Archive | December, 2011

Bûche de Noël: Denver

21 Dec

For my European Holiday Challenge post, I decided to make a classic Bûche de Noël. For those of you who don’t know much about French holiday cooking, the Bûche de Noël is a “yule log” cake: a rolled genoise cake filled, frosted, and then decorated to look like a log. For many families, I suppose the presence of a Bûche de Noël must mark Christmas dinner, but not my family.  I’ve never had one of these before! It seemed like quite an undertaking, but I have nothing but time on my hands so I figured I’d give it a go. I decided to make it for the christmas dinner my parents had for me and Boris.

The recipe sources from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, which I own and love very much. I’ll transcribe the recipe below, but it’s a long one, so I may make some abbreviations here or there.


  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted, non-self-rising cake flour
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sifted granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 10 egg whites

To make the cake, butter two 13 x 11 -inch jellyroll pans, then line them with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short ends. Butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pan. Lightly dust the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, the cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk the whole eggs, oil, and vanilla until frothy. Stir in the flour mixture until blended and thick.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks start to form. One teaspoon at a time, add the remaining 9 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat until stiff but not dry.

Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the egg-and-flour mixture. 1/3 at a time, continue to incorporate the remaining egg whites by folding. Do not overmix. scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and spread evenly. (This is very important to try to spread into a flat surface! The cake has no butter in it, so it won’t melt and even out the way some other cakes do when they bake.)

Bake the cake for 12-15 minutes, until it springs back when gently touched in the center. (I thought my cakes weren’t nearly done enough when I pulled them out of my oven but they harden considerably when cooling – and you don’t want to over-bake them because they’ll crack when you roll them.) Run the tip of a knife around the edges of the pan. Cover the cake with a large piece of plastic wrap, and then cover with a damp towel. Invert the cake onto a baking rack. When it is just cool enough to touch, start at long side and roll the cake, with the parchment paper, plastic wrap, and towel, into a cylinder. Cool the rolled cake to room temperature.

Whew. Sounds like a lot, right? My cakes turned out beautifully, though.

Here’s halfway through folding in the glorious egg whites. I love whipped egg whites. I have since I was a kid.

Once my cakes came out of the oven, they both looked like lovely fields of chocolate. They were probably just under an inch thick, some total, and I did my best to flatten them without pressing the air out of them– a large offset spatula helped in this task. It didn’t take long for them to cool in my cold kitchen. Remember, you need them to be as warm as possible to roll (more on this in a second), so don’t be shy about handling them hot.

Then came the rolling. If I’ve ever been panicked about baking something, this was the time. You want me to WHAT? Roll them? HOW? Won’t they shatter into one million pieces? You just, like, go for it? It sounded too easy – but somehow, it really wasn’t that bad. First, it’s so helpful if your parchment really does hang out two inches from the sides of your cakes before you put them in the pan. Secondly, the damp cloth kitchen towel makes it easier, too. I made mine hot and damp, though they were mostly cooled anyway by the time I rolled them. Oh, well. Also, don’t use towels you don’t mind getting stained – because they WILL get stained when you fill the cakes.

So, I took a deep breath, covered my cakes with saran wrap and a hot damp tea towel, and rolled. Roll tightly!

Ta-Dah! Never mind my mother’s cat-shaped oven mitt.

While the cakes are cooling to room temperature, I made Almond Cream Filling to fill my cakes with. I love almond anything. I added a teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the mixture in the sauce pan to deepen the color (I wanted my Bûche to look swirly, like a cutaway portion of a tree.) My filling looked like it was made of silk.

Once my filling was complete and cooled, I unrolled my cakes – which, to my immense relief, looked beautiful! I filled my cakes (below), and rolled them back up. Into the fridge they went!

