff peaks, but we just let it ride while she sifted the 1/2 cup of flour (again, and again, and again) and I beat together the yolks, vanilla and sugar.
The egg whites that weren’t forming stiff peaks…
Once we were ready to beat the whites, Mary held a hand mixer for what seemed like forever, without getting the results the recipe called for. Thinking a smaller metal bowl might do the trick, we dumped the mixture into another bowl and tried to beat those darn whites in vain. Finally admitting defeat, I separated another five eggs (correctly this time), but we had to wait another 30 minutes for them to come to room temperature.
Finally, stiff egg whites get folded into the batter.
Another essential ingredient was a 1/2 cup espresso and since the grocery store was out of instant espresso (was everyone making yule log cakes?), we bought a small amount of espresso beans and ground them at home. Problem was, I don’t drink coffee and was unfamiliar with how to use our state-of-the-art coffee maker—nor did Mary know how. Then I remembered Russ had bought a small espresso percolator when we were in Italy this past spring. Problem was, I didn’t know how to use that either, nor did Mary! So we did the next best thing and called Russ at work…
Mary filling the percolator with ground espresso.
And so it went… while the cake itself was supposed to bake for only 7-10 minutes, ours took longer because at one point, instead of adjusting the timer for a few more minutes, I accidentally turned off the oven temperature and neither of us noticed it and wondered why the cake was taking so long! Which resulted in an unfirm center, thus causing cracking when it was time to roll it.
Cake layer out of oven before rolling.
Another blunder? At this point Mary was doing most of the reading out loud and I was following (or more precisely, jumping ahead), when it came time to make the filling. First off, we couldn’t locate brandy or cognac, even though Russ and I “knew” we had some. Fact is, we used up the brandy for a pork dish several weeks prior and never replaced it. When in doubt, Google! Three different websites noted you could substitute scotch or bourbon. Being that we only needed 1 tablespoon, I wasn’t about to run out in the rainy weather to a jam-packed shopping center for that small amount. So what did we do? Place another call to Russ at work to get his opinion, which was in agreement with me–use the bourbon.
Back to the filling. Just as I got done pouring the 1/2 cup heavy cream into the mixer with the mascarpone cheese mixture, Mary read aloud “Beat the heavy cream in another bowl with beaters…” Wait, what?? Realizing that wasn’t going to happen, and not having another 8 ounces of mascarpone, we decided to forge ahead and see if the mixture would all come together in ONE bowl, and luckily for us, it did!
Adding heavy cream to the melted chocolate for a ganache icing.
By this time we were more than punch happy. The kitchen was in complete disarray with pots, pans, and baking ingredients covering almost every inch of counter surface. What should have taken 1 1/4 hours took nearly four hours! Mary said she’d start washing up the dishes so I could try to finish the cake before Russ came home and saw the mess. And just as I was spreading the last of the ganache, he came walking in to find a gorgeous cake, clean kitchen, and slap happy wife and mother.
The Yule Log being prepared to wrap and refrigerate.
A couple of “touches” we opted to leave out this time around was the stumps for sawed-off branches and meringue mushrooms. Mary told me if I wanted to make those meringue mushrooms, she was leaving! That will be a challenge for another day…
In the end, it made a beautiful presentation and tasted good too!
OK, so the inside wasn’t as attractive as the outside…
Recipe found on Epicurious.com from Gourmet Live / December 2012 by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez
If you want a project, this one’s for you…
- 1/2 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring), plus additional for dusting pan
- 5 large eggs, separated, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup espresso or very strong black coffee
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
- 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
- 12 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- Meringue mushrooms
- Unsweetened cocoa for dusting
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Special equipment:A 15- by 10- by 1-inch rimmed sheet pan (aka jelly-roll pan; small offset spatula (optional, but really helpful); long rectangular or oval platter or wooden serving board
Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter pan and line bottom and sides with 1 sheet of parchment paper. Butter paper and dust with additional flour, knocking out excess.
Beat together yolks, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to dissolve when beaters are lifted, 5 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 8 to 12 minutes with a handheld. Sift half of flour over yolks and fold it in gently but thoroughly, then sift and fold in remaining flour.
Beat whites with salt and cream of tartar in a large metal bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
Fold 1/4 of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Stir 1/2 cup batter into melted butter in a small bowl until combined, then fold butter mixture into batter gently but thoroughly. Spread batter evenly in sheet pan and rap once on counter to help eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until top of cake springs back when gently pressed with finger, 7 to 10 minutes.
Sift top of hot cake evenly with confectioners’ sugar and cover cake with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) followed by a baking sheet. Holding sheet and cake pan together with oven mitts, flip cake onto cloth on baking sheet. Carefully peel off and discard parchment paper.
With a long side nearest you and using towel as an aid, roll up cake in towel, jelly-roll style, keeping it wrapped in towel. Cool cake completely, seam-side down in towel, on a rack.
Make espresso syrup:
Bring espresso and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves, then boil until reduced to a scant 1/4 cup. Remove pan from heat and stir in Cognac, then cool to room temperature.
Slowly mix mascarpone, sugar, cinnamon, and Cognac in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. If mixture is very loose after adding sugar, beat mixture briefly to thicken slightly (see Cooks’ notes).
Beat heavy cream in another bowl with same beaters at medium speed until it just holds stiff peaks. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.
Put chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let stand 3 minutes. Stir slowly with a whisk until smooth. If bits of chocolate remain unmelted, set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and heat, stirring gently, until completely smooth, and remove from pan. Stir in corn syrup. Chill, stirring a couple of times, until it thickens to an easily spreadable consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Assemble yule log:
Gently unroll cooled cake on a baking sheet, keeping it on towel, then arrange baking sheet so that long side of cake that was inside roll is nearest to you. Brush all of cooled espresso syrup all over surface of cake. Spread filling with offset spatula evenly over cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Starting from long side nearest you, roll up cake without towel, leaving it seam-side down on baking sheet. Gently brush off any excess confectioners’ sugar.
Cut a 1 1/2-inch-long diagonal slice from each end of roll and reserve. Transfer cake, using 2 metal slotted spatulas as aids, seam-side down on platter. Using ganache as “glue,” attach end pieces, diagonal sides down, on top and side of log to resemble branches.
Spread ganache all over roll and branches with offset spatula, making it resemble tree bark (see Cooks’ notes).
Arrange a few meringue mushrooms, if using, around Yule log, and very lightly sift a little cocoa over log and mushrooms first, followed by a little confectioners’ sugar to resemble a light dusting of snow.
•Brands of mascarpone vary in consistency. BelGioioso, a widely distributed brand, is as thick and dense as cream cheese, while other brands can be looser.
•Yule log can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before serving.
•If ganache becomes too firm to spread, remelt it by setting bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and stir gently until smooth. Chill ganache again, if necessary, to get it to a spreadable consistency.