Make the cake and cool as directed. Then, slice the cake across the middle of the 15-inch side of the pan. Slice each half into thirds. Trim pan-side edge of pieces. Each piece will be about 7 inches by 3 inches. Cut two pieces of cardboard, same size as the layers, so each cake will have a base.
Make the filling/icing. Purists may reject the recipe because the ingredient list includes corn syrup. Too bad.
2 cups heavy cream
4 tbs unsalted butter
4 tablespoons corn syrup
1 1/2 pounds semisweet chocolate* * you can reduce the amount of chocolate by 4-6 ounces if you want; the result will be a softer but still firm icing.
Chop the chocolate so that it will melt easily into the other ingredients. Combine the cream, butter and corn syrup in a saucepan and heat to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add chocolate, stir once. Leave for about 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth and strain through a sieve into a bowl. Refrigerate until thick, about 2 hours.
Whisk the ganache until it is spreadable. Use a long metal knife to ice the tops (generously) of the two bottom layers; then add and ice 2 layers to each base. Ice the sides of your 2 cakes (again generously) and then spread a thin layer on the tops. You now have two cakes which look like this:
Now, put the remainder of the ganache into a pastry bag with either a plain half-inch tip (or a slightly smaller one, either plain or the one with the ridged side). If you use the 1/2-inch tip, pipe tubes at an angle across the top. If you use a smaller tip, pipe at an angle or straight across, and make a border all the way around. (Reminder: make sure the ganache is not too thick for the smaller tip.) If you are going to freeze the cakes, place them on a pan uncovered and put in the freezer for an hour. Remove, wrap each in plastic and place in separate baggies before returning to freezer. To serve, remove two hours ahead of time. Voila.
Simple Yule Log: I made this dessert at least a dozen times before I read pastry chef Francois Payard's recipe in the New York Times for a Muscadine Yule Log, an over-the-top gorgeous and delicious dessert. It took more time to produce and I fell back to making my standard all chocolate log because it's simple. But I learned something important from Monsieur Payard - the buche can be made ahead and frozen. The Payard buche looks straight out of a fancy patisserie. The recipe here is for a slightly more rustic log though you can refine the look easily enough.
You'll need a candy thermometer unless you have a practiced eye.
First, make the cake.
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
6 tbs cocoa, sifted
1/8 tsp salt
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) with parchment or cut paper bags so that paper overlaps all sides. Oil. Don't think you can skip the oil and lightly butter the paper; the cake will stick. You can avoid all this by purchasing a Super Parchment (made by Kitchen Supply) at Amazon for $10.68. www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Supply-Co-2575-Parchment/dp/B000QJEYPW Works like magic, no oil required. Buy two.
Beat the egg yolks until light; add the sugar and beat until creamy. Blend in the vanilla, cocoa and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff but don't overdo it. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Do not panic if some islands of egg white appear when you pour and spread this concoction into the pan - it's better to have specks of white than to mix the ingredients to death.
Bake for about 20 minutes. Poke with a cake tester to check.
straight from the oven
Immediately turn cake over onto a dampish towel lined with a new piece of parchment (or super parchment) and peel the paper from the bottom of the cake. Roll cake up in the lined towel and cool on a rack. (You can roll the cake from the long side and have a long, thinner log or roll it from the short side and have a wide log. If you do it the long way you can actually make two little buches de noel for gifts.)
rolled and ready
Make the buttercream:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 eggs, in a bowl, stirred
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted, or 1 cup cocoa
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook to "soft-ball" stage (234 degrees) - this is a few degrees above "jelly" on the thermometer. The sugar-water temperature shoots up to jelly rapidly and then it's a slow go. This recipe is forgiving. You don't want to burn the sugar or have it solidify so if you are new at this, go ahead, take it off the heat before it gets to 234 and start to pour it into the eggs. This is the important part: if you are using a hand mixer, one hand is mixing the two eggs on medium speed while the other is pouring in the sugar mixture to combine. Beat until cold (doesn't take long).
Cream butter (this is when having two mixers makes life easier) thoroughly. Then beat in the egg/sugar mixture and blend in the chocolate.
Put it all together.
