Monday, December 29, 2008

Daring Bakers December 2008: Murphy's Law Edition

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 have few pictures for you this month, mainly due to the fact that this month's challenge was pretty much a complete failure. It seems that this month, my baking mojo left me to fend for myself. Believe me, it was not pretty. After what seemed like the ten-billionth thing to go wrong, I found myself in a ball of tears on the kitchen floor around 9:00 pm on Christmas Eve. But even though this was the challenge that made me want to rip out my kitchen and give up baking forever, I completed it. And it was edible (if not pretty). And this month, that in itself is quite an accomplishment.

A quick preface: A French Yule log is different quite different from what I consider to be the more traditional Yule log. The French version is more of a frozen entrements, or "creamy dessert," as opposed to a cake. It includes a variety of different elements, each surrounded by an insanely rich and delicious dark chocolate mousse. So...without further adieu, here's the story of the dessert that got the best of me.

We were given lots of freedom to play with flavors, and I quickly settled on a chocolate and hazlenut dessert with a hint of coffee. So, I started baking the dacquoise. I decided to use hazlenut meal instead of almond meal. I made my own meal, but ran into trouble when I just couldn't seem to grind my hazlenuts into a fine enough meal. It worked, but my dacquoise was grainer and thinner than I would have liked, partially because the larger pieces of nuts deflated my heavily whipped egg whites, which is what normally would give the biscuit its lift. But, since it tasted fine, I didn't worry too much about it.

Second was the dark chocolate mousse. The mousse recipe involved making a pate a bomb which involved beating egg yolks with a sugar syrup. This gives the mousse added structure to be able to support the other elements of the cake. On my first attempt, I heated the sugar too hot, and when I added the syrup to the beaten egg yolks, it hardened and left a lump of yolk covered rock candy at the bottom of the mixng bowl. (Though the little bits of syrup that hit the whisk as it was mixing turned to cotton candy, so I accidentally made cotton candy with my Kitchen Aid). After cleaning the bowl, I went back for take two. Instead of waiting for the syrup to reach 244 F, I just let it go until it reached the lower limit of the "softball" range indicated on my candy thermometer. This time it worked, and the rest of the mousse came together really well. (Did I mention that it was insanely rich and delicious?)

Next, I made the creme brulee insert, which is what really did me in. When infusing the cream with the vanilla bean, I few in a few coffee beans as well. This was an experiment, and flavor wise, it actually worked out really well. The coffee flavor was more subtle (which I wanted) and the beans didn't discolor the creme brulee, which was also good because I wanted the contrast of the light custard against the dark chocolate of the rest of the dessert. It was in the baking and setting of the custard that I ran into trouble. The recipe said to bake at 210 F degrees, but I read that many daring bakers had trouble getting the creme brulee to set at that temperature, so they increased it. So I started out baing it at 245 F. After an hour, it was still liquid. So, I bumped the temp up to 270 F and baked for another hour. When I pulled it out, I gave it a jiggle, and it seemd "firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center." So I covered it and put it in the fridge to continue setting.

The next day, I went about finishing the dessert. I started by making the praline feuillete, or crisp. Knowing my own limits, I knew better than to attempt to make my own praline, and instead decided to use Nutella instead. I'd read that it worked really well for some other DBs, and it went very well with my chocolate-hazlenut flavor. But I did intend to make my own gavottes (very thin lace crepes which are used to make the crisp part). It seems I wasn't able to spread the batter evenly, so while I got nice crisps in some part of the pan, the rest was softer and more crepe like. Unusable. So I tossed those and went to Plan B: Rice Krispies. Not as elegant, but they worked. And really, I discovered that chocolate and Nutella covered Rice Krispies are a treat unto themselves.

It was finally time for me to start assembling my Yule Log. I assembled it upside down in a loaf pan, not having the more traditional half-pipe mold. I put down a layer of the dacquoise and topped with a third of the mousse. So far so good. Then, I went to get my creme brulee, and when I unmolded it to place it in the mousse, I discovered it hadn't set at all. Still runny. And since I unmolded it unto my loaf pan mold, I couldn't take it out. This caused me to turn to Psycling and inform him that it was ruined, and it looked like we wouldn't have dessert for Christmas dinner. But, already having put so much time and effort into this dessert, I soldiered on. So I added the next third of the mousse and my Rice Krispie feuillete, followed by the last of the mousse. Then I put it in the fridge to stay cool while I made the ganache insert.

(Convinced this dessert was totally ruined, I made a back-up dessert, which also totally failed when my cake didn't rise enough, so that ended up in the trash too. It was not a good night.)
When I think of ganache, I think of chocolate melted together with some cream and butter. But this ganache was done differently. I started by making a caramel. When the caramel was just about ready, I realized I hadn't started heating the cream yet, and when I went to go get it started, I bumped the glass and spilled it everywhere. There was cream all over the kitchen floor, under the oven, everywhere. At this point (about 9:00 pm Christmas Eve) that was the last straw. I collapsed in a big pile of tears convinced I would never be able to do anything right agian. Once I had that cleaned up, the sugar caramel was burned, and I had to start over. So,m I threw that out and started over again. This time, I manged to not spill the cream, cooked the caramel to a nice dark amber, (darker than I made it for last month's challenge), and when I whisked them together, and added my chocolate and butter, I got a wonderful smooth ganache with a deeper flavor thanks to the caramelized sugar. I added it to my log, topped with another layer of the dacquoise, and stuck it in the freezer for the night.

The next day, after a nice breakfast, and a quiet and low-key Christmas with Psycling, my mom, my brother, and of course, the Munchkin, I set out to make the glaze. This was the only element that I completed without a hitch. It was a beautiful shiny glaze that set just right.

I ended up bringing this dessert to our Christmas dinner with friends (with a pan of uber-yummy brownies just in case) with the caveat that they might not be edible. When I sliced it open, it wasn't very pretty (more marbled than layered thanks to the runny creme brulee), but it tasted great, and it got lots of compliments. Though to be honest, I didn't particularly enjoy it. It tasted good. But I was so jaded by how much trouble it gave me that I didn't particularly want to eat it.

I'd like to try this again sometime, and get it right. But I think it will take a while before I work up the guts to go for it again.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) and that you have a wonderful 2009!