Filled, re-rolled in their tea towels, and in the fridge, my cakes spent the night while I went home and felt only relief at the so-far-so-good results. The next morning I got up and got ready to decorate, because Christmas Eve dinner was that night! (It wasn’t actually Christmas Eve, as Boris would be with his parents in Nevada that night. My parents really wanted to have a proper “Christmas Dinner” with him, though, so we did ours on the 20th.) My cookbook recipe included one for white chocolate swiss meringue buttercream for the cake – I made it, and it was beautiful and glossy and white but made me nauseous when I sampled the finished product (white chocolate has, puzzlingly, never agreed with me), so I threw out the entire (~4 cup) batch. Boo! I went to the store the next day and made true, plain Swiss Meringue Buttercream to ice it.  Does this cake have a lot of eggs in it, or what? The frosting also adds just the tiiiiniest bit of butter:

I also made and assembled some meringue mushrooms, which are the traditional decorations of the Bûche de Noël.

To assemble my cake, I unrolled my cakes and removed all the parchment and towels etc. I cut all ends of my two cakes at a diagonal, to emphasize the swirly tree-like look. WOW! I was so excited to see how mine turned out. One of my rolls was prettier on the inside than the other – so I used the uglier roll for my long log “base”. The other, prettier roll was cut in half (on the diagonal again), and one “branch” was attached to the side, flat, with a glob of icing and the other “branch” was stuck to the top of the log with icing glue. Then I frosted! I decided a wooden cutting board would be a good platter for my cake, so that’s what I assembled, decorated, and presented on.

Frosting was fairly delicate work, as the cakes were soft. I got a nice, thick layer on it. Don’t worry about it being smooth – it’s supposed to look messy like tree bark. I ran a fork through my icing to make it look more like bark.

The final touches I added were a sifted dusting of cocoa powder (often, the frosting is chocolate and you dust with powdered sugar to make it look like snow, but since I chose a white icing I thought brown dust would look lovely). I also sifted some silver Wilton Pearl Dust over mine, which looked very snowy and decorative, if I do compliment my own taste. Finally, I added my meringue mushrooms.


This made a TON of cake. We ate it for like three weeks, ha.


St. Lucia Buns and Marcipani Cookies: Portland

15 Dec

Before Christmas, one of my coworkers had a cookie swap soiree, and I, of course, felt obliged to make a bazillion baked goods for the occasion. For Hannah’s Christmas challenge, I wanted to make traditional Simon-Teteak family favorites.

So naturally, I chose St. Lucia buns (from the Swedish Andersens on my dad’s side of the family) and Marcipani cookies (from the Czech Teteaks on my mom’s side of the family).

And as you can see, I had a special baking guest: our very own wee law receptionist, Christopher.

These Christmas cookies and buns are special not only because they’re part of my heritage (which I’m an extreme sucker for). It’s the spices that make these marcipani cookies special: Ground fennel and caraway seeds give these gingerbread-esque creations a wonderfully sharp yet subtle flavor. The saffron buns (otherwise known as lussekatter in Swedish, meaning little cats), are sweet yeast rolls with ground saffron. Because saffron is so expensive usually, these are reserved for the St. Lucia Day holiday, which my family celebrates every December 13.

I had the pleasure of borrowing my friend’s KitchenAid mixer, which helped quite a bit when it came time to knead the saffron bun dough. It tends to get extremely sticky, which I remember always frustrated me as a child when it came time to shape them into rolls.

The little spots you see in the cut up rolls are golden raisins, which are a lovely addition to the saffron. Once you’ve let the dough rise once, you divide it into 32 pieces, which will make 16 buns. Basically, you roll out the dough segments into 12-inch strips and then twist them together to make this shape (I obviously need to do better about taking pictures of my baking step by step). Then you let the rolls rise again until they get nice and puffy and are ready to bake.

Next, Chris and I rolled out the cookie dough. It made a ton, so I took the other half to my cousins’ house for Christmas (they’re Teteaks too) so we could make some together.  I didn’t have a rolling pin yet, so you can see here that Chris is resorting to my method of choice, the cooking spray can.

After several hours of mixing, rising and baking, here’s the final result! The cookies were far more airy and light than I would have expected, and for a person who doesn’t like fennel or caraway seed that much, I was really surprised with how light the flavor was. As for the saffron buns, they were delightful as usual. They’re also very good for breakfast.

