Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Daring Bakers #14 - Yule Log

With plenty of Christmas baking happening, it was appropriate that the Daring Bakers join in with the festive Yule Log. There are many versions of this classic, but the version we were assigned to make involved a genoise sponge filled and iced with coffee buttercream and decorated with meringue or marzipan mushrooms.

The actual recipe was straightforward and simple to make but it involved several steps and a bit of time set aside to make it and the commodity most lacking in December is time. As my mum's birthday is on Christmas Eve, I thought it would be nice to share the Yule Log as her birthday cake (she's very used to the blurring of Christmas and birthdays!) I intended to make and blog about this cake on 23 December (as we were supposed to post our Daring Bakers blog entry on 22 or 23 December)and then serve it for mum's birthday lunch the next day.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men of course went astray and so I found myself taking over mum's kitchen on Christmas Eve to make up the Yule Log. The genoise sponge was very easy to make, involving a mixture of eggs, egg yolks, sugar and flour that baked for just 10 minutes. It made a lovely light airy sponge cake. Although the instructions said to let the sponge cool and then roll up, I've found from previous swiss roll cake making that it's best to roll the sponge in a tea-towel when hot and let it cool in that shape, which helps prevent cracking.

The buttercream was made by beating egg whites and sugar over hot water until hot, then beating to a meringue and then mixing in a large portion of butter, followed by coffee granules dissolved in liquor. Not having made buttercream like this before, I was a bit dubious but the end result was a light, sweet cream that spread easily on the cake. I found that there was far too much buttercream for the cake and I could easily have used half the amount that was made. As it was, my Yule Log increased greatly in size as I piled on spoonful after spoonful of buttercream.

The final step was to make meringue mushrooms for decoration. Unfortunately I ran out of time to make these, so my Yule Log was served up with no decoration. Apologies to Lis and Ivonne, this month's hosts, for not quite completing the challenge as specified (and for being a day or two late in posting).

To assemble, the sponge was unrolled and filled with buttercream. I sliced off the ends and put these on the log to make a stump shape, which was then iced all over with buttercream. A fork drawn through the buttercream helped to give it the appearance of bark.

The Yule Log was eagerly received by the assorted family members and birthday girl, although opinions differed as to whether it really looked like a log or was more like a submarine or tank! However, all were agreed that the buttercream was probably too rich and sweet and so small portions of this cake were more than enough. While I would definitely make the genoise sponge again, as I think it would lend itself to all types of fillings, I would probably make less buttercream or adjust the recipe in some way to make it less rich and sweet.

Once again, this was a fun challenge to make. Thanks to Lis and Ivonne for choosing a fun, festive treat to make and I look forward to more DB challenges in 2008!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spiced biscuits for Christmas

With just 10 days to go until Christmas Day, it's time to get serious about Christmas baking. Now is the time to organise ingredients and a timetable for making sweet little edible gifts. My files are bulging with ideas, including recipes for gingerbread, nougat, shortbread, chocolate fudge or truffles, panforte and mince tarts. It's just a matter of deciding what to make. There are some old favourites that I love to make every year but I also like to try something new each year.

Last year, I gave little boxes of chocolate fudge and pistachio and cranberry nougat. I planned to repeat the process this year until I ran into the great liquid glucose brick wall. Last year, liquid glucose was on the shelf at my supermarket but this year it's nowhere to be seen and the local health food shop is out of stock.

With the clock ticking, as I needed my gifts ready for the next day when we were catching up with several groups of friends, the fudge was fine but I had to quickly come up with something else to accompany it. I wanted something quick and simple but with a Christmas theme, so I decided to give a festive twist to my grandmother's burnt butter biscuit recipe by adding some spices commonly associated with Christmas. The result was so good that I may make the spiced version far more often than the original!

These biscuits are another entry into Susan from Food Blogga's "Eat Christmas Cookies" event (in which I've previously entered lebkuchen). This event, which has been running all month, is a great source of inspiration and is providing me with a whole lot more biscuit recipes for my already massive file. Recipes have been posted from all around the world and it's been fascinating to learn about different traditions and ingredients, not to mention the lovely stories that accompany these recipes.

These little biscuits are extremely easy to make, keep well, are easy to store and transport as gifts and will be quickly devoured!


