Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I did it! I made a trial run first, and learned from a few of my minor mistakes, but I tackled what I thought might be one of the trickiest things to make - a Bûche de Noël - and I came out victorious. The end result was a delicious and moist chocolate cake soaked with brandy and espresso, filled with a coffee-flavored whipped cream and ricotta filling with small, toothsome bits of dark chocolate, and the whole thing was covered with chocolate ganache. It was a lovely and yummy, and it actually tasted better as it aged in the fridge!
This was my first time making a genoise. I wasn't familiar with this type of a cake, as everything I'd done before had been a variation on the standard creamed butter and egg cake batter that goes into a 9" round pan and bakes for 40 minutes. I didn't know how it was going to roll without cracking, that confounded me. And I was wary of the syrup, having had only a single, and disastrous, experience with soaking a cake (I ended up with a flattened, soggy cake, ew). And I didn't think tiramisu counted, since the ladyfingers were purchased and therefore already a little dried out (did you know ladyfingers were piped genoise? I didn't!). But after all was said and done, it was pretty straightforward.
I won't lie, this took time. You have to pay attention, and be careful, especially with the cake batter. All its loft comes from egg whites, and you can't deflate them so you must whip, whip, whip then fold, fold, fold, gently. But on the plus side, the cake bakes and cools very quickly, so in 30 minutes your cake is ready for filling and rolling. I think if I made this again, if I could time it very well, I could do it all in about 2.5 hours. And that includes making my own ricotta! I could definitely keep it in under 2 hours if I skipped that step.
So here's what I did -
Cake: cocoa genoise, baked and cooled. Moistened with syrup (I didn't use all the syrup).
Syrup: 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water, heated and cooled, then added 1 TB espresso powder, 2 TB brandy.
Filling: Approx 1 cup ricotta, whipped with powdered sugar (2-3 TB). 1 cup heavy cream, whipped with powdered sugar and vanilla, whipped to soft peaks, added 1/4 tsp gelatin dissolved in 1 TB water, then whipped to firm peaks. Mix the ricotta into the whip cream and whip some more until combined. I then added coffee liqueur (a couple TB) and finely chopped dark chocolate.
Ganache: 7oz semisweet chocolate chips + 2 TB butter, added 1/4 cup almost boiling cream, stir, let cool, then frost when thickened but still spreadable. The trick for the great tree-bark texture is to glop it on rather thickly with big uneven swirls, then run a fork through, creating a nice pine-bark texture.
The Final Touches: The ornaments were fairly simple. I found some rather plump dried cherries and soaked them in heated brandy (you can just zap it in the microwave for a few). The mushrooms were purchased marzipan, shaped and dusted with cocoa. For the leaves, I used some Thai lime leaves from the freezer, and generously smeared the underside with melted semi-sweet chocolate. Then I let them cool, and just peeled the leaves away when the chocolate solidified. All of these can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.
All in all, it went smoothly, and I can't wait until next year, when I will try a different flavor combination - if my family lets me!