Tutorial: Bûche de Noël

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I am so proud of myself! It is customary every Christmas with the fam for me to destroy the kitchen with my annual pudding experiment. What is extremely fitting is that last year I played with chocolate tempering for the perfect chocolate truffles. Now, after my lucky time spent training with a team of chocolatier apprentices in France (as you do) I can finally put the lessons to practice. I became possessed. I sat for days comparing recipes, visualising and calculating. I am such a child, I was in my element – I even bought a sugar thermometer.

Now I wouldn’t advise you to wing it with proportions. I did this and it led to many complications. I combined aspects of several recipes and recommendations. Below I’ve listed the main components with a handy diagram.

Buche de noel diagramDacquoise. This is a crispy hazelnut meringue base
Praline Feuillete. A layer of chocolate, gianduja and crispy goodness. I just added rice crispies and nutella to melted chocolate. Seriously.
Chocolate mousse. Whilst there are many recipes out there make sure it contains gelatine – sheets not powder – for a good set. I also prefer the pâte à bombe method used in the recipes below.
Praline mousse. You can always use ground hazelnuts folded into a basic vanilla mousse mixture. However I heroically made my own praline just for the crack. I’m not going to tell you how I did it because the hassle is the equivalent to making your own curry paste. Buy a jar it tastes the same. Also it won’t cause your mother a heart attack when she’s trying to cook a turkey and you are standing there with a sack of hazelnuts and a pestle.
Chocolate glaze. Use good quality cocoa powder and ensure there is enough gelatine. This is normally done last minute before the buche fully defrosts so you must ensure it’s cooled to room temperature before pouring and will be thick enough to coat.
Tempered chocolate decorations. If you wish to sell your soul to the devil.

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Now, if you have time and want to save stress, I would suggest you follow this schedule:
Day one. Make inner mousse and freeze. Start chocolate decorations as these will store for a few days.
Day two. Prepare the feuillete and dacquoise inserts.
Day three. Make the outer mousse and assemble all components in the mould. Freeze.
Serving day. In the morning prepare the glaze, pour over, return to the freezer to set. It tastes great either partially frozen or fully defrosted, so it’s up to you, allow two to three hours.

I did it all in less two days which is not advisable on Christmas eve…

Tips for assemblage.
Half a cereal box cut down works well for the inner praline mousse mould – that’s if you are using a rectangle.

Use acetate, or even foil to line the mould. Do NOT use cling film. It is a nightmare to pour the mousse into and falls apart as you try to peel it off frozen. It then leaves an undesirably rugged edge, though this should be hidden by the glaze.

As I said, do not skimp on the gelatine for the glaze, I did a rough guess of powder instead of sheets and found myself standing outside in the cold on xmas morning, stirring and hopelessly waiting for it to thicken (the fridge was too full).

20141225_155219Decoration.
Chocolate tempering is always worth the effort even though it rarely works for me. Some tips here. I want to stubbornly point out that the white smear on the square in the picture above is an experiment with white chocolate, not a bad bloom from tempering.
The tree was made by cutting set sheets of chocolate with a template and hot knife then sealing together. It’s fiddly work but I found it rather therapeutic.
The pine cone was made by piping spattered star shapes on a baking sheet in different sizes. Once set, I would use the tip of a hot knife to stack and glue them on top of each other.
And there we have it. There are endless possibilities of flavours and layers to experiment with. The three recipes that I combined my elements from were Cannelle VanillePatisserie Makes Perfect and La Fee Chantilly (in French). There you can pick your winning combination. Next I’m thinking pistachio or salted caramel?

Recipe: apple walnut loaf from the wilderness

As mentioned in my previous post, this cake is great for all those spontaneous road trips into the French countryside when resources are limited. Can also be enjoyed with a glass of wine out on the vineyards.. as you do.

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Ingredients

  • Two dodgy apples from the tree outside
  • A handful of freshly picked walnuts, wrestled from the dogs
  • Three eggs laid this morning by the hens
  • A splash of milk
  • Approximately two glugs of olive oil (unless you have butter kicking about)
  • Ten stolen sugar sachets from the airport Starbucks that I found in my rucksack
  • Four tablespoons of flour
  • A teaspoon of cinnamon, conveniently found in the cupboard

Method

  • Shell and chop the walnuts whilst drinking a large glass of wine and listening to some crackly French radio. Cube the apples
  • Discard half the cubed apples – a kitten jumped in the bowl and licked them
  • If you don’t have any raising agent, which I didn’t: separate the eggs and beat the crap out of the egg whites with your camping fork until stiff
  • Shove everything in a bowl and mix together, fold in the egg whites last. We can’t be fussy about procedure here
  • Pour into a suspect looking casserole dish and pop into your tiny, one-temperature-suits-all camping oven. Bake for approx 20 minutes or until you smell burning.

I also made others with banana and coffee. These flavours work particularly well in retaining moisture, because you are likely to overcook the loaf. I did this every time because I was too distracted chasing after the dogs for the mixing bowl.

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Review: Not Another Pop Up

Tucked at the beginning of Angel’s Chapel Market, this prime lunch and coffee spot is open for business. Just two weeks in and Not Another Pop Up already sees daily lunch queues out the door, with crowds eagerly anticipating what’s on offer. And with Chapel Market already home to a plethora of pop ups, the pressure is on to set themselves apart from the rest.