Challenge #8: CYOC Multicultural Christmas Celebrations

14 Dec

Time for a Choose-Your-Own-Challenge for Nora and myself! Instead of picking one recipe to do as per normal, we thought we’d sort of pick a theme and leave ourselves way more room for interpretation. Our next challenge will be a Christmas- or holiday-themed baked good that sources its history or inspiration from a non-American culture.  I already know what I’m making, but I’m leaving it a surprise until I post it (I’m baking on Saturday, so probably early next week.)

Ready, Set, Go!

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Portland

12 Dec

What a great idea for the holiday season: the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Cookies in the mail? Yes, please. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this endeavor, organizing something like this must have been a lot of work because it took me a lot of energy just to figure out sending three-dozen cookies to three people. Imagine hundreds of cookies to hundreds of people. Thanks to Lindsay and Julie for putting this together. I’m sure I’ll participate next year, too, and perhaps will more success cookie-wise.
Thanks to Addison (Changing My Destiny) for her scrumptious Oatmeal Chocolate Chewies (in super inventive packaging: a tissue paper-filled mason jar; sorry, forgot to take pictures). And Toni (Kitchen Savvy Mom) for her delicious Double Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies (I loved how the white chocolate complemented the walnuts). And “Vesta” (Vesta Vamps) for her Aunt Thelma’s Butterscotch Cookies (which interestingly enough don’t have any butterscotch or sugar).

I’ve been in a ginger mood lately, using it for everything from cooking to baking. Also, I tend to go for simple cookies, things where you don’t have to do much assembly but there’s one spice or flavor that really stands out. So when Alton Brown’s ginger snap recipeshowed up in my inbox as part of Food Networks 12 Days of Cookies, it seemed too perfect to pass up. And it has THREE kinds of ginger (fresh, crystallized, and powdered), so these cookies turned out really spicy. Unfortunately, I was too cheap to buy cardamom ($15 ?!), so I made do without. I honestly didn’t miss it, because I don’t really know what cardamom tastes like, but I’m sure it makes some difference. Next time, I’ll just fork over the money.
Here’s the ingredient list:
9 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces dark brown sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ounces molasses, by weight
1 large egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 ounces finely chopped candied ginger

Wet ingredients (mmmm molasses)

Crystallized ginger has a really cool texture and makes for awesome, colorful photos.

Oddly, the recipe was in ounces for some things, so I had to do some conversions, which I think may have led to these cookies being too sticky when I put them in to bake. So as you can see, they were a little too buttery and spread out way too much on the cookie sheets. In retrospect, I should have used more flour (and probably cooked a test cookie to make sure the consistency was right. Oh well, learning lessons is what baking is all about, right?

They turned out looking marginally ok, though more greasy than I would’ve preferred. So much for finesse. It’s not my forte. But what I am good at is packages. So I bought some tins and Christmas filling at World Market and packaged them up with holiday cards. Unfortunately, I forgot to write my Twitter handle on the cards, so my recipients onlyknow my first name and blog URL (and our blog is so primitive we don’t even have Twitter linked yet, but we’ll fix that soon).

It made me so happy to package up these ginger delights and sent them to three separate corners of the country: Brighton, MA (West Coast Girl, East Coast Life); Hudson, IA (Table Talk and Walk); and Newark, NJ (The Foodie Next Door).
I know they weren’t the prettiest in the world, but I hope they were still delicious.
Happy Holidays!

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Denver

11 Dec

Nora found The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap last month, and she knew that it would be perfect for Cats and Commas. First, it meant that we were officially declaring ourselves “food bloggers”, which is neat. Also, who doesn’t like cookies?  The idea is simple: we each signed up, as did a ton of other food-blog folk, and Lindsay and Julie would match us to three other bloggers. Nora and I would each pick a cookie recipe (of our own design or adaptation), make three dozen cookies, and send one dozen to each of the names that Lindsay and Julie gave us. Meanwhile, other bloggers would be given our names, and we’d receive three different kinds of cookie. How perfect is that? I’m excited to see what kind of cookies Nora made – we haven’t yet told each other which recipes we used.

