Bouche de Noel
My daughter is doing a school project on Christmas in France and wants to bring in a bouche de noel for her 6th grade class. I thought it might be a fun mother-daughter project but now I'm afraid I've bitten off more than I can chew. I havne't done much with meringue and am worried about making all those little mushrooms. I may be able to buy some of them from a local French bakery. Does anyone out there have a recipe for an easy bouche de noel? It doesn't have to be gourmet since they are only 6th graders but I do want to make the cake, frosting and filling from scratch. How about the mushrooms? Should I tackle them myself or just try to buy them? Merci.
I made a Buche de Noel last Xmas and I didn't know meringue mushrooms were a requirement! They weren't part of my recipe. I made a chocolate sponge cake with a chestnut icing that had really lovely and subtle flavor (IMHO!)...it was Nick Malgieri's recipe.
If you're set on the mushrooms, another alternative to meringue would be using marzipan like the Germans. You can lightly dust them with cocoa powder to give them a realistic finish.
One word of advice on baking the sponge cake, because the cake is sooooo thin it is incredibly easy to overbake. I would take it out of the oven a couple of minutes before your recipe recommends. If you do overbake it (as I managed to do), never fear, and don't panic...with enough icing you can cover up all your mistakes. The icing should be rich, and will rehydrate the cake a bit. The main problem is cracking when you roll it. If the sponge cake is on the dry side, try rolling the cake in a damp tea towel, wrap the roll tightly in wax paper and wait before continuing to ice it.
And don't be afraid of meringue, with a good mixer it's actually super super easy and almost fool proof. Just keep your oven nice and low and make sure you dry them out. You can make the mushroom cap and stems separately, and stick them together with some melted chocolate.
I second pretty much everything ballulah says; the hardest part will probably be the cake itself. Use cake flour and superfine sugar for the cake to help with the texture. Resist the temptation to over research many genoise recipes and combine techniques; there are many ways to skin a cat but you probably have to follow one method from start to finish if you don't want a mess.
As mentioned, marzipan is a good meringue alternative if you want to cut down on prep time since it won't be baked. You can buy it in tubes, and it's as easy to form as play doh.
I've made one a number of times from JC's recipe in the Way to Cook - it's not *that* hard, but laborious - her recipe has very good instructions. You can make some of the components ahead of time - syrup, ganache, filling, mushrooms - then make the cake and assemble. The mushrooms aren't hard to make as long as you have the piping tubes etc. - and they are v. cute. I serve mine on an oval silver platter - I sieve on cocoa around the cake for dirt, and do the same with icing sugar at the last minute, on the cake as well, for snow. I also dip rosemary sprigs and cranberries in sugar syrup, and then granulated sugar - they take on a lovely rimey look - and arrange them around the perimeter of the platter.
Everyone's given great suggestions, so all I can add is that marzipan mushrooms are easier to make and transport in the rain and fog than meringue.
Whatever recipe you use, as soon as you get the cake out of the oven, cover it with a smooth (not terrycloth) kitchen dish towel and flip it over and out of the pan. Roll it up in the towel to let it cool, and it won't be as cracked as if you let it cool flat. It will crack when you unroll it, but the frosting will hide that. A genoise base will not crack as much as other cakes.
Another simple decoration is real camellia leaves with red candy-coated cranberries or cherries to look like holly leaves/berries. Nicer, but more labor-intensive, is chocolate leaves (paint the underside of the camellia leaves) dusted with powdered sugar.
The meringues aren't hard, though I'm not sure how it would be in rainy climates. It was really fun to do. Marzipan would be easier but much more costly. I'll bet you could shape marshmallows (cut the large one for the top, secure to small miniature one for the stalk w/ a toothpick). That would be fun for your daughter, too. I made a buche de noel a long time ago before I started baking nearly as much as I do now and was surprised at how easily it all came together. The kids will love it. I don't have the recipe I used, but this one looks manageable and the directions are clear:
I have this month's Ricardo magazine (1st issue in English), (he's now a host on FoodNetwork Canada). Anyway, it's full of great recipes & ideas. He's got a
Chocolate-Mascarpone Yule Log (Buche Noel)which seems easy
(recipe isn't on the site unfortunately otherwise I'd have linked) It looks like a chocolate cake with white filling & the rolled cake is just sprinkled with icing sugar (looks like snow). Paraphrased recipe(s):
Cake: 3/4 c a.p. flour, .5 t baking powder, 1 oz chopped bittersweet choc., 1/4 c cocoa powder
4 eggs, 3/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c strong sweetened coffee
Filling: 1 c mascarpone cheese, 1/2 c icing sugar, 1 t vanilla extract and 1/2 c whipping cream
Icing sugar - for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400F. Butter & flour 17x12" jelly roll pan & line with parchment, allowing some paper to hang over the 2 longer sides.
Cake: In bowl, combine flour & baking powder. Set aside. In sm. saucepan, melt the chocolat, butter & cocoa powder. Whisk until smooth. Set aside. In another browl, beat eggs & brown sugar with electric mixer until mix turn pale & triples in volume, about 5 mins. With mixer on low, add the dry ingredients. Using spatula, gently fold in the chocolate mix.
Spread the batter in the pan. Bake 6-7 mins. or until toothpick comes out clean.
Invert the cake onto clean tea towel. Remove the pan & paper. Brush cake with the coffee. While cake is still warm, roll it in the towel, starting with the short side. Let cool 1-2 hrs.
Mascarpone Filling: Put cheese, sugar & vanilla in a bowl & beat with electric mixer 1 min. Add cream in a stream while beating until stiff peaks form. Unroll cake & spread the filling over the surface. Re-roll the cake, finishing w/the seam side down.
Just before serving, sprinkle cake with icing sugar. If desired decorate with meringue mushrooms.
Meringue Mushrooms: 4 egg white, 1 pinch cream of tarter, 3/4 c sugar, 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, 2 t water
Preheat oven to 170F. Like baking sheet with parchment paper.
In bowl, beat egg whites & cream of tartar with electr. mixer until soft peaks form. gradually add the sugar & beat until peaks are very still. In microwave, melt 1 oz chocolate. Stir in the water until smooth. Fit a pastry bag with 1/2" plain tip. Brush the inside of bag with choc. mix, forming large, well-spaced treaks. Add the meringe and form 24 mushroom caps & 24 stalks on baking sheet (make the bases of stalks wider so they can stand on their own).
Place baking sheet in oven and bake until meringues have dried out, about 2.5 hrs. Turn oven off, open door a crack & leave 1 hr.
Melt the remaining choc. in the microwave oven. Dip the underside of each mushroom cap in the chocolate & attach stalk, pressing lightly. Stand on cutting board until choc. hardens. Store in tighly sealed container.