With pastries from Gail’s Artisan Bakery lining the window, it’s hard not to step inside. For some unknown reason, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas plays overhead (it’s March?), yet it fits comfortably with the mood of this little establishment. In addition to the much promoted authentic Italian coffee, you also receive authentic Italian service: merry, chaotic and loving. Amongst this familiar atmosphere the staff are eager to please, eager to feed and will happily mix and match your chosen dish if you can’t decide. Moroccan salad, beetroot tart and Spanish omelette are amongst many dishes that the chef invents daily from locally sourced produce. Though the stars of the show are undeniably the mammoth pork shoulder and hunk of beef sirloin sitting happily on the counter, just waiting to fall off the bone and onto your plate. From this it’s easy to deduce where the popularity lies.
“Oh, not another pop up” you may sigh under your breath as you walk past, but I can definitely confirm that this new neighbour is here to stay.

Not another pop up flyer

A Woman’s Right to Truffles.

A young woman, with too much time on her hands, put it upon herself one evening in the spirit of Christmas, to start up a production line of truffles to brighten up the faces of her beloved friends and colleagues.

Though she succeeded in her efforts, the young lady encountered many hurdles in her journey. Without the aid of a sugar thermometer, a marble tempering slab and a working kitchen; she thought all was lost. However, amongst the chaos, her enthusiasm continued to burn from within and the aspiring chocolatier muddled onwards in her journey.

Success came in the form of over 100 dazzlingly decadent truffles, spanning as far as the eye could see.

home made truffles

That’s right, over 100 truffles. Needless to say the fairytale intentions of how my truffle project began did not conclude as predicted. Let us turn to the reality of the story – that once again I embarked on a ridiculous 36 hour, unequipped mess of cocoa-intoxicated chaos. It’s a common trait of my cooking that I begin with an unrivalled passion, diving in with ingredients like a puppy into a river. Halfway through I slowly become less enthused as things don’t go my way, eventually panicking, throwing in some cornflour (regardless of the dish) and storming off.

This time there was only really one small problem: there were just too bloody many of them and I didn’t have the patience, space or resources to deal with them. Perhaps the five tubs of double cream and kilo of chocolate were the first warning signs that I was in over my head. It was like the film Gremlins.

I just wanted to make truffles for everyone, receive the praise then eat the rest in secret.

Tempered chocolate chocolate truffles rejects
Truffles. Ganache. Recipe. Christmas.Chocolate truffles in nests

This is the moment where the blogger smugly inserts a recipe after providing you with an 80 step photo guide of them seductively licking a spoon.

Sadly I haven’t included a recipe. In fact I never include a recipe, because my chaotic, ad hoc methods vary from each batch to the next. Would you want it any other way? Dark will be the day when I write a recipe on here. So, as a general rule I would recommend an equal ratio of chocolate to cream. Then add some sugar, as much Baileys, Disaronno, or rum as you would see fit. Then double it. I believe the entire process involved consumption of about five glasses of Baileys and several rashly made Old Fashioned cocktails to ease my impatience at the ridiculous situation I had gotten myself into.

chocolate truffles

One more sexy shot

To conclude, I have written several points on truffle Do’s and Don’ts to get you through this difficult task, should you so wish to attempt it.

Truffle Do’s

– Allow at least a week out of your schedule, if not more. I set up an Out of Office email.
– Find a suitable workspace. My kitchen was out of action so I newspapered the spare room and popped season six of Mad Men on the laptop.
– Keep your hands cold for handling the chocolate. I am blessed with this natural gift.
– Use a melon baller for precision.
– Sparkle dust is a must.
– Temper the chocolate coating, it adds a shiny touch.
– Have patience. Days of patience.
– Check your door handles, ceilings, ears, elbows and toes after. Chocolate will be there.

Truffle Don’ts

– Overheat your cream. The ganache will split and you will cry your eyes out. If, touch wood, it happens, this lady I found knows what to do.
– Drink a pint of Woodford Reserve beforehand. I know it’s Christmas, but it will lead to loss in precision. The result? Inconsistent balls. We don’t want inconsistent balls.
– Use crap chocolate. 70 per cent minimum people!
– Get carried away. No one needs 100 truffles, your friends and family will be sick of you.

Ok fine, if you must have a recipe from a sober source, let it be a reliable Felicity from the Guardian which mine is loosely based on.

Hooray!

Ganache truffles chocolate christmas recipe

No inconsistent balls for you.

Taste of Christmas

Me and some pals kicked off Christmas early last weekend by heading down to London’s Tobacco Dock to chomp on some free samples and chug down a tanker of mulled wine or six. Fighting our way through the hordes, it proved a challenge to reach the good stuff. However we soon perfected our skills of sniffing out the best stands and scavenging what we could from a wide range of suppliers and their festive produce.

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Alas, too many fans had been camping since the early hours to witness Michel Roux Jr cook up something spectacular, which I was sad to miss. But I still got a pretty good view of his head.

Michel Roux Jr, Taste of Christmas, London

Mr Roux Jr from afar…

I was very excited to see ChocoPassion displaying their cleverly crafted chocolate selection as it triggered fond memories of the Christmas markets of Bologna, as mentioned in a previous post during the ol’ Erasmus days.

ChocoPassion Taste of Christmas, London 2013

As we toddled our way home thoroughly please with our efforts, we came up with some favourites:

– The mammoth sized brownies from Olivier’s Bakery
– The Opera Tavern’s truffled mac n’ cheese. Bloody flippin good.
– Heck for their morish sausage delights that come in funky foil packaging. Who would have thought sausages could be so cool? the chorizo was particularly amazing
Barbecoa’s dreamy pulled pork shoulder with jalapeño cornbread and apple slaw.
– Green and Black’s tea and chocolate tastings.

Next time I will definitely make it my mission to see some of the top chefs on the agenda. Sadly the ticket cost doesn’t really make it all worth it unless you get to watch several demonstrations. But I got my dinner, so who’s complaining?