perfect party cake (daring bakers march 2008)


I was excited to see that Morven chose a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours for this month’s Daring Baker challenge. This book is extremely popular among food bloggers, but I had never made anything from it. Oh, and also, I love cake. And I had too many egg whites in the freezer left over from the pound cake experiments.

The cake came together easily. We were allowed to change the flavoring from the original lemon if we chose, but I didn’t because I was interested in the subtly-lemon flavored cake. I’m a major batter eater, and this batter tasted great, which is always a good sign.


Like a few of the Daring Bakers, my cakes didn’t rise as much as I expected. This may be a result of the previously-frozen state of my egg whites, but I suspect it’s because I used a bit too much flour. Apparently the copy of the recipe I used had a mistake (oops!) in the amount of flour called for. I was a little worried about cutting the thin layers in half and probably would have skipped that step if this hadn’t been a DB challenge. However, Dorie refers to this cake as “sturdy” and I imagine the extra flour makes it more so, so I had no problems whatsoever cutting my thin layers in half.

The buttercream is my favorite of the few meringue buttercreams I’ve made. The lemon juice gave it a flavor beyond lightly sweetened butter. It came together quickly and was easy to work with.


I’m glad I was able to halve each layer, because the alternating stripes of raspberry jam and buttercream is so pretty. I was a little surprised that Dorie called for one quarter of the buttercream to be used in between each layer, leaving just one quarter for both the top and the sides. I tried to use less in between the layers, so that I’d have some more to work with on the outside. In the future, if I’m serving the cake immediately, I might make just ⅔ – ¾ of the buttercream recipe, and leave the sides of the cake bare. I think it would be really pretty. Plus it would cut down on the ridiculous amount of butter involved in this dessert.

Overall, I thought the cake was delicious. The lemon, the raspberry, and the sweet cake were great compliments. The cake was easy to work with, “sturdy”, as Dorie refers to it. I thought it was maybe just a bit dry, so I was relieved to hear that I used too much flour, because now I can say that the first recipe I made from Dorie Greenspan lived up to all the hype. And in fact, I bought the book a few days later!


Perfect Party Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Dorie note: Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1½ cups (10½ ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake:
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.


daring bakers feb 2008: julia child’s french bread


I was excited to see that this month’s Daring Baker hosts, Mary and Sara, chose Julia Child’s french bread recipe. I’d heard of this recipe before and wanted to try it, but I didn’t want to buy the book it’s in, so this worked out great for me. The recipe is really long, and it sounds like that intimidated a few Daring Bakers. However, much of that length is because Julia’s writing style is so personal and friendly, and she gives a lot of detail. I really enjoyed making my way through her recipe. This is a quote I particularly liked, which also sums up my philosophy toward homemade bread: “It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.” Homemade bread is good even if you screw it up.


While I’m not a bread novice, I picked up a few tips from this recipe. One is to let the dough rise seam-side up and then flip it over before baking. This way the dough on top in the oven has no hardened crust that might impede the oven-rise. I also like the idea of using water to estimate what level the dough should rise to in its bowl.

All in all, this was great bread (although most of it is still in my overly stocked freezer). I have some other French bread recipes that I like at least as much, that have the added advantage of providing the baker with some more freedom in the timing. Probably the biggest difficulty of this recipe is finding the time to do it all in one day.


I made myself a tasty little sandwich with one of my mini-loaves, and now I’m trying to think of a great accompaniment to the baguette. I hear Julia Child’s coq au vin is amazing, and I do have the cookbook with that recipe. Although I hear that recipe is quite a project as well!

You can find the whole recipe here, and be sure to check out the rest of the Daring Bakers‘ bread!


daring bakers jan 2008: lemon meringue pie


I saw so excited to see that this month’s Daring Baker challenge was lemon meringue pie! Not only do I love lemon, but the one lemon meringue pie I’ve made was several years ago and was only partially successful. It seemed to me like this had to potential to be a fairly difficult challenge – pie crust, lemon curd, meringue. But when Jen of The Canadian Baker revealed this recipe to us, she expressed some concern that it might not be challenging enough for everyone.

She needn’t have worried. As one person after another wrote in to the DB private blog that they had followed the recipe exactly and had lemon meringue soup to show for their efforts, I started to get worried. And it seemed that for every disaster, there was another DBer chiming in that they had followed the recipe exactly and had perfect results. It goes without saying that I was hoping to be in the latter group.

I was not. I, however, cannot claim that I followed the recipe exactly. Because I screwed up.


