Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Egg Cake

While searching for something new and different to bake, I started pulling all of my cookbooks off the shelf, including The 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, the first edition of Fannie Farmer’s classic cookbook. I’ve often skimmed through it because the recipes are fascinating as well as a fascinating look at life over a century ago. I’ve never made any of the recipes, but they are fun to look at. Take for instance the recipe for Mock Turtle Soup. There are no turtles in it. Instead, the first ingredient is “1 calf’s head”, not something one usually sees in the market today.

One recipe did catch my eye. It was entitled "One Egg Cake". Could this possibly be the long lost birthday cake recipe that I have spent decades looking for? It is significantly different from the Betty Crocker Dinette Cake recipe that I have been baking. Betty uses shortening, Fannie uses butter. Betty uses vanilla, Fannie doesn’t. I’ve never made a cake without vanilla, have you? Just for fun, I decided to try the recipe.

If you think baking is an art today, back in Fannie’s day it was practically alchemy. Just getting the temperature correct in the oven was a challenge. There were no gas or electric stoves then. Stoves used coal. Oven thermometers were unreliable in those days. Fannie’s advice on achieving and maintaining the correct oven temperature for baking? "…experience alone has proved the most reliable teacher." My oven is a modern gas one so I turned to Betty for the correct 350°F temperature.

I would be curious to see a selection of pans from Fannie’s era. Nowhere does she discuss cake pans or their sizes. For the One Egg Cake recipe, she specifies a shallow pan. The amounts of the ingredients were similar to the Dinette Cake recipe, so I used my usual square 8x8x2 pan.

There are no instructions in the recipe for beating the batter. That is covered in the introduction to the chapter on cakes along with buttering and filling the pan, and removing the cake from the pan. I followed Betty’s instructions for the Dinette Cake recipe. I have no desire to beat cake batter by hand. I use a Kitchenaid stand mixer.

The batter came together beautifully and the cake baked perfectly. Unfortunately, this was not the long lost recipe. But it was a delicious butter cake and a fun trip through culinary history.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this again.

One Egg Cake
(source: The 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book)

¼ cup of butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup of milk
1 ½ cups flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder.

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, and egg well beaten. Mix and sift flour and baking powder, add alternately with milk to first mixture. Bake thirty minutes in a shallow pan. Spread with Chocolate Frosting.

Recycle: milk jug

Compost: egg shell

Friday, February 26, 2010

Beet Bread

When planning our menu for Valentine’s Day, A suggested we have bread. I had been thinking about various bread and roll recipes, even surfing the net looking for ideas, but I couldn’t come up with any recipes that reflected our theme of Harmonious Pairings. Banana nut bread? Too mundane nor would it really go well with the lemon and ginger in the rest of our dishes. Poppy seed rolls? I hate those little seeds getting stuck between my teeth. Potato bread or rolls? We were serving potatoes so it would be a duplication.

A threw out the idea of making bread or rolls and tinting the dough red. Whenever an idea gets tossed into my brain, I’m never quite sure what will come out. In this case, I managed to surprise myself. My brain started screaming “beet bread”. I had never heard of beet bread. But it made sense because beets are red (appropriate for Valentine’s Day) and they are a late season veggie that would normally be eaten in the winter. I started surfing to see if beet bread existed and how to make it.

I found several recipes and realized that my brain, in its efforts to come up with something original, had apparently forgotten the terrible experience of the butternut squash. Beets, like winter squash, are dense and hard. By the time I was finished peeling and cutting theminto chunks or grating them, I would be in too much pain to cut up the potatoes for the rosemary potatoes and the pearl onions for the peas and pearl onions. I tossed the beet bread idea back into my brain and told it to come up with something else.

My brain couldn’t let go of the idea of beet bread. Its next suggestion was beet bread using canned beets instead of fresh beets. I went back to the internet and found several recipes for beet bread using canned beets. I chose the simplest of them. I dislike recipes that have too many ingredients and/or too many steps.

Once I started making the recipe, I realized that it lacked some information. When I was purchasing the beets, I automatically reached for the sliced beets instead of the whole beets. But because they are pureed in a blender (I used my food processor without incident) it really doesn’t matter whether you buy whole or sliced.

The recipe also does not specify what size loaf pan should be used. I panicked briefly when I realized that for some strange reason I have an 8” loaf pan and a 10” loaf pan but no standard 9” loaf pan. In the end it didn’t matter because there was so much dough, the 10” pan was appropriate.

