Sunday, December 28, 2008

My 1st Daring Bakers Challenge

Daring Bakers Challenge: French Yule Log

First Daring Bakers Challenge, and a challenging one! This month's challenge was brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from "Saffron and Blueberry" and Marion from "Il en faut pour etre heureux". They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from "Florilege Gourmand". I hadn't figure out until I was about to post this entry and by looking for the links, that the recipe comes from one of my absolute favorite pastry sites!! I have always admired Flore's work and her ability to explain the recipes in a simple and clear way. I tried many of her recipes and they are all perfect. She is good at what she does, and doing this challenge is more than an appreciation to all her efforts.

This Yule Log is an entremets like dessert. I must say that entremets are my favorite kind of desserts. I love them because of their different layers and textures. This particular one has 6 different tasty layers: a chocolate mousse, a creme brulee insert, a praline crisp, a chocolate caramel ganache, a dacquoise and a chocolate glaze. I thought the final result would be very chocolatey, but it came out balanced and not too sweet. The creme brulee insert took this dessert to a whole new level (may be because I'm a creme brulee addict!). I never thought I could use a creme brulee inside a cake!

Daring Bakers Challenge: French Yule Log

I pretty much followed the recipe and made very little changes (used a hazelnut dacquoise instead of an almond one). Everything in the recipe worked fine. The only thing that I wasn't happy about was the final glaze. It was OK until I added the gelatin or agar agar actually. As soon as the gelatin was added the mixture became grainy and lost its shine. I had to add boiling water to fix it but still the glaze didn't come out smooth and shiny, and since I added water the color became lighter, more like a milk chocolate glaze.
As you may have noticed also, I didn't exactly make a "yule log" but rather individual domes. I did this for 2 reasons:

1- I bought online a round yule log mold, was extremely excited about it and couldn't wait to get it. I've always wanted to own one and this challenge was a reason enough for me to order this pan.I waited patiently for days and days. Then after about 2 weeks, I thought something might be wrong with this order. I called the dealers and guess what: they said the product is out of stock and will be available on.............January 4th!! Wait wait wait, you cannot do this to me, I haven't even been notified about that!! I need this for my daring bakers challenge, why is this happening??!! I wished the whole thing was a nightmare but unfortunately it wasn't, I had to deal with the reality : I had to come up with another idea. I thought about using the loaf pan but wasn't excited about the shape. So, I ended up using small trifle pans. The shape didn't come out perfect, but I had no better choice.
2- The other reason was dealing with the size of the log. Using these small individual pans was better actually because they are perfect for two (I consider my self a "half human" actually because I eat so little!!). I was wondering before making the recipe who will eat this huge dessert?? I was pretty sure I would take 2 or 3 bites and stop right there, so my husband will end up eating the whole thing!! no, not good! After all, the unfortunate "pan" story wasn't that depressing.

Overall, this first experience was fun and a tasty one and although the recipe seems complicated, it truly isn't. Now,
I can't wait for the next challenge!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lemon Shortbread

Another great recipe from "Tartine", my new favorite cookbook. My prior post was about a recipe from this book also : Gingerbread cookies, and they were delicious. I feel very happy when I find a good cookbook, and excited about trying all of its recipes! People who worked on this book did a wonderful job and deserve a big: Thank you!
Lemon Shortbread

I don't know what are the origins of shortbread but I guess every country has its own version. In Algeria we have something similar called "Ghribia". Very tender, melt in your mouth cookies made into different shapes (pyramid shape happens to be the most popular) and decorated with an almond. Some versions have ground almonds or peanuts in the dough. The way these cookies are made is a little different from the "American" shortbread but both have almost the same taste and texture.

The original recipe didn't call for lemon zest nor vanilla, but I added some for extra flavor. Shortbread is so rich and the lemon zest adds a hint of freshness and lightens up these cookies.

Lemon Shortbread Cookies (Adapted from "Tartine")

1 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, very soft.
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp all purpose flour.
1/2 cup +2 tbsp cornstarch.
1/4 tsp salt (reduced from the original 1/2 tsp).
Zest of 1 lemon.
1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
1/4 cup superfine sugar for topping.