The most valuable thing I learned from this experiment was that cookies are delicious. The second-most valuable thing I learned is that Nora and I are scrubs for using blogspot.  Everyone’s blogs are so beautiful and professional! I was very impressed. (We wanted a wordpress blog, but found that we couldn’t get one set up for both of us to post on. If anyone has some advice about this (and also about how to switch the posts we have here onto the hypothetical wordpress), we’d be obliged.)

The first batch of cookies that I received were from Veronica of  Her cookies were peanut-buttery tasting with mini-snickers baked inside each one. They were chewy, which is how I love cookies, and salty and sweet.  Veronica’s batch came with a sweet postcard, too.

The second batch I got were Dad’s Famous Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies from Julie M. of These were exactly what the name suggests they are: buttery and awesome. They actually reminded me a lot of the chocolate chip cookies that my mom makes, but I love butterscotch chips, so what a wonderful addition.

The last batch I got were from Christian of Her cookies were carrot cake cookies with vanilla bean icing. The texture of these babies was AMAZING, and they tasted just like their namesake. Christian’s cookies also came with a really sweet, long, handwritten note, which I thought was lovely.

The cookies that I made for the swap were Chocolate-Cranberry Biscotti. I love biscotti, and haven’t made it for like 10 years – the last time was definitely with my mom, and I must have been a middle schooler. I adapted a recipe of Miss Martha‘s, of course, because I love her.  Originally, the recipe was Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti with Chocolate Chips from the Martha Stewart’s Cookies cookbook. I changed some of the proportions of dry ingredients and swapped all-purpose flour to whole-wheat, took out her additives and added dried cranberries, and changed the bake times accordingly.  I tripled the below recipe to make three batches.  Recipe is as follows:

-2 C whole-wheat flour, sifted.
-1 C unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted.
-1 tsp baking soda, sifted.
-0.25 tsp salt
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
-1 cup white sugar
-2 large eggs
-1.5 C dried cranberries

1. Heat the oven to 350. Prep your cookie sheets with parchment or foil.
2. Whisk dry ingredients together. Run them, combined, through a sifter to ensure even baking-soda distribution.
3. Cream butter and sugar until it’s very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. (A trick I learned from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking is that, when adding eggs or other liquids to creamed butter/sugar, you must beat so thoroughly after each little addition. If your butter mix “curdles” after one egg, whip whip whip whip until it looks normal before adding the next egg. It makes a huge difference.) Look at how beautiful my butter-sugar-egg mixture was after a few minutes of whipping. I could seriously roll around in this.
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4. Combine butter/egg/sugar mix with sifted dry ingredients. Mix well, but don’t overdo it. Once they’re combined, add your cranberries and distribute evenly. Your dough may be a little crumbly but should stick to itself fairly well when done.
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5. Roll the dough into a ball shape and then into a log. It should be about 10 or so inches long.  Place the log on your cookie sheet, and flatten it slightly. It’ll be about 10-12 inches long and 4-5 inches wide.
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6. Bake until slightly firm, about 30 minutes. The cookies will seem fairly soft, but don’t fret! Take the log out and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.
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7.  With a very sharp, serrated knife, slice the log diagonally at about 1-inch intervals. This is very crumbly, so it’s best to do it on something that will be easy to clean.
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7. Lower oven heat to 300 degrees.

8. Arrange your 1-inch-thick biscottis face-down on your cookie sheet, and return them to your oven. Bake until crisp, but still slightly soft in the center – these puppies will harden like rocks as they cool, so don’t expect them to be biscotti-hard when you test them in the oven.

9. Cool ’em on a wire rack and enjoy!
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I packed my cookies up and sent them off to Lisa of, Sara of, and Anita of Everyone got a dozen biscotti and a little card, too.  I hope my cookies arrived to Lisa, Sara, and Anita in solid pieces, and that they enjoyed them!
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Happy holidays! Once Nora gets her Cookie Swap post up and running, I’ll pick the next challenge.

P.S.: Cats and Commas got a twitter! Look at how modern we are. @catsandcommas , holla!