The bread portion of the recipe came together easily and baked up perfectly. The glaze was not as easy. I simmered and simmered but it just wouldn’t thicken. Nor did it really add anything the bread once it was poured over it. Without the glaze, the bread was delicious. It reminded me of pumpkin bread, probably because of the pumpkin pie spice. And it didn’t taste anything like beets. I have to confess that I don’t like beets but I do seem to like beet bread.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Beet Bread

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 (16 ounce) can canned beets, drained (reserve liquid)
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup orange juice, not concentrated

Beat sugar, eggs and oil until light and fluffy. Puree beets in blender until smooth. Beat into egg mixture.

Blend flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, ginger and salt. Fold flour mixture and orange rind into batter, mixing well.

Turn batter into a grease and floured loaf pan.

Bake at 350°F for 1 hour.

Glaze: Combine brown sugar, orange juice, and reserved beet juice in saucepan; simmer over low heat until thickened. Pour over while bread is warm. Serve with cream cheese.

Recycle: vegetable oil bottle, orange juice bottle

Compost: leftover orange rind

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chicken Fajitas

I often liken myself to a bear. In the winter, I gain weight and hibernate. I am much less active because I don’t like the cold so winter sports like skiing or ice skating hold no allure for me. Instead, I prefer spending time in my kitchen cooking up a storm. Less active + more cooking equals more weight.

When I was younger, my winter layer of fat was cute but it rapidly disappeared in the spring as I spent more time outdoors and less time cooking. Nowadays, it is much harder to lose that extra fat. Last year, I carried it until August. This year I’m trying to be smarter about what I eat during my winter “hibernation”. Fewer hearty stick to your rib meals and more lighter meals.

Chicken fajitas is a dish that I normally make in the summer. It is very light and quick to prepare. The short cooking time is key in the summer due to the lack of air conditioning in my house. Also key is slicing the chicken, pepper and onion into very thin strips so that they can be comfortably rolled in a tortilla.

The origins of this recipe have been lost in the mists of time. But it has stayed in my cookbook because it has withstood the test of time. Simple and delicious.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Chicken Fajitas
(source: unknown)

1 ½ lb. chicken breast strips, sliced thinly
1 jar salsa
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 onion, cut into thin strips
12 soft tacos

Brown chicken over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Stir in salsa, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce.

Add pepper and onion; cook and stir 3 to 4 minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp.

Spoon fajita filling onto tortillas. Top with additional salsa if desired. Roll up to serve.

Makes 12 fajitas

Recycle: salsa jar, Worcestershire sauce bottle

Compost: pepper veins and seeds, onion skins

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Brickle Bundt Cake

I try to bake every weekend, but A’s Orange-scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake was a hard act to follow. Time to try something completely different. I dived into my collection of toffee bits collection and came up with a Brickle Bundt Cake. I liked that it used sour cream. My experience has been that cakes made with sour cream are very moist. There is nothing worse than a dry cake.

I didn’t use the walnuts as called for in the recipe because I am not fond of nuts in my cakes. But I have to admit that the nuts would have definitely added flavor and texture to the toffee bits.

The batter came out very thick and stiff. I was unable to spoon the batter into the pan in thirds. The best that I could do was to put half in the pan, sprinkle the toffee mixture over it and then add the other half. I sprinkled the remaining toffee mixture over the top and hoped for the best, i.e. that it wouldn’t burn in the oven. Not to worry, the cake batter baked over it.

Another challenge was getting the cake out of the pan. No matter how well you grease and flour a pan, melting sugar is going to fuse to it. The toffee mixture that I so carefully sprinkled in the batter, oozed out of it and stuck like glue, making it next to impossible to get the cake out of the pan in one piece.

The glaze had a weird taste to it. I’m chalking it up to the powdered sugar that I used. It’s leftover from the Christmas cookies and may have picked up some odors in the interim.

When all was said and done, this cake was very bland. Walnuts in the toffee mixture would have given it a little flavor but not enough to make a real difference. This was a huge disappointment.

Verdict: Too bland – I won’t be making this again

Brickle Bundt Cake
(source: )

1 1/3 cups (8-oz. pkg.) toffee bits, divided
1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 container (8 oz.) dairy sour cream
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
Powdered Sugar Glaze (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan or 10-inch tube pan. Set aside ¼ cup toffee bits for topping. Combine remaining toffee bits, ¼ cup sugar, walnuts and cinnamon; set aside.

