Yep, those were the exact words that left my lips the night (or was it morning?) when I finally finished the assembly of this challenge. I just joined the Daring Bakers group last month and while last month’s challenge wasn’t too difficult for me, seeing as I had made a caramel cake a couple of months earlier, December was certainly a doozy.
Not only was I dealing with five separate elements, several of which I considered challenges in their own right, but I was handicapped by a lack of equipment. That’s right, I managed to complete the entire challenge armed only with my trusty blender and hand mixer. The extra hand mixer my Aunt Nancy had given us when we first moved here certainly came in handy. Initially when we received it my Mom and I didn’t really appreciate it seeing as we already had one. When I was trying to complete Element #2, the Dark Chocolate Mousse, having a second mixer on hand was a boon, otherwise I don’t think it would have come out right.
This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.
These were my choices: Element #1 Hazelnut Dacquoise, Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse, Element #3 Dark-Milk Ganache Insert, Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert, Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert, and Element #6 Milk Chocolate Icing.
My favorite element hands down was the Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert – HOLY COW! That was deeeelicious! I happily had some of that left over and have been nibbling a bit each day. Does anyone have any ideas on how to incorporate this delectable little item in something else? It’s great on it’s own, but I’d love to enjoy this in something else? Anyone?
Honestly I’m not sure if I would make this again. It was a HELL of a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong, the results were great, but I’m just not sure. Maybe it’ll be a once-a-year, only-around-the-holidays type of thing.
One way or another, organization and planning are key in this “recipe” which really could be more of a book or at the very least a collection. The first thing I started with were my hazelnuts. I toasted them and then went on to removing the skins which was a surprisingly time consuming task. It took FOREVER to get all those skins off. Some were easy, but others I actually needed my grater to get off. For some reason I decided I didn’t want to go all the way upstairs to check the internet for tips on skinning nuts so a couple of hours later…Presto-chango – bare-naked hazelnuts! Next time I won’t be such a dope and just schlep myself upstairs. Joe Pastry has a nice post on stripping your hazelnuts you may want to check out anytime you need naked nuts.
Once I had my bare hazelnuts I decided to make the hazelnut meal I would need for the Dacquoise. Initially I was thinking about using my blender to grind my nuts into a meal since I am food processor-less. Then I thought of my last experience using the blender in this way and decided against it. So, I actually grated each nut individually into a fine meal. Although time consuming, it turned out lovely.
I think at this point I started the Vanilla Crème Brulée. I have had this cache of vanilla beans that I just love looking at each day. Credit is due to The Traveler’s Lunchbox for my vanilla bean source. She had an amazing post on making your own vanilla extract that everyone really has to do. Whenever I saw a recipe that required vanilla beans I would sigh longingly and deeply prior to discovering Vanilla, Saffron Imports. Now I have so many beans I don’t know what to do with them – it’s awesome! I have been wanting to make a crème brulée seeing as the one and only time I ever had it was probably in the top three of my dessert ecstasy experiences. I don’t remember the restaurant but it was near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It was a raspberrry crème brulée. This of course was after seeing Amélie (fav movie!) and it was simply magical cracking the hard sugar crust!
So I’ve wanted to make Crème Brulée for-ever, but I didn’t have a blowtorch and heard mixed results using a broiler. I now have a blowtorch (thank God for Home Depot!) but did not need it for this recipe since the crème brulée is actually a layer in the “cake”(? – is this considered a cake or pastry or what? Good Eats ‘N Sweet Treats was kind of enough to answer my question in her post. Apparently it’s called a entremets in french, or a cream dessert.) Apparently I’m not the only person who had some trouble getting the crème brulée to set. I don’t know how long it finally took to cook (seemed like ALL day), but I think I’m going to follow Alpine Berry’s advice and cook it at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. Regardless, it did finally set up and I stuck it in the freezer after it cooled.
