Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Buche de Noel -- Yule Log Cake

I baked this for my family as a surprise this year, and as soon as my dad saw it, he exclaimed happily, "Oh, it's a 'buche de Noel'!"

The Buche de Noel, as its name implies, is a cake baked and eaten around the Christmas season, and is made to resemble the Yule log that was burned by pagans of centuries ago in celebration of the Winter holidays. This cake was most likely a Victorian invention, and is still eaten in France and other Francophone countries.

I ended up writing my own recipe because I'm nit-picky and prefer to have things my way. So, here it is, my very own recipe for the Buche de Noel. Of course, you are more than welcome to tweak the recipe to suit your taste.

The cake is a chocolate sponge cake, with cream cheese frosting on the inside, and cream cheese-chocolate frosting on the outside. The "snow" is the powdered sugar, the snow drops are vanilla meringue. I made the holly berries and leaves out of gummy bears by flattening out the green ones and cut them into leaves, then covered them with sugar. I cut the red bears into halves and trimmed them into roundish shapes, then covered them in sugar as well. The bottom is then decorated with red-and-white mints.


For the chocolate sponge cake:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites (be sure that there is no trace of the yolk in the white)
4 Tablespoons chocolate powder (not instant hot chocolate mix!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole egg

For the cream cheese frosting:

1/2 stick of cream cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whip everything together.

For the chocolate-cream cheese frosting:

The same as the cream cheese frosting, but with 4 Tablespoons of powdered sugar, and 3/4 Tablespoon of chocolate powder. Whip everything together.


1. Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F. Cover a 15-inch pan with parchment paper and grease it very well. Set the pan aside.

2. Beat the egg whites until a stiff white peak is formed. Set aside.

3. Beat the yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla together until you get a thick and creamy texture mix that is very light in color.

4. Sift in the flour and chocolate powder into the sugar-yolk mixture, and beat until well-blended.

5. Gently fold in the egg whites.

6. Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread it out evenly.

7. Bake for 12 minutes.

8. While the cake is baking, take out your baking towel, or a large piece of parchment paper (a silicone baking pad will work, too).

9. Cover the entire surface generously with powdered sugar.

10. Flip the cake over on to the edge of your towel/paper/silicone pad while it is still hot.

11. Cover the entire cake genorously with powdered sugar.

12. Gently but tightly roll the cake up with your towel/paper/silicone pad, and let it cool.

Meanwhile, make your two frosting flavors.

After your cake has cooled, cover the inside with the white frosting, and roll your cake back up (alone this time). Cut one end of your cake diagonally and place it on top of the main cake. Cover it in the chocolate frosting, and run the fork across the surface to create the tree bark texture.

Decorate your cake to your heart's liking! You may make the holly berries with gummy bears or gumdrops. To make the leaves, just flatten out pieces of green gummy candy and trim them into leaf shapes, and cover them with sugar again.

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pistachio Cupcakes With Pistachio Frosting

In my previous post, I promised that I will show you an example of making your boxed cake mix taste more like something that is made from scratch. I decided to bake pistachio cupcakes with pistachio frosting. The frosting actually is made from scratch, and is a fresh cream frosting, so it is recommended that you refrigerate your cake and eat it within 24 hours.

And, since this is a time-warped kitchen, here is a mini history lesson on cupcakes: Cupcakes have been around since the late 1700s, and were known as "cakes that can be baked in cups." Of course, they were not always baked in actual cups; many were also baked in ramekins and muffin tins. Up until the recent years, cupcakes were seen as novelty, not as the hot trend that they are now. However, I love cupcakes because I know the exact portion that I'm getting, and not feel so tempted to get a second slice.

Pistachio Cupcakes:

1 box of white cake mix
2 eggs
1 package of pistachio pudding mix (I use Jell-O brand)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon (read the previous posting to see why this is important)
1 drop of green food coloring

Mix everything together on medium speed. Fill each cupcake cup only 1/2 way. Bake at 375 Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out dry. Cool.

Fresh Pistachio Cream Frosting:

1 and 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream (not whipped cream)
1 package of Jell-O brand pistachio pudding mix
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 to 2 drops green food coloring

Direction: Mix everything together until a thick frosting is formed.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cake Mix History

Today, we are going to explore 1950s Americana with the history of cake mix, and I will also share with you ways to "cheat" and make your cake mix taste very homemade.

In 1943, the Betty Crocker lab began to research ways to make it possible for homemakers to successfully bake cakes from prepackaged mixes. It took over four years, and the mixes were finally released in 1948, with the following varieties: white; yellow; spice. By 1949, a party would not have been a party without Betty Crocker!

The first cake mixes had egg powder in them, but the people at Betty Crocker realized that most homemakers preferred to add in their own ingredients, so the egg powder was removed, and the mixes called for fresh eggs instead. As the 1950s went on, boxed cake mixes continued to grow in popularity. Today, peruse through the shelves of any grocery store, and you will find cake mixes in an unimaginable number of flavors.

The wonderful thing about boxed mix is that if you follow the direction, your cake will always turn out a success.

So, how do I feel about boxed mixes? If you know me at all, you'd know that I love to cook from scratch. However, I do think that cake mixes can be great bases for you to customize and still have a homemade, made-from-scratch result. After all, you still added in the fresh ingredients, you still cared, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that your cake was baked from scratch.

The thing about boxed mixes (and canned frosting) is that they have that medicinal, preserved undertone that is pretty much the tell-tale sign that your cake was from a mix. So, how do we take care of that? There are several ways:
  • Bake your cake from a mix, but cover it with homemade frosting.
  • Or, if you don't want to use the frosting method, add the juice of half a lemon to your cake batter. The juice won't be enough to turn your cake into a lemon cake, but it will be enough to neutralize the medicinal scent and flavor.
  • To make canned frosting taste homemade, add the juice of half a lemon to that.
Tomorrow, I will share with you a cupcake recipe inspired by a boxed mix, complete with the shortcuts mentioned above!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One-Egg Cake

This recipe dates back to the 1930s, during the Great Depression. The simple cake recipe, which does not call for much, reflects the scarcities of many ingredients at the time. Note that this cake is denser than your boxed mix fares, and it is not going to be as light and fluffy either. However, what you will get is a delicious, moist cake that tastes unmistakably homemade.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour.
  • 3/4 cup sugar.
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder.
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • 1 egg.
  • 1/2 stick of butter.
  • 1/2 cup, and 2 Tablespoons milk.
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in the unbeaten egg. Add vanilla, milk, and almond extract.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together. Sift into the wet mixture, stirring at the same time.

Pour into a shallow pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven when a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean. 

Serve warm with powdered sugar sprinkled on top.