Beat remaining 1 cup sugar and ½ cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Stir together four, baking powder, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, alternately with sour cream, beating until blended. Beat 3 minutes. Spoon one-third of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of toffee mixture. Spoon half of remaining batter into pan. Top with remaining toffee mixture. Spoon remaining batter into pan. Pour melted butter over batter.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely.
Prepare glaze; drizzle over cake. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup toffee bits over top.

12 to 14 servings.

Powdered Sugar Glaze: Combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract. Add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until of drizzling consistency.

About ½ cup glaze

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle, sour cream container, milk bottle

Compost: egg shells

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peas and Pearl Onions

Since the theme of our Valentine’s Day dinner was “Harmonious Pairings”, peas and pearl onions immediately came to mind. It’s a classic pairing and one that I have never made before. Naturally, I turned to Marth Stewart who featured a recipe made with red pearl onions. Perfect for Valentine’s Day! I love Martha’s recipes. They almost always work, as well as tasting delicious. But I’m discovering that there is a glaring weakness in most of them: directions.

Martha assumes a certain amount of knowledge on her readers’ part, knowledge that I don’t have. I have never taken a cooking class other than two brief semesters in junior high school*.  That’s why I have always loved Betty Crocker. Her cookbooks include tutorials with photos.**  Martha does have video tutorials on her website but they are usually illustrating advanced techniques.

I am in need of more basic stuff. Like a paragraph on peas. She calls for frozen petite green peas. There were none in my grocer's frozen food case. There were peas and baby peas. Recalling my high school French, "petite" means small and baby peas are smaller than fully grown peas, so I went with the baby peas.

Or how about telling me that I should have cut off the tops of the onions before cooking them. Because once they were cooked, I discovered that it was next to impossible to cut the tops off of them. They mooshed, they split apart, they went flying across the counter, they did everything except exhibit a nice clean cut like in the photo on Martha’s website.

I made one glaring error that I can’t blame on Martha. I was supposed to have ½ cup of small fresh mint leaves which sounded delicious. But I was very busy that week and didn’t have time to get to the store where I buy fresh mint. I figured I could substitute. Very. Bad. Idea. My idea was to add a touch of mint flavor using extract. I didn’t have any mint or spearmint extract, only the peppermint extract left over from the Peppermint Bark. I think I overdid it because the dish tasted like candy canes rather than a refreshing vegetable dish. A was polite enough not to complain.

*Middle school hadn’t been invented yet. When I was young, schools were divided into elementary (k-6), junior high (grades 7 & 8) and high school (grades 9 – 12).

**The internet hadn’t been invented yet. There were no videos. Only reels of hilarious home movies, a few of which I fervently pray will never turn up on Youtube. At least not until after I am dead and buried.

Verdict: Needs a do-over with real mint

Peas and Pearl Onions

10 ounces red pearl onions
Coarse salt
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen petite green peas
½ cup small fresh mint leaves

Cut an X in stem end of each onion. Cook in salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, and peel.

Heat butter and water in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in peas and ¾ teaspoon salt, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in mint. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10.

Compost: onion skins, mint stems

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spicy Orange Chicken

Would you believe that it is a few days since Valentine’s Day and already I’m chocolated out? I am in dire need of relief from sweets. A blast of citrus seemed the answer. I’m not normally a big fan of citrus. I have never eaten an entire orange. A few sections full of strings and seeds was enough to turn me off. I drink orange juice, though. Ditto lemons. I don’t care for lemon on my seafood but I love lemonade in the summer.

This recipe made me pause. At first glance, I couldn’t reconcile chicken and orange flavors. But when I took a closer look, I realized that the orange was just a component of the Asian seasonings. I needed an antidote for sweets that was also low fat and low calorie. Spicy Orange Chicken filled the bill nicely.

I love that all of the ingredients are fresh. The recipe calls for two oranges rather than orange extract or orange juice. The spinach is loaded with nutrients like iron and calcium. I have to admit that I skipped the spinach and served this on rice. I’ll also confess to using dried ginger rather than fresh. I didn’t have any fresh ginger on hand.

Lucky for me, oranges were on sale and I bought an entire bag of them. I don’t know if the ones I bought were particularly small or the arthritis in my hands robbed me of the strength to properly squeeze them, but I used two oranges, rather than the one called for in the recipe, to come up with ⅓ cup of juice.

