Do the Yule Log Roll
A friend who's more like a younger sister celebrated her 30th birthday over the weekend, so a group of older folks decided to help her around the bend into a new decade. A bunch of calls were made, as were potluck assignments, and I set out to make a birthday dessert fit for a December babe in the woods.
The first thing that came to mind was a traditional buche de Noel, aka a yule log. Essentially, a yule log is a roulade, a fancy word for a cake layer that gets rolled up and filled with something yummy. Traditionally, the "log" is made from a genoise (sponge) cake, and the filling is made from buttercream or a flavored whipped cream. The idea is to make the cake look like a wood in the middle of an enchanted forest on a wintry day.
As tempting as it sounded, a traditional yule log calls for 2 or 3 hefty sticks of butter for ye olde buttercream, a cholesterol reality that had me rethink my Yuletide notion. I wanted something a bit lighter -- at least on the tongue -- and assumed my guests would, too.
And then, just like a Christmas dessert miracle, a recipe for an alternative roulade recipe appeared before my very eyes. Instead of sponge cake, this log called for a snow-white meringue, filled with mascarpone cheese, a spreadable, adaptable Italian "cream" cheese. Sounded like a dream come true.
However, as I studied the recipe, which comes from Sara Perry's "Holiday Baking," I wanted more color contrast than the white-on-white result that this version would offer. I called a trusted friend who's spent time as a pastry chef and asked for his thoughts on flavoring mascarpone with chocolate . . . it could be a yule log in reverse I thought. Snow covered, in fact!
He gave me thumbs up to my chocolate mascarpone idea and suggested adding a touch of booze, not so much to get my guests drunk, but to punch up the chocolate flavor, much like the way salt enhances the flavor of fruit. Kapow on the tongue.
Making meringue, by the way, is easier than making a cake batter. The trickiest part is separating the eggs because the whites then get beaten with cream of tartar and sugar that transform into glossy Alpine peaks. The fluffy stuff then gets baked in a shallow baking sheet called a jelly roll pan. Don't worry; even though it puffs up like some crazy hairdo, the meringue is quite pliable and will behave when it's time to roll.
After I got the approval to chocolatize my mascarpone, I melted about 6 ounces of bittersweet choc which I added to the cheesy mixture. The flavors were exquisite. I couldn't get over how the chocolate and cheese were whispering love notions to each other. What a combo!
A few notes to keep in mind: Allow meringue to thoroughly cool. Do not panic as you roll up your log; the bottom layer of parchment helps you keep things on track. Allow time to chill whole thing for at least 2 hours to completely set up. Don't slice until ready to serve.
I set the platter in front of the guest to serve themselves and there was a moment of silence, followed by a unison of "Oh my God." I think that means "delicious."
Adapted from "Holiday Baking" by Sara Perry
8 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ¾ cup superfine sugar (aka bar sugar; Alternatively whiz 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor or blender until fine, about 20 seconds)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
powdered sugar for dusting
To make meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of a 10x15 jelly roll pan with parchment paper and grease it lightly.
Using an electric mixer or standing mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Increase to high speed, slowly add sugar, and beat until glossy, stiff peaks form (not dry peaks), at least 6 minutes. Fold in vanilla, then dust meringue with cornstarch.
Pour meringue into prepared pan and smooth it out. Bake for 30 minutes. It will be puffy and high. Cool for five minutes, then loosen any edges that stick to the pan. Gently turn over onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with powdered sugar. Cool for 10 minutes, then peel off paper.
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces mascarpone
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons baker's sugar
3 ounces Grand marnier, Kirsch
In a double boiler, melt chocolate and allow to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, beat on low speed mascarpone, cream and sugar, until blended. Add chocolate and liquor, if using.
To assemble: With a rubber spatula, scoop filling out of bowl and onto meringue layer (I trimmed edges with a serrated knife to make a straight edge.) and spread to coat evenly over entire surface. Beginning at a short side, carefully roll up meringue, using parchment paper to support it. Go slowly and keep rolling, using paper as your guide. When rolled, keep meringue covered with paper, place on a baking sheet and cover entire surface with foil or plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for 2-3 hours before serving. When ready to serve, slice. Best eaten while still somewhat cooled.
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