It was all going swimmingly until I baked the pie at the end. The crust was a bit thicker than I’m used to, and the filling overflowed the crust a bit after I added the meringue, but these are minor qualms. (Ah – I see now that the recipe is developed for a 10-inch pan, and I only have 9-inch pans. That explains it.) The problem arose when I opened the oven to bake the pie and realized that I needed to adjust the racks and add a sheet pan below to catch drips. As I fumbled around with these corrections, I cranked the oven thermometer up to make sure the heater stayed on.

About five minutes after I put the pie in, a smell reminiscent of marshmallows roasting on a campfire reminded me that I hadn’t turned the oven back down. At this point the meringue was a beautiful mix of almost black, tan, and white. Afraid of it turning entirely black, I took the pie out far earlier than the recipe instructed.

And like many DBers, my filling did not set. Is it because I baked the pie at 450 degrees for 5 minutes instead of 375 degrees for 20 minutes? I don’t know. The next day, however, the filling was nice and solid, although the meringue was insufficiently cooked.


I do know that this unsatisfactory pie did not satisfy the desire for lemon meringue pie that I had by now developed. I also knew that I wasn’t taking any chances with the same recipe. Instead, I tried a Cooks Illustrated recipe. Unsurprisingly, it went off without a hitch. Gotta love Cooks Illustrated.

Check to see how the rest of the Daring Bakers pie experiences went!


Lemon Meringue Pie (from Wanda Beaver’s Wanda’s Pie in the Sky)

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch

5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.
For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

The Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes one 9-inch pie

Graham Cracker-Coated Pie Shell
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , chilled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening , chilled
3-4 tablespoons cold water
½ cup graham cracker crumbs

Lemon Filling
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1½ cups cold water
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest from 1 lemon
½ cup lemon juice from 2 to 3 lemons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Meringue Topping
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. For the pie shell: Mix flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with a little of the flour. Cut butter into flour with five 1 second pulses. Add shortening; continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no larger than a small pea, about four more 1-second pulses. Turn mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cold water over mixture. Using rubber spatula, fold water into mixture; press down on dough mixture with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together. If dough will not come together, add up to 1 tablespoon more cold water. Shape dough into ball, then flatten into 4-inch-wide disk. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

3. Generously sprinkle work area with 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs. Place dough on work area. Scatter a few more crumbs over dough. Roll dough from center to edges, turning it into a 9-inch disk, rotating a quarter turn after each stroke and sprinkling additional crumbs underneath and on top as necessary to coat heavily. Flip dough over and continue to roll, but not rotate, to form a 13-inch disk slightly less than 1/8-inch thick.

4. Fold dough into quaarters; place dough point in center of 9-inch Pyrex pie pan. Unfold to cover pan completely, letting excess dough drape over pan lip. To fit dough to pan, lift edge of dough with one hand and press dougn in pan bottom with other hand; repeat process around circumferences of pan to ensure dough fits properly and is not stretched. Trim all around, ½-inch past lip of pan. Tuck ½ inch of overhanging dough under so folded edge is flush with lip of pan; press to seal. Press thumb and index finger about ½-inch apart against outside edge of dough, then use index finger or knuckle of other hand to poke a dent on inside edge of dough through opening created by the other fingers. Repeat to flute around perimeter of pie shell.

5. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Use fork to prick shell at ½-inch intervals; press a doubled 12-inch square of aluminum foil into pie shell; prick again and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

6. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake, checking occasionally for ballooning, until crust is firmly set, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, remove foil, and continue to bake until crust is crisp and rich brown in color, about 10 minutes longer.

7. For the filling: Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and water in a large, nonreactive saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally at beginning of the process and more frequently as mixture begins to thicken. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, whisk in egg yolks, two at a time. Whisk in zest, then lemon juice, and finally butter. Bring mixture to a brisk simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, place plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep hot and prevent skin from forming.

8. For the meringue: Mix cornstarch with 1/3 cup water in small saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at beginning and more frequently as mixture thickens. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat. Let cool while beating egg whites.

9. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cream of tartar and sugar together. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks. Remove plastic from filling and return to very low heat during last minute or so of beating meringue (to ensure filling is hot).