Despite the fact that the directions seem long and complicated, this was a fast and easy dish to prepare. The tangy citrus flavor was exactly what I needed to counterbalance all of the chocolate I have been consuming. I liked this so much, in fact, that I want to try the sauce in a stir fry. I bet it would be excellent.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Spicy Orange Chicken

2 oranges
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 10-ounce packages baby spinach
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon cornstarch
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast strips
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced

Remove peel and white membrane from 1 of the oranges. Section orange; set aside. Squeeze enough juice from the remaining orange to measure ⅓ cup; set aside. In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over medium heat. Add spinach; cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or just until slightly wilted, stirring occasionally. Drain and transfer to 4 serving dishes or a serving platter. Cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ⅓ cup orange juice, the soy sauce, honey, ginger, cornstarch, and crushed red pepper. Set aside.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and black pepper. Wipe out Dutch oven with a paper towel. In Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add chicken; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Stir orange juice mixture; add to chicken in Dutch oven. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.

To serve, arrange orange sections on top of spinach. Spoon chicken mixture over oranges and spinach. Makes 4 servings.

Recycle: cooking oil bottle, soy sauce bottle

Compost: orange peels, garlic skins

Monday, February 15, 2010

Roasted New Potatoes

While researching recipes for our Harmonious Pairings dinner, A came across a blog, Simply Recipes with fantastic food photos. She sent the link to me because food photography is not one of my fortes.

While I was admiring the photography, I also checked out the recipes. This one caught my eye. Potatoes roasted with a little olive oil and some herbs sounded better and healthier than French fries. And because it can be made with either red or yellow potatoes, it was perfect for our Valentine’s Day dinner.

I used red potatoes, of course, and substituted dried rosemary for the fresh which is quite pricey. I haven’t succeeded in keeping a rosemary plant alive year round yet.

This recipe was simple to make and tasted delicious. And it was perfect for our dinner because rosemary and potatoes are a harmonious pairing.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Roasted New Potatoes
(source: Simply Recipes)

1 ½ lb of new potatoes (red or yellow skinned), cleaned, cut in half or quarters
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place potatoes in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Add olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Toss until potatoes are well coated.

Spread potatoes out on a single layer of a baking pan. Roast for 40 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through and browned. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: garlic skins

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine’s Day at The Wooden Spoon

Orange-scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

We thought that our Honey themed Valentine’s dinner was going to be a hard act to follow but thanks to a colleague of A, BioBabe, who suggested a theme of “Harmonious Pairings” honoring traditional Valentine’s Day couples, we had a wide range of recipes to choose from. For each dish, we looked for a recipe with a “pair” of ingredients. We also made sure to have some holiday red with red potatoes, red pearl onions, beet bread an, thanks to A’s ingenious use of purple carrots, even the soup was a dark pink.

I think it’s safe to say that this year’s dinner easily surpasses our first menu. Thanks BioBabe!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Buche de Noel 2

When OldRoses suggested we each do a Buche de Noel for the holiday party, I admit I had mixed feelings. I liked the idea of trying to make one, but I know they’re fairly time-consuming to make, and the party was in early December, which is the busiest time of year for me.

Oldroses told me around Thanksgiving that she had selected a coffee-flavored recipe, and suggested I do a plain one. A few days later, I went online to do some recipe research. Google “Buche de Noel” and you’ll get a ton of hits. I came across a recipe for an orange-flavored one. I liked that idea, knowing that orange and chocolate can be a great combination. Eventually I found a recipe I liked and printed it out.

After rereading the recipe for the cake, I turned my attention to the recipe underneath it, for the frosting. It was for a buttercream frosting, the type of buttercream that involves beating egg whites, then adding in a warm sugar syrup and other ingredients. The thing is, the egg whites don’t ever get cooked (unless the sugar syrup is hot enough?). This made me kinda nervous. This Buche was going to be sitting out for a couple of hours at least, and I didn’t want to risk poisoning my fellow gardeners. They might not give me my plot back next year. Besides, this particular recipe called for 7 egg whites and over 3 cups (1 ½ lbs!) of butter. AAAIIIIEEEE! So I went back online and did some more research. But every recipe I looked at used either a buttercream similar to this one, or a whipped cream-based frosting, which to me just didn’t sound right, flavor-wise. Finally I gave up and went to bed in despair.

Sometimes a good night’s sleep helps. The next morning I woke up and thought, hey, what about that chocolate cake frosting? The ganache with a pound of chocolate in it? Yeahhhh…..That recipe does include cream, but at least you heat the cream at the beginning of the process.