1- preheat the oven to 325. Butter a 6-by-10 inch baking pan.

2- Place the butter, the 1/3 cup of sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract and mix until well incorporated.

3- Sift the flour and cornstarch. Add to the butter mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms.

4- Pat the dough evenly into the baking dish and bake until the top in lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool the shortbread until warm to the touch.

5- Sprinkle the shortbread with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and cut into rectangles. If the cookies have become cold they will not slice well, so try to cut them while still warm. chill thoroughly before removing from the baking dish.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Honey Cake

I still remember very well the first time I tasted this cake, more than fifteen years ago. My aunt H. brought the recipe and it was a big hit since then. The whole family, aunts, cousins......everybody loved it. They even served it in some family weddings. Although I made this cake endless times, and tasted others as well, aunt H. is still the one who makes it best. Her honey cake has a unique flavor and texture.

What is special about this cake -besides being incredibly good- is the way it's made. Unusual and Very easy method, no need for a mixer or any fancy schmancy material. All you need is a pan and a wooden spoon! Its baking time is relatively fast too. The only thing that is a bit "time consuming" is the making of the pastry cream. I usually make it the night before. I sometimes make this cake just because I have leftover pastry cream.

I personally like cakes that have different textures, and this one has it all: sweet tender biscuit layers with a smooth fluffy vanilla pastry cream in between. Topped with a layer of dark chocolate to balance the sweetness, plus some crunch from the crushed almonds. It is a cake worth a try and once you make it I am sure it will be one of your favorites.

Honey Cake

Honey Cake

150 g unsalted butter.
100 g granulated sugar.
1/4 cup honey.
1 large egg.
3 Tbsp whole milk.
1 tsp baking soda.
1 tsp vanilla extract.
400 g all purpose flour.
1/2 tsp baking powder.
1/4 tsp salt.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk.
1 large egg.
4 egg yolks.
70 g granulated sugar.
60 g corn starch.
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract.
70 g soft unsalted butter.

Final Touches

100 g dark chocolate, melted.
Crushed toasted almonds.


1- Preheat the oven to 375 f. Butter a 16 1/2 by 11 1/2 baking sheet. Set aside.

2 -In a sauce pan combine the butter, sugar, honey, milk, egg and baking soda. Cook over medium low heat stirring constantly until all the butter is melted. Add the vanilla. Strain the mixture in a bowl and set aside.

3- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in three batches. At first you can use the wooden spoon to mix, then you'll have to use your hands because the dough will become harder. The final dough should be smooth and not sticky. If the dough feels sticky after all the flour is added, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency. But remember not to over work the dough or you will end up with a tough cake instead of a light flaky one.

3- Press the dough on the baking sheet. Using your hands, flatten it as evenly as you can all the way to the sides of the pan. Prick the dough and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a cookie rack.

Pastry Cream Preparation

1- Heat the milk over medium heat.
2- In a sauce pan, combine the egg, egg yolks, sugar and corn starch. Whisk until smooth.
3- Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture. Cook the cream over medium low heat until it thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as it starts to bubble remove from the heat and add the vanilla.
4- Transfer the cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. To avoid a thick layer from forming on top of the cream, the plastic wrap should touch the top of the cream. Let the cream cool completely. If not using the same day, the cream should be well kept in a container and refrigerated . It can keep for 4 to 5 days.
5- When the cream is completely cool, add the soft butter and mix until light and fluffy (I use my hand held mixer for that).

Cake Assembly

1- Cut the cake vertically into 3 equal parts, about 5 inches each.
2- Spread the cream between each layer. You'll have 3 layers of cake and 2 of cream.
3- Cover the cake with the melted chocolate and decorate with the crushed almonds.
4- Cut the cake into 2 by 1 inch rectangles or into squares.

It is preferable to let the cake sit for an hour or 2 before cutting. This cake actually tastes better the following day. It can keep for a day in a cool dry place and should be put after that in the fridge.