115g butter
115g caster sugar
1 egg
200g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom
almonds for decoration (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat until it is a light brown colour. Cool. Add the caster sugar and beat to a cream, then add the egg and beat well. Sift the flour and spices together and mix in until you have a soft dough. Roll into small balls and press half an almond in each (this is optional. The biscuits are just as nice without the almonds, so please leave out if you're worried about nut allergies). Leave room on the tray for the biscuits to spread. Cook in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Beautiful berries

I can't believe that it's almost berry time again. This year has flown so quickly. It seems like barely yesterday that I was busy filling up containers with juicy jewels of raspberries, blackberries, youngberries and brambleberries and now it's time to pick again.

Berries are my favourite of fruits. I love them fresh from the vine (one for the container, one for me...), mixed into fresh tarts, desserts and cakes and used to make jam or ice-cream.

Each year my family and I go berry picking. Not only is it cheaper than buying punnets from the markets but it's so much more fun to fill your own containers and we make quite a day of it. The first thing I do when I get home is to make raspberry jam and a fresh raspberry tart and then I divide the berries up into containers to freeze and use throughout the year. This year, I've been quite frugal with the berries, not wanting to run out, so now I'm frantically using up the last batches before they are filled again next weekend.

While deciding what to make, I found a recipe by Stephanie Alexander called "Prue's Blueberry Bake". Despite the name, the recipe says you can substitute raspberries or mulberries instead of blueberries. As I had blackberries, I used them instead and they worked well. The berry bake is a cross between a cake and a slice: you make a basic butter cake and then spread it into a lamington tin, top with berries and walnuts, and bake. Although it tastes like a cake, it looks like a slice. It is extremely easy to make and is perfect for a mid-morning snack or for afternoon tea.


125g unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
200ml sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
250g blueberries, raspberries, mulberries or blackberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup icing sugar
About 2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time. Sift flour, bicarb soda and baking powder into a bowl and fold into the butter mixture alternately with the cream and lemon juice until you have a smooth batter.

Pour into a lined lamington tin (30cm x 21cm) and sprinkle over the berries and walnuts (these will sink as the cake bakes). Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden on top. Cool in the tin.

To make icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add hot water and mix with a fork until you have a thick, smooth pourable paste. Mix in the vanilla extract. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow to set before serving.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Christmas time - lebkuchen

Now that it's December, I feel I can officially get excited about Christmas. The trees and decorations have been all around town since November, but I don't feel like I can start celebrating until December begins. But now it's time to get into the full swing of Christmas baking!

I've already made my Christmas pudding and cake and they are maturing nicely in cool, dark places. Now I can turn my attention to spiced biscuits, panforte, panettone and all sorts of other sweet treats that will make good presents.

I'm not the only one preparing for Christmas baking. Susan from Food Blogga also feels that baking and eating is part of the true Christmas spirit and she is hosting an "Eat Christmas cookies" blog event. People from around the world have been sending in their favourite recipes, usually accompanied by a story about why these biscuits are special in their family.

There's many dishes I associate with Christmas, As I've already blogged about my grandmother's shortbread, this post is about my Aunt Margaret's lebkuchen biscuits. Margaret is of Austrian heritage and each Christmas she always made a huge batch of lebkuchen biscuits, a spicy biscuit topped with lemon icing. Rather than being eaten on Christmas Day, we feasted on them in the lead-up to Christmas and afterwards. After many years, I've finally obtained the recipe and this year I made my first batch of lebkuchen. They were delicious and will definitely become part of my Christmas baking repertoire each year.


1 cup honey
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup treacle or molasses
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons finely chopped mixed peel
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 cup finely chopped blanched almonds (or use almond meal)
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1 egg, beaten
3 cups self-raising flour
1 1/2 cups plain flour

Mix honey, treacle, sugar, spices, mixed peel and almonds. Stir soda into boiling water and add to the fruit/sugar mixture along with beaten egg. Mix in flour, one cup at a time. This makes a very stiff mixture and must be thoroughly blended. Leave at least overnight in the fridge to ripen*.

Next day, roll out mixture to approximately 1/2 inch thick, cut into bars/shapes, place on baking paper-lined baking trays and bake in moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. While still warm, ice with lemon or orange-flavoured icing (I prefer lemon). Leave to set completely before storing in airtight containers. Makes approximately 80-90 biscuits.

* Note - dough can be left two or three days to ripen in fridge if desired - it only improves the flavour.