Welcome to "Four Years and Four Seasons." As a refresher for anyone who has read my profile, and an introduction for all the new faces to this blog, my name is Anita and I am a chemistry major in my last year at Caltech. My other academic love is English, and in fact, the name of this blog is a line taken from a poem I wrote last year about my holistic experiences as a Techer. I will go into details of my not-so-simultaneous journeys down the paths of chemistry and English another time, but for my first post, I'd like to share a memory from my winter break this year--making a Buche de Noel, a.k.a. a Yule Log Cake.
The Yule Log is a traditional European Christmas cake that originated from an ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice by burning a tree trunk. Oak, beech, elm, and cherry wood were believed to have luck and healing powers. Families would burn the log as a way of purging the old year of wrongs to bring luck for the new year, predicting harvest and family fortunes for the new year, and celebrating the rebirth of the sun after the solstice. When home hearths and chimneys got smaller, log-burning became less practical, and so the story goes that some Parisian chef invented a symbolic cake to stand in for the burning log. The cake could fit at the table, would not burn out prematurely unlike a real log during the rituals, and was also quite tasty.
Why my fascination with Yule Logs, you ask? Ever since childhood I have had an accidental tendency of spending hours on Wikipedia looking up information on my many tangential, non-academic interests. In high school, if I was engaging in my favorite hobby of Wikipedia'ing before dinner, I would often look up different foods, which was how I once got to reading about cakes around the world. I remember that Yule Logs were one of ones I saw that day, but I had mostly forgotten about them until I was visiting my younger brother at Pomona College my sophomore year of college and voila, their dining hall happened to be serving Yule Logs in honor of winter break. I unfortunately don't have a picture, but it was a raspberry "white" log cake instead of a traditional chocolate one, sort of like an iced swiss roll with a delightful spread of cream and raspberry jam on the inside. ...And two years later, I decided to make a real Yule Log for Christmas.
It had been a rough fall term replete with graduate school apps, so I was ready to let loose at home for break. I found a recipe online that was as close to traditional as I could find, and informed my mother that she did not have to worry about Christmas dessert this year. I took my parents shopping for confectioner's sugar and four bags of sweet chips at Walmart--the recipe called for both bittersweet and semisweet chocolate, and I was going to make a butterscotch bread pudding for New Year's.
The first part of creating the Buch de Noel involved making the ganache to go on top. For this, I poured over a bag of semisweet baking chocolate chips into a small saucepan and melted in a stick of butter, stirring thoroughly.
The ganache must be made first because it takes four hours to cool (with occasional stirring). The recipe warned against putting it in the refrigerator, which would make it hard to spread on the cake later.
The second step was making the batter. The cake is flourless, and substitutes eggs and chocolate for the texture instead. Luckily, my family buys those 48-packs at Costco, so I could justify using 7 egg whites just on dessert in one go. The egg whites were beaten until stiff. In the meantime, bittersweet chocolate was melted in the saucepan and set aside.
Then heavy cream was brought to a boil.
The egg whites were carefully folded into the cream and chocolate mixture....
...resulting in a decadent, foamy batter...
...then set in the oven to bake. Pro-tip: Do not forget to butter the parchment paper before pouring in the batter, because when I forgot to do that, it led to later problems.
Part 3: the filling in the cake. This involved the last of the semi-sweet chocolate, which was melted in the saucepan and set aside. Then, I had to boil sugar syrup to the soft-ball stage. I had read about the different stages of boiling candy in my mother's confectionary book, but this was the first time I had ever tried it.
The soft-ball stage means that when dropped into a bowl of cold water, the syrup forms into a malleable ball (if the spoonful was big enough) or, in my case, a malleable lump. So excited was I to document the success of my soft-ball boil on Snapchat video that I accidentally over-boiled it to hard-ball, and the syrup came away in sticky spikes. Oh well... I tried really hard to mash it well after mixing it with the melted chocolate and pouring it into beaten egg yolks.
Part 4: putting it all together. I spread the filling, replete with a few rogue spikes of sugar syrup, evenly over the cake. Then I attempted to peel the egg white cake off the parchment paper and mostly succeeded without shattering it. It came in a fragile, 3/4-inch thick layer. Rolling it was less successful. By the end, I had a smushed-looking log, the result of gingerly folding the cake into 3 layers...
By now, the ganache I had made 3.5 hours ago (because time really flew by) was pretty much cooled. The recipe said to remelt a quarter of it, which I did, resulting in a shiny, beautiful dark glaze over the cake.
Then came time to spread the cooled ganache on it. I knew immediately why the recipe had asked for the coating of melted ganache--the cooled ganache was super sticky, and the cake was way too fragile. If it had been in direct contact with the cooled ganache, I would have shredded it to bits. As it was, small parts of the cake came off, but the ganache created a really pretty bark-like effect.
Once the confectioner's sugar was added, the whole thing came together quite nicely!
Here's a picture of a cross-section of the cake.
As with most things in life, my log cake didn't turn out 100% how I expected--but it was pretty great all the same. Even my parents, whose eyes had widened at the amount of chocolate that was going into the thing, had a good remark to say about the mild sweetness level. And even my brother, who considers 76% chocolate to be milk chocolate, was impressed with the flavor. We ate it with hot cocoa from our espresso milk frother, a nice supplement to the Christmas feast my mother had prepared, shown below.
Here is the link to the recipe I used if anyone is interested in trying it out:
Thanks for reading! Till next time,