Mocha and Chestnut Yule Log: A Baking Adventure

I wouldn't normally label something as complex as a Yule log as "kid food," but this was done by request, and with the kid. The Pig has been really, really into the Great British Baking Show, and consequently found out there's a food version of the Yule log. In celebration of Yule this year, she asked if we could make one together. Since I sometimes don't think things through, and other times think I can do anything, I said yes. Not only did I say yes, I promised we'd do it on Yule itself.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. But also smart, because wow she learned a lot about herself, the world, interpersonal dynamics, history, modernity, tenacity, and the import of keeping one's word. She also found out that I was right that reading legitimately is the most powerful skill one can develop. I learned that I can, in fact, draw something decent if I have no choice, and also that it turns out I can pipe chocolate attractively. I generally reserve the doing of fine detail decorations for other people, but here we are and so I also learned a lot. In case you hadn't guessed at this point, this is a nightmarish story that still ended well. As such, I shall now properly begin.

After spending some time researching this particular cake (and never having actually seen one in person ever in my life), I went ahead and wrote a recipe for the sponge. I decided to go with cardamom and coffee scented cake filled with chestnut mousse. I got the mousse recipe off Bon Appetit. More on that part later. I also did meringue mushrooms, per her request, also from this same magazine. So, the recipe is as such (recipe in italics, story in regular font):

4 eggs*
1 cup sugar
1/3 C cocoa
1/3 C yogurt or buttermilk
2T coffee grounds
2/3 C flour
1T almond flour
2t baking powder
1/2t salt
1/4 cup oil
1T vanilla
3/4t ground cardamom

Looks pretty simple so far. Oh wait.

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a 17x12" jelly roll pan. "Prepare" here means: slather with butter, line with parchment, slather with butter. Some people use wax paper, so I suppose you can do that if that's what you've got. I almost did that because I couldn't find that parchment initially. This all went really well, though, because preparing pans is easy even without modern technology.

I then set about to measure out all the ingredients, because the Pig told me that she would be the one to make the cake. As soon as I had everything measured and ready to go, I started to walk to get the electric beaters. We don't have a stand mixer, so the beaters were the plan. As I was walking to the beaters, the power went out. Centerpoint, evidently, had line testing to do in the middle of my cake baking. For up to 4 hours.

Well... a promise is a promise. Unless you can't fulfill it for reasons outside your control, you have to keep your promises.

So I got out a large candle, a flashlight, and called her into the kitchen once those were set up. Whereupon I handed her a whisk and set her to work:

Beat the eggs and sugar until pale.

Those seven little words that normally seem to simple. And fast. She whisked for a while, and then handed it off to me to whisk. I whisked for a while. I got tired of it and went to get the manual beaters (so glad my prepper heart made me keep those when I wanted to get rid of them). She learned how to use manual beaters (these really suck always, but they suck a lot more for left-handed people). I learned how to use manual beaters more efficiently (even for a left-handed person). 30 or so minutes in, we had a pale mixture.

Combine flour and all dry, then add to eggs.

This was simple, because stirring is easy no matter the power situation.

Whisk remaining wet ingredients and fold into batter.Spread batter evenly into pan.

Also easy.

Bake cake 10-12 minutes - cake will spring back when pressed lightly if it's done.

Enter problems.

 

As you can see, candlelight baking. Except for that whole baking part. I decided that since I had several hours before I needed to also prepare our feast, (as well as it "only" being a max of 4 hours without electricity) I would not panic and run outside to build a fire and make-shift oven in the middle of our parking lot. I did, however, figure I should try to complete other steps of this process. And so the camping stove came out so I could melt chocolate for the bark. As such:





Melt 6 ounces of chocolate, then spread it as thinly as possible. 

I melted 7 ounces and did have a bit left over (oh noes!). This is not thin enough. The chocolate wasn't quite thin enough w/ a standard sized Silpat to really snap into bark, so it more bent into bark. That was fine for me, as it was more malleable so I could better mold it around the cake itself.

You also can see how important coffee was for me that day.

I set the Pig to crush some lime glass candy I made ages ago so we could use it as frost. My plan was to use a combination of powdered sugar dust and leftover meringue for snow, and the candy would provide sparkle.

 

You can see here that she does a fine job, and also that my phone's flash is AMAZING. Everything is so bright and electricty-y in these pics! She asked for a chocolate moose to be on her cake, and I was like, "let me see if I have a cookie cutter/stencil for that." No dice, naturally. I had a bear, a fox, and an owl. But she really wanted a moose, so I etched those three cutters on wax paper, pulled up Google Images of moose drawings on my phone, and set about to learn to draw/etch in wax paper. The moose came out so well I decided to make an English yew as well. That also came out well, though it happily can be confused for some beautiful kind of mushroom I'd never seen before I was shown a pic on Facebook.

I decided to start the meringue for the mushrooms, because meringue takes like, 15 minutes start to finish even with a whisk. Except that day. Why should that go right that day? Here is the recipe for the meringues, as apparently I'm more interested in telling my tale than telling y'all how to make this stuff. The meringue wouldn't gel. I whisked and whisked and whisked until my poor arthritic hand couldn't take anymore. And then Ross got home right as I thought I might cry, so I made him whisk.

Then: THE POWER CAME BACK ON!!!