Unroll the cake, sit it on a jelly roll pan or any other flat surface and spread with half the buttercream, not going too close to the sides. Roll the cake back up, seam down, and spread most of the rest of the buttercream on the top and sides. Trim the raggedy end pieces off; then, cutting at an angle, slice a piece of cake off each end and use these for knots, placing them on the top or sides. I mostly make a rustic looking cake, draw some wavy lines along the bark and around the knots and add holly leaves and little rose hips for berries. But you can just as easily ice the log to be perfectly smooth, draw even fork tine lines and place little candy mushrooms and berries on it to make it picture perfect. Children love it when there are lots of marzipan leaves and berries.
But decorations can wait. For now, if you are cooking ahead, just draw your bark lines and put the cake in the freezer, uncovered, for about and hour.
into the freezer
Take it out and using a pancake flipper, lift it off the pan and place it on a large piece of plastic wrap; wrap the cake airtight using a couple of layers. Return frozen cake (now a dangerous weapon) to the freezer. And here's a plug for the best available wrap: Stretch-Tite www.stretchtite.com/
Thaw the cake, wrap removed, in the refrigerator. Refrigerator space being at a premium we have thawed the cake on porches, in cold basements, anywhere critter-free. It's a lot of buttercream so it's best not to have the log sit at room temperature too long before eating. Since the log is all chocolate and we also serve English pudding, we use brandied whipped cream for both.
WINE & BEER Sakonnet Vineyards (162 West Main Rd, Little Compton 401-998-8486) is holding a holiday open house Saturday, and Sunday,December 11/12 from noon to 3:00 p.m. Go to www.sakonnetwine.com for more info.
From noon to 5:00 on Saturday, December 18,Newport Storm Brewery (293 JT Connell Rd, Newport 401-849-5232) will have a "Hoppy" Holiday party with beer on tap, hot toddies, tours, and a cook-off of foods made with Newport Storm Beer or Thomas Tew Rum. The brewery tours (described as "hands on") will be on the hour and led by the head distiller and the brewmaster. Admission for adults: $10 Diversions will be provided for the tots (no cost). www.newportstorm.com/index.asp
FEDERAL HILL Tony's Colonial Food (311 Atwells Avenue, Providence 401-621-8675) is holding a tasting for Tuscan salami and sharp provolone tomorrow, Saturday, December 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On Saturday December 18 you can move on to sweet samples: homemade torrone and Christmas panettone. www.tonyscolonial.com
RESTAURANT NEWS/EVENTS Mill's Tavern (101 North Main St, Providence 401-272-3331) will be open for lunch, weekdays from noon to 2:30 p.m. from Tuesday, December 14 through Christmas Eve. My shopper friend and I plan to take our break there. www.millstavernrestaurant.com
Cook & Brown Public House (959 Hope St, Providence 401-273-7275) is having a cocktail workshop on Sunday, December 19 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. $40 for the workshop alone, $70 if you stay for Sunday supper. This could be fun. www.cookandbrown.com
For twenty-nine years, the Key West Literary Seminar has presented programs featuring authors reading from their works and panel discussions on whatever topic heads the agenda that year. It's a reader's three-day paradise in a warm (usually) climate. This year the subject is food. The Hungry Muse: An Exploration of Food in Literature has an amazing list of author-guests at the second session, Thursday, January 13 (begins in the evening) through Sunday afternoon, January 16 (the first session is sold-out). Participants include Roy Blount Jr., Billy Collins, Calvin Trillen, Adam Gopnick and Mark Kurlansky. Check the website for the complete list. The program is fun and it's friendly - the authors are mainly a gregarious lot. www.kwls.org
Back to Federal Hill for a Bob & Timmy's (32 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-453-2221) retry, this time for a wood-grilled pizza - their claim to fame earlier this year. We ordered the Grilled Classic - wild mushrooms, grilled yellow onions, pepperoni, parmesan and romano cheese with marinara sauce. Underwhelming: crust not crisp, onions not sauteed enough, herbs not detected.
Normally an on-line chocolate shop, Garrison Confections (72 Ledge St, Central Falls 401-725-0790) has periodic Factory Store sales - not exactly garage sale discounts but fair prices and no shipping costs. At the pre-Easter sale this year the chocolate bunnies were knock-outs. The chocolate-covered almonds are delicious. www.garrisonconfections.com
The shop will be open 11:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.: Friday 12/03 Saturday 12/04 Friday 12/10 Saturday 12/11 Friday 12/17 through Thursday 12/23
If you knock and nobody comes to the door, knock more insistently!