These meringue mushrooms might just be the cutest little treat I've ever made! I'll be making them again and again - they were definitely easier than I'd anticipated.
If you don't have time for the full Buche de Noel, make just the meringue mushrooms (the kids will love them), or just the cake without all the fixin's (you can do just the roulade without shaping it into a yule log and without mushrooms or other decorations; it still looks elegant).
There are some great videos on the Food Network site of Malgieri rolling up the cake and making the marzipan decorations (I ran out of time for the marzipan). I strongly recommend watching them, at least the one where he rolls up the cake!
And remember, leave a post by tomorrow night on the Chocolate Bombes post for a chance to win Julia Child's book, My Life in France.
Chocolate Genoise (from Nick Malgieri)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa (You should reall use Dutch process)
Spray a 10" x 15" jelly pan with baking spray; line with parchment paper; spray again.
Preheat the oven to 400F; set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Set a medium saucepan of water on the stove, with about 2-3" of water; bring to a boil. Keep at a simmer.
Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place over the simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Whisk constantly for about a minute - you just want to heat the mixture to lukewarm - not hot. If you heat it too long, the cake will be dry.
Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to the stand mixer. Beat on medium-high with the whisk attachment until the mixture is cool (the outside of the bowl should be completely cool) and has tripled in volume. This will take several minutes.
While that's whipping, whisk together the cake flour, cornstarch, and cocoa in a dry bowl until the cocoa is full incorporated.
When the egg batter is ready, sift about 1/3 of the flour mixture over the batter, and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula. Repeat two more times. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. It will be firm to the touch and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Don't overbake or it will be dry.
Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then flip onto a piece of parchment paper on a cooling rack.
Genoise cakes can often be dry. I like to pour a little flavored simple syrup over the cake before rolling. I used a Frangelico flavoring for this cake.
Mocha Buttercream (adapted from Nick Malgieri)
Nick Malgieri does a coffee buttercream, but I like the darker color of the mocha for the yule log.
4 large egg whites (or 4.5 ounces egg whites)
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, softened
2 tablespoons Frangelico or Kahlua (or water)
1-2 tablespoons espresso powder (I think it's too strong with 2 personally.) (optional)
4 ounces semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate, melted (do not use chips)
Whisk the egg white and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in another heat proof large bowl if using a hand mixer). Set the bowl over simmering water, and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (if you touch the whites, you'll need to immediately remove your finger). Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the bowl is room temperature (it should feel like it was never on the pan of simmering water). This will take 5-10 minutes or so.
While you're waiting, dissolve the espresso powder (if using) in the liqueur (or water if you don't want to use alcohol).
Remove the whisk attachment, and put on the paddle (or my favorite, the beater blade). Be sure that your butter is softened (you can microwave it just a little, or squeeze it with your hands if it's already room temperature). On medium speed, add the butter, and beat until smooth. This will take about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the liqueur/coffee mixture, then the melted chocolate.
You really want your meringue cooled completely and your butter soft - this will speed up the beating process, and keep your buttercream from breaking. If it does break (appear curdled), don't throw it out! It's not ruined. See Baking 911 for tips on fixing your buttercream. If it's curdled before you add the chocolate, the warmth of the melted chocolate may fix it. Add the chocolate while still somewhat warm, in a few additions, if this is the case.
The frosting should be very light and fluffy now.
Assemble the Cake: (Watch Nick Malgieri's video!)
Lay the genoise on a large piece of parchment paper (flip the cake out of the pan onto parchment paper on a cooling rack; when cool, flip again onto the large sheet of parchment).
Use an offset spatula to spread buttercream over the entire surface of the genoise. You should have about 1/2" layer; this will use a little more than half the buttercream.
Lifting the parchment paper, make a fold in the cake about an inch or two in, lengthwise. Use the parchment to help you roll up the cake. Once rolled, use a baking sheet to tighten the roll and keep in cylindrical. The video is great for this, I really suggest you watch it. A few times.
Freeze or refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from the fridge, and slice one end of the log diagonally (cutting the minimal amount of cake off the log). Slice about 3" off the other end, also diagonally; this piece is your branch. Either lay it (round edge against the cake, diagonal edge away from cake) next to the log or on top of the log. Cover the whole thing with buttercream. Make it a little rough looking to imitate the bark. Draw more lines in the cake with a fork, if desired, to further enhance the bark look.
Make your decorations!