Since this is, after all, a French dish, I also consulted my two Julia Child cookbooks. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” doesn’t include a Buche recipe, but “The French Chef Cookbook”, which is based on her first TV series, does. She also uses a buttercream frosting, but for the cake she suggests two or three possibilities, including an orange-almond sponge cake. This sounded even better to me than the orange cake I’d previously found. Also, she gives very detailed instructions.

Many recipes tell you to roll the cake up and let it cool, then unroll and frost it. Julia, however, recommends frosting the cake at once, because if you’ve overbaked it, you might not be able to unroll it again. This sounded prudent to me. Thus, operations were spread over three evenings.

Day 1: make the frosting, so that the cake could be frosted as soon as it was done. The frosting is actually pretty quick and easy to make. I probably could have made it while the cake was cooling. (This would also have avoided the problem I ran into the next day; see below.) Oh, and I didn’t use fancy high-priced chocolate. I just used ordinary chocolate chips. One pound is 2 2/3 cups. And you don’t really need a whisk; a spoon works just fine. When the frosting was finished, I set it, saucepan and all, in the refrigerator overnight.

Day 2: make and frost the cake.

Julia gives detailed directions for buttering and flouring the pan. I used parchment paper instead of waxed, and cooking spray instead of melted butter. Worked just fine.

The pan, by the way, is supposed to be a jelly roll pan, which is 11 x 17 x 1”. Fortunately, I do own such a pan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit inside my oven. My range is so small that when the pan is in the oven, the door is open a couple inches. But the alternative would have been to cart everything over to a friend’s house, and with a fragile cake like this, that didn’t seem like such a good idea. So I made the cake at home, and compensated by rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.

The cake itself went together just fine. I’ve baked sponge cakes before so I wasn’t too worried about that part. Julia uses a large whip to mix the yolks etc.; a mixer also works. I should comment on the almonds, though. I used finely ground ones that a friend sent me from Germany, where they’re a pretty standard grocery item. They’re more finely ground than a nut topping, but not as fine as a flour. It might be possible to duplicate this using a food processor. Julia suggests a blender or meat grinder; I don’t think food processors existed yet when that book was written.

The trouble began once the cake was in the oven. Julia says to be careful not to overbake it, otherwise it’ll crack when you try to roll it. I left it in the oven a minute or two over the 10 suggested, and it did spring back when I touched it, and it was starting to brown around the edges, but it was so soft I’m wondering whether it was a little underdone. I’ve had my doubts lately about my oven’s thermostat, plus the door was a bit open.

Next, Julia says to sprinkle a thin layer of powdered sugar over the top of the cake. She does say that the powdered sugar should be in a sieve, but that part is in the list of ingredients, which in my cookbook is on the page before that part of the cooking instructions. (I’ve rewritten her recipe below to rearrange the several instructions that were in the list of ingredients.) As a result, I didn’t sift the powdered sugar first, and there were hard lumps of sugar that stuck to the surface of the cake. I was able to pick some of them off, but some of them got embedded in the cake, and would have made holes if I’d pulled them out, so I left them. Also, this made the surface of the cake sticky. I’m wondering whether flour would have been better than sugar. I have read somewhere the suggestion to use powdered sugar rather than flour when rolling out cookies because the sugar won’t make them tough like too much flour will; maybe that’s why Julia suggests sugar.

While the cake was cooling, I pulled the saucepan of frosting out of the refrigerator. It was stiff. About the consistency of fudge, in fact. Way too stiff to apply. It was in a metal saucepan, so I couldn’t microwave it. So, I just set the whole pan in the still-warm oven for about 15 minutes, stirring it frequently, until it got soft enough to spread over the top of the cake without tearing it up. Oh, by the way, the frosting recipe as written does make enough to fill and frost the cake. I was concerned about that, so I kept the filling layer rather thin. I should have used about 2/3 of the frosting as filling and saved only about 1/3 to frost the outside.

Rolling up the cake turned out to be not a problem. The cake did crack a bit toward the end, but the frosting covers that. After carefully moving the log to a serving platter covered with wedges of waxed paper, I applied the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the log, then pulled a fork over the frosting, using short strokes. Then I pulled out the wedges of waxed paper. This is a trick Julia mentions elsewhere, and that I’d learned years ago to keep your serving plate clean. Then I put the whole thing in the refrigerator and made myself a cup of tea.

