Intimidation hardly suffices to describe how I felt upon first glance at the recipe for my first Daring Bakers’ Challenge. Forget the fact there were six separate pieces to create -- not one of the six elements had components I ever attempted before in my life. Yes, I was intimidated; indeed, I was downright frightened by the prospect of concocting this gourmet French dessert. And having spent a bit of time in
I felt like a couch potato about to commence a decathlon.
The Bûche du Noël is a rich, layered frozen cake composed from bottom to top of dacquoise, ganache, crème brulée, and crisp with a mousse layered in between these elements, and, finally, adorned with a glossy icing. I chose the almond dacquoise, the dark chocolate ganache, vanilla crème brulée, the coconut/white chocolate crisp, dark chocolate mousse and dark chocolate icing to create my bûche. (Perhaps I overdid it in the dark chocolate department but I tend to prefer it to the milk and white chocolates…)
The dark chocolate mousse nearly had me pulling my hair out. I had never used gelatin in a recipe before. I had no comprehension of how this stuff works. The recipe said to soften the gelatin in a bit of water as one mixed the other ingredients together. I placed the gelatin in, I think, about 2 tablespoons of water. It turned into a harden mass of gel like those globs people put in their shoes for support. Not quite the right consistency for mixing with liquid ingredients.
The mousse also called for a pate a bombe—whipped egg yolks. The recipe said to whip them until they were nearly white, but I was extremely concerned with just how white was ‘nearly white.’ Knowing that the texture of whipped egg whites for a meringue can make or break the recipe, I was nervous that I was about to ruin my mousse with this pate a bombe I was about to drop into the mixture. Just the name of it sounds like a method of destruction; without control, the results could be disastrous.
Turns out my pate a bombe went off without a hitch. It was that finicky gelatin that was giving me all the trouble. I softened another couple packets of it in about a cup of water this time, allowing it to sit for only about 10 minutes. It easily mixed into the mousse this time around. I thought I was in the clear. But after I placed it in the fridge for a few hours while I worked on other pieces, the gelatin hardened the mousse so much it was nearly impossible to work with to fill the bûche. Grr.
The almond dacquoise nearly didn’t happen when the first store I went to offered a one pound bag of almond meal for nearly 10 dollars. No way was I going to spend that much on ground almonds! By golly, I would ground them myself rather than pay that much! Luckily, though, I found some at Trader Joe’s for only $4. That price agreed a bit more with my pocketbook. I had some trouble with my egg whites for this element and had to throw out the first batch I attempted to whip, but otherwise it wasn’t too horribly troublesome to make. My difficulty came when I attempted to remove it from the wax paper. It was very fond of adhering to it. A little nudging finally got it unstuck. It is very important to let this cool completely before trying to remove it. I believe my hastiness to pull it off was a major source of my frustration.
For the crème brulee, the recipe insisted on the necessity of a water bath for cooking the custard. But after not cooking for over an hour in the oven, I removed the water and completed the process after another hour. One of two things was the problem: the temperature of the oven called for was incorrect or the water bath hindered the cooking process, at least at that temperature.
The crisp layer called for crushed gavottes, a type of light French cookie. I was supposed to thinly spread the batter on the bottom of the pan. Again, ‘thin’ is a relative term, and I’m not sure that it was thin enough. I felt the pieces of cookie were rather thick and did not break well into pieces small enough for the crisp. It was kind of chunky and did not stick together well with the white chocolate and coconut when I tried to remove it from the wax paper to place it into the bûche. I ended up breaking pieces into the mousse instead of having a nice, single layer.
The easiest of the six elements was the dark chocolate ganache (no photo, it happened so quickly!). Unfortunately, it was the second to last element I made so I was already burned out from the other four and hesitant to finish the task. I nearly gave up on the bûche at this point but something (or someone ;-)) helped push me through to the end.
The icing was another gelatin nightmare—it hardened before I was able to spread it over the cake. I’m not sure I will ever attempt to make something with gelatin again. It does not agree with me in the least.
Overall, this project was probably the least enjoyable of all my baking experiences thus far. It was very difficult going into the project without knowledge of many of the elements involved. It certainly seemed it was going to be a Bûche-Do-Not-Eat, as Ryan so lovingly referred to it. But, I may just have to try this again some time so that I can apply all those invaluable lessons I learned from my mistakes.
The taste of the buche was overwhelming rich. It should be enjoyed in small doses, not the large American-size we are all so accustomed to. It will leave you with a tummy ache, otherwise. Give it a try...if you dare.