From there, it was fairly quick work. As soon as the oven was done reheating (which was quick, and convenient since I didn't shut the oven off when the power went out), I tossed (not literally, though I wanted to) the cake in the oven. I gave it 11 minutes, which I regret. 10 was fine. I then flipped the cake onto a powdered sugar coated towel (learn from me and don't use a flour sack towel - use something with more heft), sugared the other side of the cake, and rolled that bad boy up. I knew before I was done that the cake was going to break when I unrolled it, but whatever. Totally over it at this point. And thanks, Spidey-Senses, for not telling me this BEFORE I was mostly done rolling. Because, y'know... why not have more drama instead of being able to fix something quickly?



Off to the fan immediately for the cake to chill more quickly. After all, I'd spent 3.5 hours trying to do things without power, and I was really running out of time. I then flipped the heat down and got my meringues in the oven with a quickness. Because they take 90 or so minutes to bake. I didn't really care about the oven heat anymore, but I had left the open ajar and turned the heat down while I was rolling the cake, and it wasn't too much hotter by the time the meringues went in than it was meant to be.

I then melted the next 6 ounces of chocolate (I used milk this time, since the bark was dark chocolate) and put my writing tip into my spare pastry bag. It fell out.

It fell out.

Evidently that bag is for large tips only. I put the chocolate in a Ziplock and thought a silent prayer of thanks to myself for not having run out of Ziplocks (this has been a process where I'm no longer buying plastic bags, and so very easily I could've been out and had to do this by spatula). Then I piped my shapes and set them out to dry.

 

I'm really proud of that yew. But, it was then time to make the chestnut mousse. At this point, I no longer wanted to see a kitchen, let alone use one. But alas, a promise is a promise. Here is that recipe. It should be noted that you need to cook the milk mixture longer than you think you do, b/c you will really need the fridge's help to firm up your mousse properly otherwise. But, the mousse got done. And fast, because yay technology!!

I unrolled my fan-cooled cake and saw a small break. Whatever. I just can't care about that anymore. I added my chilled (in the freezer) mousse and began to roll it up again. Where there was more breakage. At this point, it was just one more in a long line of hits for the day, so that too was whatever. Cake went into the fridge to chill again.



At this point I just want some microwave nachos. Looking at that picture, I kind of want those still. Gonna need to make some today. It's glorious how a terrible-yet-satisfying lazy version of nachos can take 3 minutes to make and still make you happy.

Anyway, the meringues were done and I used a bit of (reheated) Ziplock chocolate (I don't care about the fact that I shouldn't have put the chocolate in the microwave to warm while still in the Ziplock, b/c survival mode at this point) to glue the tops onto the stems that kind of looked like tops. I thought the "dust with cocoa" thing was kind of suspect, but it turned out to cut that sweetness in all the right ways. While I was getting on with that, the Pig decided she should frost the cake before I applied decorations.



She did a fine job. I wasn't very smart and left it on the wax paper until I was ready to transfer, and I really strongly recommend you never do this. Because you might wind up eating a bit of wax paper if you aren't paying attention closely.

Once she was done, I transferred to tray and applied the bark. I also cut off a knob to stick on the end upright. That's actually a lie. What I did was cut off both ends so as to make the cake appearance nicer in sum, then stacked them to make a knob. I'm impressed they never fell off each other. Bark applied, she was in charge of the mushrooms and completed that portion of the cake decoration as I sprinkled the cake and some of the raw meringue "snow" I'd piped onto the tray with ground pistachio for a "mossy" sort of look.

When I went to peel the animals and tree off the wax paper, they were bendy. Not ideal, so I popped them in the freezer for a bit. Upon opening the freezer, the tray fell out. I let out a primal scream that stopped both me and my family. That was really just too much for me. The bear was decapitated and the tree lost a limb and some bits. I could hear myself screaming, even though I wasn't aware of actually doing it, and that shocked me into silence. Ross was like, "what can I do to help!?" and suddenly I was calm/resigned/defeated and I said, "nah. I got it." And I just carried on as though I hadn't just finished acting like a wild animal.

And like that, the cake was done.






And then she said it. She "Paul"ed me and said, "let's see how it looks inside." I already knew this cake was broken and that it'd be highly visible, but I was gonna eat this cake so it had to be cut anyway.



It was hard to care anymore about the breakage, because LOOK AT THAT CAKE!



I really am quite proud of that free drawn little moose.

But here is the important part: LOOK AT MUH TREE!



It should be noted at this time that this didn't have a hint of coffee - it's full on mocha, and the cardamom was pleasantly present without being super noticeable. This cake was astoundingly delicious. We all had some during Yule (though mainly bites off her plate instead of slices of our own) and it's really a bit richer than you'd think it is from looking at it. We took a slice to the Pig's great-grandmother during our visit with her on Saturday, and the rest of the cake to her grandparents so we could eat it all up on Sunday. Except one slice, which we brought home for her. It is, however, RICH. Don't try to eat this with ice cream.

I have no idea what kind of design she's gonna want next year, but I do know that I am afraid. I am also really glad I didn't have to bake in a make-shift oven. Because that's often not very fun.

* I did not separate the eggs, mainly because of the electricity issue. That said, whenever I make this again, I will separate and cream only the sugar and the yolks, then fold the whites (whipped to stiff peaks) into the batter after all other additions. This would lighten up the cake a bit, which would take the edge off its richness.

Comments

  1. Wow. That is a beautiful cake. If it tastes even half as good as it looks, I'd count it a rousing success!

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