While the crème brulée was cooking I decided to make the Praline Feuillete. First I needed the praline which we could take from the July DB challenge. Let me tell you, while making a praline paste can probably be done in two shakes of a lambs tail with a food processor, you can get it done with a certain amount of personal satisfaction using a blender and a heavy rolling pin. I started by grinding the sugar-hazelnut clusters in the blender. I kept on checking it and swirling the stuff around until I realized that the blender did all it could but could do no more. This left me with a coarse meal, not a paste. I looked to my heavy rolling pin made out of green marble (it’s a beaut!) and dumped the praline meal between two sheets of waxed paper and just kept rolling, picking up and rolling the mixture until it resembled a paste-like substance.
I think I did quite well considering the lack of tools. Regardless, the paste I managed to roll out worked fine for the praline feuillete.
I know I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating – this stuff is incredible! Seriously, I need to come up with something else to do with this. It’s sooooooo good!
After all that I called it a day.
When I got up the next day I checked the little list of elements I needed to complete to see what was finished and what still needed to be done:
Element #1 Hazelnut Dacquoise
Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse
Element #3 Dark-Milk Ganache Insert (right before assembly)
Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert
Element #6 Milk Chocolate Icing (after unmolding)
That’s basically where I was at. I decided to work on the hazelnut dacquoise next. This pretty much came off without a hitch. I have to say that the flavor of this didn’t seem to come through in the final product, but maybe I made it too thin, not sure.
Next was the dark chocolate mousse. This element did prove to be a bit of a problem and unleashed a bombardment of curses about my poverty. The difficult arose nearly at the start with the preparation of the Pate a Bombe. From the recipe: A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert. The steps for making the pate a bombe are to beat some egg yolks until they are nearly white in color, then cook some sugar and corn syrup to the soft ball stage after which you beat the sugar into the egg yolks. This is seriously not easy to do with a hand mixer. I ended up having to do this twice because I didn’t add the sugar fast enough before it actually cooled and hardened onto the ends of my beaters. Embarassing, but I’m going to show it.
You see I made the mistake of putting the mixer down to try to spoon every last bit of syrup into the yolks. By the time I got the mixer back up and running the syrup had cooled and started sticking to the beaters. If you ever want to try this at home, forget about getting everything out of the pan and just keep pouring into the bowl and mix, mix, mix. Make sure that you keep the mixer moving while the syrup is pouring in. This will make sure that the syrup is actually mixed into the yolks before it gets a chance to harden. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
The second mixer came in handy when I needed to whip the heavy cream that was to be folded into the rest of the mixture. I didn’t encounter any other problems with the mousse despite the rocky start.
Next was the dark-milk chocolate ganache. This was pretty easy. This is the first time I encountered a ganache recipe that called for a caramel. I’m not sure why, I’m guessing for stability.
After all that came the assembly. This was a little tricky and the tip I used to pipe the mouse in was probably too big because I had to stretch the last bit around to make it cover. I popped it into the fridge and I have no idea exactly what time it was, all I know is that it was after midnight and I swear the first thing I said when I finally closed the freezer door was, “Wow…I feel like I just ran a marathon.” Not that I have or probably will ever run an actual marathon, but the way I felt after running that gauntlet of a challenge is what I imagine what marathon runners feel like after they are finished.
The next day came unmolding and the icing. I had trouble getting my log out of the mold. I used a glass bread pan as the mold. I kept tapping and even sticking a dull knife along the side trying to pry it loose. Finally I stuck the damn thing in the microwave for six seconds. I turned it upside down on the counter and gave it a good whack and it finally popped out. The icing came out fine, but I think I could have used more of it. I don’t know certain (oh…) Daring (my…) Bakers (…God!) get their icing to look like one glossy, unblemished sheet, but I certainly didn’t have enough icing to manage it. I think I’d probably double the recipe next time and come up with something (hmmm, I wonder) to do with any extra. Either that or I’ll do what Apple Pie, Patis and Pâté did, talk about a “Wow” effect!
This was a fabulous challenge! While there were some hair-pulling times, I really loved doing all of this. It’s challenges like this that teach you how to organize your kitchen and process. What a great learning experience! Thanks to all the hostesses!