Meringue Mushrooms (adapted from East Village Kitchen, adapted from Maida Heatter)
(makes about 20 complete mushrooms)
1/2 cup egg whites (roughly 3-4 large eggs) at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cocoa for dusting
3 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place one oven rack on the top level, one at the bottom. No need to preheat just yet.
On low-medium speed with your stand mixer, beat the egg whites for about a minute until they get foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar, and beat on medium for another 1-2 minutes or until the whites are starting to approach the soft peak stage (i.e. almost ready to begin holding a shape). Very gradually, begin adding the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time (that would be about 15-16 additions), beating steadily. Be sure the sugar has been incorporated before adding more. When half the sugar has been added, beat in the vanilla extract. Once all the sugar has been added, beat another 8-9 minutes on high (not the very top setting on your stand mixer, but close). The meringue should be very stiff (it will hold its shape, even upside down), and the sugar should be dissolved (rub a little meringue between your fingers; if it's gritty, the sugar isn't all dissolved.) It should be a gorgeous white color, shiny and stiff.
See the gritty specks? That's undissolved sugar. Keep whipping!
(You can use a hand mixer, but a stand mixer will be significantly quicker. I usually use a hand mixer for whipping cream and egg whites, but I went with the stand mixer this time. Beating times above based on a stand mixer, and may till vary somewhat depending on your mixer.)
If you parchment/foil isn't laying flat, glue down the corners with a little meringue.
Preheat the oven to 225F.
Put a plain round 3/4" tip in a decorating bag (or a large zip-lock bag with a 3/4" hold cut off one corner). As soon as the meringue is ready, fill the decorating bag with the meringue. Push it down towards the tip (it may not all fit, depending on the size of the bag, but you can refill), and twist the top. You want to hold the bag and apply pressure from this twisted part of the bag, not the base. If you need to, you can hold the bag near the tip with the other hand to guide, but I prefer to do it one-handed, using the other hand to hold down the paper and hold the knife).
First, pipe the stems: hold the bag vertically, right above the baking pan. Begin applying pressure to pipe the meringue. Wait just a sec, and then slowly lift the bag up as you pipe. Waiting that half a second or so will give you a slightly broader base for your mushroom stems. You want the whole stem to be about 1 - 1.5 inches tall. When you've reached the desired height, stop applying pressure and use your non-dominant hand to cut off the meringue at the tip with a butter knife. After you've piped them all, use your finger to flatten the tops. It won't be perfectly flat, but you'll fix this later with a grater. You should be able to make about 20 stems and 20 tops. Don't worry if the stems aren't perfectly vertical, they're pretty adorable when they lean a little! Here's mine:
Now, pipe the tops: again hold the bag vertically, right above the baking pan. Without lifting the bag vertically, apply pressure to pipe the tops. You want a 1.5" - 2" round blob of meringue, with just a slightly rounded top/peak. After you're done piping, use your finger to gently flatten the tops.
Place your meringue trays in the oven for about 75-80 minutes. You want them very dry, but they shouldn't brown (browning here means they are over done, and they won't taste as good). They should easily come off the foil.
Mushroom tops, after baking (they're whiter than they look in this picture)
Melt the chocolate, and let cool slightly. (I always use a microwave to melt the chocolate - 20-30 second intervals, stirring in between; chocolate sometimes holds its shape in the microwave, so it may be melted even though it doesn't appear that way)
Use a microplane grater to flatten the tops of the meringue stems. You want a flat surface to adhere to the chocolate and top. You can grate the tiny little tips off the mushroom tops also, but don't grate too much or it will be visible.
Have a clean, dry egg carton handy to place your mushrooms in to dry. With a spoon, gently cover the flat side of one mushroom top with chocolate, and then place the flat top of the mushroom step on top. You're now holding the full mushroom upside down in your hands. Carefully place it (still upside down) in the egg carton to dry. Repeat with the rest of your mushrooms. You should not be overwhelmed with the adorable appearance of your meringue mushrooms!
When the melted chocolate is completely dry, you can add some dirt! Use a small sieve to dust the tops of the mushrooms with cocoa powder. Rub some cocoa on your fingers and touch the base of the mushroom stems to darken them a little (it should look like the mushrooms are a little dirty, though in all honestly, they're pretty cute plain too.) Be very gentle, as the meringue is very delicate.
Serve! If you're not serving immediately, store in a cool, dry place (not the fridge), not in an airtight container.