Day 3: decorations. Often you see these decorated with marzipan or meringue mushrooms that look like the ordinary white culinary mushrooms. But those mushrooms don’t grow on trees. Unless it’s a fallen log, maybe, and would you burn a log that was that rotted? No, the mushrooms I’ve seen on trees are shelf fungi. (Also lichens, but I couldn’t think of a way to make those…) It so happens there’s a tree stump just down the street from where I live that has a nice growth of these, so I was able to get a good look at some.

I decided to try making an ivy vine curling up the log. The mention somewhere of marzipan mushrooms gave me the idea of making it out of marzipan. So I bought a can, and colored part of it green by kneading in a couple drops of green food coloring. Rolling a thin rope for the vine was easy; shaping the leaves was harder. I ended up printing out images of ivy leaves, then cutting them out and using them to cut leaves from a thin layer of the green marzipan. (I believe it’s possible to purchase little ivy-leaf-shaped cutters if you really want to get into this.) I then added a few shelf fungi - simple half-circles of plain marzipan.

And the result? The flavors of the chocolate frosting and the orange cake went very well together. The orange was strong enough to balance all that chocolate. But there was a bit of a problem with texture. The frosting, as I noted, is very dense and heavy, especially when cold, but the cake is light and fragile. So when you cut into it, the cake gets smooshed. Maybe that’s why all those other recipes use a whipped cream filling. Duh! So I would recommend finding something lighter for the filling. For frosting the outside, you could use what I used, or something lighter, but you can get away with a strong chocolate flavor. Or give up on the chocolate altogether and let the orange be the predominant flavor.

Verdict: Has potential, but needs a little tweaking.

Bûche de Noël

Orange-Almond Sponge Sheet

(source: The French Chef Cookbook)

3 tbsp butter

¾ cup ground (see below) blanched almonds

3 eggs

rind of 1 orange

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup strained orange juice

¼ tsp almond extract

¾ cup sifted plain bleached cake flour

Scant ¼ tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp granulated sugar

Powdered sugar

Melt the butter and let cool to tepid. Reserve 1½ tbsp for the cake. Paint the inside of a jelly roll pan (11” x 17” x 1”) with some of the rest of the melted butter. Line with a 12 x 21-inch piece of waxed paper, letting ends extend beyond edges of pan. Butter the paper, roll flour over it, covering entire inside surface, and knock out excess flour.

Grind the almonds in a blender, or put them through a meat grinder with part of the 2/3 cup sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Separate the eggs; place the yolks in a large mixing bowl, and the whites in a clean, dry smaller bowl. Be sure that there is no speck of yolk in with the whites. Grate the orange rind into the bowl with the yolks. Using a large wire whip, gradually beat in the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat vigorously for a minute or two until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Beat in the orange juice, then the ground almonds, almond extract, and flour.

Beat the egg whites for a moment at moderate speed; when they begin to foam, add the cream of tartar and salt. Beat at top speed until egg whites form soft peaks, sprinkle in the 1 tbsp sugar and beat a few seconds more until egg whites form stiff peaks when lifted with a spoon or spatula.

Scoop the egg whites over the yolk mixture. Rapidly and delicately fold together, using a rubber spatula; when almost blended, rapidly fold in the melted butter ½ tbsp at a time. Immediately turn the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing over the entire surface. Bang pan briefly on table, to even the mixture, and set in middle level of preheated oven.

Bake for about 10 minutes. Cake is done when barely starting to color, when top is lightly springy or spongy if pressed with fingers, and when the faintest line of separation shows between cake and sides of pan. Do not overcook, or cake will break when rolled; it must be soft and spongy.

Remove from oven and sprinkle top of cake with a 1/16 inch layer of powdered sugar in a sieve. Cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Rinse a towel in cold water, wring it out, and lay over the waxed paper. Turn cake upside down and let cool for 20 minutes.

To unmold, loosen paper lining at one end of pan. Holding paper flat on table, gradually lift off pan, starting at the loose-paper end. Carefully dislodge paper from long sides of cake, then peel it off the top. Trim brown edges all around cake; they will crack when rolled. The cake is now ready for filling, which should be done immediately.

It is usually safest to fill and roll the cake promptly. But if you have not overbaked it, you can risk storing it as follows: sprinkle with powdered sugar, cover with waxed paper, roll up in the damp towel, and refrigerate in a plastic bag. The risk is that the cake may dry out, lose its sponginess, and then be unrollable.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

(source:, from their Double Chocolate Layer Cake recipe)

1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Recycle: almond extract bottle, corn syrup bottle

Compost: eggshells