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Monday, December 29, 2008

Vive les Daring Bakers!

Oh la la, this month's challenge was a doozy.

Oodles of cream, chocolate, nuts, more chocolate and more cream. The Daring Bakers kept the festive spirit alive and well with a gorgeous and cheery challenge direct from France.

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. The original recipe can be found on their blogs.

First of all, kudos to the hosts Hilda and Marion this month for kindly advising all of the Daring Bakers on the forum. It's a big job each month. Not only did Hilda and Marion actively listen and answer all questions, but they deserve extra credit for translating everything into English from French. This month's challenge turned into a virtual cultural exchange and I loved the openness that it encouraged.

This picture is a shot of my -20 degrees Celsius light box.... it was a lot of work but I pulled a few strings and managed to have white snow cover everything. Those beach chairs belong on the Mediterranean coast but they have shivered their way through 17 Canadian winters.

In the spirit of cultural openness fostered by the French connection I decided to decorate my Yule Log with a lovely flowing Noel written on top. My son was a bit puzzled that I didn't chose Merry Christmas or the Italian "Buon Natale".

Well honey, mommy is only so talented and Noel is a lot shorter. Joyeux didn't even make the cut. But, I covered all my cultural bases by .... "posing my Yule Log on Italian beach chairs outside on a freezing Canadian winter day."

Try writing that sentence on the top of a cake.

The cultural exchange on the forum provided a lot of discussion and the liveliest discussion concerned measurements. Measurements are an exercise in the theory of relativity because they are neither universal nor clear to everyone.

Each of our gorgeous bakers comes from a different measurement tradition. Metric fluid measures, metric weight measures, British imperial, and American imperial were flying around the forum like an explosion in a physics lab. Every month, this hot topic needs to constantly be clarified. Luckily, we have some of the best and most helpful bakers in the entire world (no exaggeration) who patiently explain conversions and direct bakers to great resources.

Lessons Learned

1) There is such a thing as too much chocolate. I almost didn't have a second helping of my Yule Log.

2) This is the second time I have made a frozen creme brulee and each time it was a little too frozen for my taste. Even though there was plenty of fat and I had no problems making or cooking it, I would omit the creme brulee portion as the flavour was frozen and the texture was disappointing.

3) The mousse was gorgeous and silky but a fruit flavour for the mousse would offset the overwhelming chocolateness of the dessert. Not that I'm complaining about the chocolate, but one member of my family barely finished their dessert and (gasp) didn't want seconds. That's just not natural. My flavour choice would be different the next time... or I have to choose chocolate over my hubby.

I am in so much trouble.

4) I enthusiastically over worked the ganache so it was the same colour as the mousse instead of a dark chocolate layer. The subtle caramel flavour from the caramelised sugar was lovely but I have to learn to lay down my beaters at the end of a task.

Would I make this again? Yes, with a few changes of flavour and omitting the creme brulee. This challenge scored a solid nine out of ten for my family so it goes into our family recipe box.

Scroll through the Daring Baker's blogroll and look over the other Yule Log creations.


Gluten free conversion will follow later this week.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cold Weather

Sometimes I sound a little whiny about longing for a tropical climate and sunny days but I absolutely LOVE cold weather in Canada. It heralds the season of hot chocolate, gorgeous coloured leaves rustling their way down the street giving way to blowing snow and frosty clean air. But best of all... freezes all the bugs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caramel Cupcakes

Since the recipe for the signature Caramel Cake by Shuna Fish Lydon is posted here, I did not post the original recipe in my Daring Baker challenge. However, a successful gluten free conversion should have the information posted to help other bakers because gluten free baking requires more tweaking and adjusting. So here it is....


10 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (recipe below)
2 extra large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups Gluten Free Flour Mix*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 & ½ tsp xanthan gum
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375F

Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or butter and dust them with gluten free flour mix. Knock out the excess.

In a large bowl, cream butter until light in colour and smooth. Add sugar and salt; then cream until light in colour and fluffy. This works best with a hand mixer as opposed to a mixing stand as the mixer blades cut and incorporate more air.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough may look a little curdled but it will come together. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour mix, xanthan gum, and baking powder together. Sift it two or three times. This will incorporate more air into the mix, create a lighter cake, and mix the ingredients more evenly.

Add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.

The xanthan gum will start to work and the mix will feel a little “gluey” and sticky.

By hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Dollop batter into prepared muffin tins. Fill right to the top but do not mound them.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing it.

Cupcakes will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

*Gluten Free Flour Mix (Makes 3 cups)
2 cups extra finely ground brown rice flour
2/3 potato starch
1/3 tapioca starch


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water for "stopping" the caramelization process

In a small bowl, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Pour into stainless steel saucepan. Mixing the sugar and water in a bowl first, then pouring into the saucepan, eliminates the need to brush down sugar from the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush.

Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly - dark amber.

When color is achieved, put a piece of tinfoil with a small hole in the middle, over the saucepan and very carefully pour in one cup of water. If you don’t have tinfoil, parchment paper will work. A sieve placed over the sauce pan will damper the splutter too.

Do not take a chance on pouring water into an uncovered pan! Caramel will jump and sputter about therefore it’s very important to cover the pan first! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on if the pan is not covered and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
¼ tsp finely ground Kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool. Pour cooled brown butter into a mixing bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. The icing should not be pasty and thick otherwise you'll split your icing bag if you try to pipe it!

Add salt to taste.

Pipe, dollop or spread icing onto cooled cupcakes.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light