10. Pour filling into pie shell. Using a rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge then center of pie to keep it from sinking into filling. Make sure meringue attaches to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Use spoon to create peaks all over meringue. Bake pie until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve.


daring bakers dec 2007: yule log


2007 was probably the busiest year of my life. I got engaged, then married, I moved to a new city, I finished my PhD, and I started a new, very time-consuming job. December was an appropriate finish to such a year – on top of all the holiday craziness and a visit from my parents, Dave and I are moving from Syracuse to Philadelphia at the end of the month. It’ll be a great adventure for both of us, but it means we have to pack up all of our stuff – for the second time this year for me, and the third time for Dave.

I knew all this was coming when I joined the Daring Bakers at the end of November. But I was too impatient and excited to be part of such a great group that I didn’t want to wait another month! I have to admit that I was hoping for a relatively simple first challenge. November’s Tender Potato Bread would have been perfect – one item and not hugely work-intensive.

So you can possibly imagine my trepidation when I saw the December challenge – a Yule Log, or Buche de Noel. Fancy cake, buttercream, meringue (or marzipan) mushrooms, plus the intimidating job of combining all of those components. Oh geez.

Wisely, I divided the baking up over two days. I was bushed at the end of each.

The Filling:
I didn’t want to use the coffee buttercream as the filling. It seemed like it might be, well, too much coffee buttercream. I pondered other filling ideas that would go with coffee and chocolate and decided on this recipe from I had never worked with marzipan before and it’s always fun to try new ingredients.

This is the weirdest custard thing I have ever made, and I’m no stranger to custards. The heating of the milk and tempering of the egg mixture is standard, but what’s with using flour as the thickener? Also, maybe I’m not a big marzipan fan. Eaten plain, it was somehow too sweet and too bland at the same time. Mixing into the custard unfortunately didn’t help much. Uh-oh. The Yule Log wasn’t off to a great start.

The Buttercream:
Cake is possibly my favorite dessert. I love them all, but if someone cruelly forced me to choose just one, I’d go with cake. Yet I’m not experienced in buttercream. I do remember trying out a Cooks Illustrated buttercream recipe maybe a year ago. It’s hard to mess up a CI recipe, because they give such detailed instructions, but my buttercream curdled, and I threw it out and made my standard powdered sugar-butter-milk-vanilla frosting that I love.

This one didn’t go much better. I only made half the recipe since I wasn’t going to be using it as filling. I’m so spoiled by the precision of Cooks Illustrated recipes that I’m always frustrated when I see something like “whisk until the egg whites are hot.” How hot? “Whip until cooled.” How cooled are we talking about here? Room temperature? Make me use my thermometer!

The real trouble came at “beat in the softened butter.” (How soft?) It doesn’t say anything about gradually, but I figured better safe than sorry and added the butter one tablespoon at a time. It was clear early on in the butter-adding process that things weren’t going well. I tried to convince myself that my butter was just too hard and wasn’t getting beaten into the egg whites, but eventually I had to admit that the buttercream had curdled.

I was not to be discouraged. Apparently I wasn’t the first DBer to have this problem, and I’d heard that there was hope for saving a curdled buttercream. My good friend Google directed me to, which had some great advice. Simply melt a portion of the curdled buttercream and beat that back into the mixture. No way! How wonderfully simple!

Apparently I didn’t melt enough of the buttercream the first time, because it didn’t solve the problem. So I tried melting some more, probably half the mixture, and voila! Perfectly smooth buttercream! I packed that away in the fridge until the next day.

Meringue mushrooms:
The mushrooms just seemed impossibly fussy to me at first. But at least I got to make a meringue. I love using the whisk attachment on my mixer. It’s like magic.

But wow, meringue is some sticky stuff. I scooped it into a pastry bag as best I could, but of course it was totally messy. I started piping mushroom stems and caps. Super fun actually, although it took me a bit of time to figure out the technique. “Pipe 48 mushrooms stems and tops.” Forty-eight?! Why do I need forty-eight mushrooms?! Plus, I must have made my mushrooms too big, because I only ended up with 35 or so.

“Reserve remaining meringue.” Uh…remaining meringue? I scraped up some mushrooms from the baking sheet and squished it back into the pastry bag. I put the mushrooms in the oven. “Dust with cocoa.” Doh! I took the mushrooms back out of the oven and dusted with the cocoa. I put them back in the oven.


Oh my gosh, an hour later, I had the cutest little mushrooms! I love them! Definitely my favorite part of the recipe. Look how much they look like real mushrooms!


The Cake:
What the hell is genoise? Thank god for wikipedia. And the various dictionary websites that told me how to pronounce it. (Except for this one, which got it totally wrong.) Do I pronounce the “s”? If it’s named after an Italian city, why does it have a French pronunciation? I love the internet.

