"It is Christmas in the mansion, Yule-log fires and silken frocks
It is Christmas in the cottage, Mother’s filling little socks.
It is Christmas on the highway
In the thronging, busy mart
But the dearest, truest Christmas
Is the Christmas in the heart.”
First of all, I am so sorry about not posting these past couple of days. I was basically stuck at Heathrow for a couple days while the British were paralyzed over 2 inches of snow. If any of you work for BAA, I have one word for you. Snowplows.
Onto to more pleasant topics. I am at my parents' house doing the Korean holiday thing - which means not doing much. Being Koreans, Christmas really wasn't a big deal. Being Korean, we really did not do the Christmas thing. Another one of those “white people” holidays (along with Hanukkah, which confused my mom to pieces) which my parents felt obliged to celebrate so we kids would “assimilate” into American life. As a young girl of about 4 or 5, I have vague memories of pseudo-Christmas celebrations with my mother singing “Jingle Bells” with a Korean accent and coloratura flourishes (she sang opera as a young lady). Amongst our squeaky voices we could hear mom singing, “Jinggggggrle Beeerrrrrls, Jinggggggrle Beeeeeerrrrls, Jingrle Arrrll the Waaaaaaaarrry…”
Not knowing any Christmas traditions, we just made them up. We had a tree, but the decorations, were, uh, a bit unorthodox. I distinctly remember placing some string on some cherry flavored Chap Stick and sticking it on the tree. Popcorn garlands? They didn’t seem to work for us, so my brother and I used the colored marshmallows from Lucky Charms (the green clovers were especially amenable to threading). My sister ripped up some cotton balls as fake snow. Add some tinsel and a Styrofoam cup star. You got yourself a Christmas tree.
As for Christmas dinner, it was basically a repeat of Thanksgiving, minus the pumpkin pie. Turkey, mashed potatoes, rice and kimchee. I don’t even think we got dessert. Knowing my mom, she probably made us eat some fruit saying, “We don’t have Christmas candy and dessert in Korea. The only dessert we had was fruit. Have an orange.” I was pretty disappointed. I wanted the desserts of all the books I read. Where was my Plum pudding and mincemeat pie (I found out later that mincemeat is pretty gross)? My little World Book – Childcraft “Celebrate!” volume showcased Epiphany King’s cakes, Mexican piñatas and my favorite, Bûche de Noël. It had little mushrooms, little berries and little marzipan elves. I wanted to be that little French girl in Normandy. Instead, I was a bored Korean-American living in suburban hell. Bah-humbug.
Bûche de Noel is a French cake that is supposed to represent the Yule log burnt during the holiday season in Europe. It is basically a really good looking jelly roll, minus the jelly. It starts with a chocolate Génoise base, and is filled and frosted with butter cream. Meringue mushrooms and powdered sugar add a nice winter touch to the log. It tastes even better than it looks. And I had to wait nearly 20 years to get my hands on one. Twenty years is a long time to wait for a cake – it was completely worth it.
Don’t wait 20 years. Make the cake now. Share it with your friends and family. That is what Christmas is all about.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Bûche de Noël
This should be made the morning before you serve it. It doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, but like many French recipes, technique is critical. Do not try to make short cuts. Do not substitute ingredients. Do not pass go and collect $200. Also, make sure to separate your eggs carefully. Any yolks (or fat) on your beaters or bowl, will prevent your egg whites from beating properly, no matter how long you beat them. In other words, make sure your utensils are impeccably clean. It’s good to be bûche.
¼ c. plus 2 tbs. sugar
6 large eggs, separated
½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely (see note)
¾ tsp. cream of tartar
Chocolate Whipped Cream
1 c. heavy whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbs. sugar
1 ½ tbs. of unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter/oil a 17 by 12 in. jelly roll or baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the parchment paper.
2. While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over simmering water (bain marie). Remove from heat and set aside to cool
4. In an electric mixer (e.g. Kitchen Aid) or a hand mixer, place the egg yolks and ¼ c. sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (You will know it is ready when you lift the beaters and a thick ribbon will fall.) Beat in vanilla. Scrape sides of bowl and add melted chocolate to combine. Do not overbeat.
5. In a clean mixing bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the last 2 tbs. of sugar until stiff peaks form.
6. Gently fold a small amount of egg whites into the chocolate/yolk mixture, using a rubber spatula. Fold the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate just until incorporated. Over-mixing will deflate your batter. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 15 – 17 minutes. The cake will be puffed and will spring back when gently pressed. Remove from the oven and coo. Cover the cake with a damp kitchen towel (to prevent drying) until ready to fill.
Chocolate Whipped Cream and Assembly
1. In a large mixing bowl, stir whip cream, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters in the refrigerator to allow the cocoa powder to dissolve.
2. Beat the cream mixture until stiff peaks form. Reserve 2 tbs. of whipped cream and spread the remaining whipped cream over the cooled sponge cake.
3. With the long side facing you, gently roll the cake into a log shape, and place on your serving platter, seam side down. Cut one end at an angle, and place the piece on top of the cake, using the reserved whipped cream as glue for the trimmed piece, so it resembles a log.
4. At this point, you may sprinkle the cake with confectioner’s sugar, to resemble fallen snow, and serve. If you really want to get fancy, you can also melt some chocolate, and spread it on top of the cake, making striations onto the chocolate to resemble tree bark. You can also make marzipan or meringue decorations to go along with your cake.
Note: Once again, I recommend you use the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on. Valrhona, Scharffen Berger and Callebaut all make fine chocolate and cocoa powder.