Anyway, I had my doubts about the cake from the beginning because of the cornstarch. Why not just use all cake flour? I also thought that a chocolate cake would go better with the coffee buttercream, so I looked up Malgieri’s chocolate genoise variation. I also had to increase the recipe proportions because I apparently have only half-sheet pans, not a jelly roll pan. Who knew? (And if that’s the case, then why is my Silpat too big for my baking pans?)

Ah, more of the whisk attachment. So fun. I also enjoy folding, so this was all going well.

Oh, here’s a step I should have paid more attention to. “Scrape the bottom of the bowl to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there.” I did see that I was supposed to be careful about scraping to the bottom, but I apparently didn’t finish reading the sentence. I assumed that I’d be worried about the egg mixture accumulating. I didn’t see any evidence of that, so I moved onto pouring the batter into the prepared pan.

And…wait for it…yes, a huge accumulation of flour at the bottom of the bowl! Most of the batter was already in the pan, so I desperately tried to mix the clump of dry ingredients into the little amount of available batter and then I just poured that on top of the batter already in the pan and hoped for the best.

I hate when recipes include a DO NOT OVER____ step. Overmix and you’ll end up with tough muffins, overbeat and your whipped cream turns to butter, and now overbake and your genoise will crack when you try to roll it. The genoise was supposed to bake at least 10 minutes, but I anxiously tested it after 8½ and the toothpick came out clean. Oh no. It felt too early to take it out of the oven, so I put it back in until 9 minutes and 15 seconds, all the while worrying about cracked Yule Logs.

The Assembly:
I love how the recipe keeps specifying that the cake be transferred around without any consideration for its completely unwieldy dimensions. I made one transfer – from baking pan to my biggest cutting board. It was pretty clear that something was wrong with my cake. I’m sure the little balls of cooked flour and cocoa weren’t part of Malgieri’s plan when he developed this recipe.

I spread my subpar filling over my subpar cake and followed Malgieri’s unclear instructions on “using the parchment paper to help roll the cake into a tight cylinder.” (Uh…how exactly? Also, from the long or short side?) Of course it cracked. Bake 10-12 minutes, my ass.

Then I took my nice buttercream from the day before and left it out to soften. It wasn’t softened enough when I was ready to use it, so I figured I’d soften it with the paddle attachment of my mixture. And…more broken buttercream. Geez, buttercream is the wussiest emulsion ever. Melt, remix, not enough to solve the problem, melt, remix. (For those interested, I melted the buttercream in the microwave on 30% power for just 30 seconds or so. I was paranoid about accidently cooking the egg whites in it.)

I think it’s funny that the recipe makes sure to remind us to “curve around the protruding stump” when we’re frosting the cake. Like the big stump on top of the cake wasn’t reminder enough.

So, after all of my trials and tribulations, I came out with quite the nice-looking Yule Log, if I do say so myself.


And how many mushrooms did I use out of the 48 the recipe plans for? Five.

Please check out more of the Daring Bakers Yule Logs here!

Yule Log (from Nick Malgieri, and The Williams-Sonoma Collection – Dessert)
Make 12 servings

Filling: (from
2/3 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup marzipan, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Bring milk to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk yolks and sugar in small bowl until well blended; whisk in flour. Whisk hot milk into egg mixture. Return to same saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until custard thickens and boils, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to processor; cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Add marzipan; process until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in butter 1 piece at a time, then both extracts. Cover and refrigerate filling at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
Pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa

1 10-by-15-inch to 12-by-18-inch jellyroll pan

1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Lower the water to a simmer.

3. Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees. (Use your finger to test it.)

4. Place on mixer with whisk attachment and whip on high, but not highest, speed until the egg mixture is cool (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and has increased greatly in volume.

5. While the eggs are whipping stir together the flour, cornstarch and cocoa.

6. Take the bowl off the mixer and sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there. Repeat with the next 1/3 of the flour mixture and finally with the remaining flour mixture.

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8. Bake the genoise in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until well risen and firm. Do not let the cake bake dry.

9. Use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the side of the pan. Invert the cake to a rack, then immediately re-invert to another rack so that the cake cools on the paper.

Coffee buttercream (half recipe)
2 egg whites
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk gently over simmering water until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Whip on medium speed until cold. Beat in softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Combine the instant coffee and liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Meringue mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3½ ounces/105 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces/40 g) powdered sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2. Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3. Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

To assemble:
1. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2. Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3. Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4. Spread with the filling.

5. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6. Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7. Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8. Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11. Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and any other decorations.