by MaceVindaloo, SuSu, GilArda
Menu: Meringue Mushrooms | Ganache | Rum Simple Syrup | Chocolate Pastry Cream | Genoise | Royal Icing | Assembling the Bûche
Frodo's writing of "The Lord of the Rings" had been going well and he was over three-quarters through the tale when he noticed the days getting shorter and the weather going very cold. His wounds, which had never healed, throbbed more strongly as time went on, and he knew he could not bear the pain for much longer. It seemed to be a live thing, goading him to finish the writing of his adventures, before he had to leave the Shire for good.
He knew this would be his last Yuletide in the Shire, and he knew he needed to start putting his affairs in order and to say his goodbyes. The very first thing he'd do, he decided, was to have a party at Bag End and invite everyone to feast. He knew Sam would be happy to help provide the vittles, but he wanted to create a special centerpiece dessert for everyone.
What to make? Frodo needed a break from non-stop reminisces of the battles and challenges he and his friends had suffered, and so he took to walking around the outskirts of the Shire as his uncle Bilbo had before. In the cooling breezes he heard voices, which Merry and Pippin had told him were the lost Ent-wives. It brought him some solace to hear them. Though he couldn't really understand them, it did bring him some inspiration he'd craft a cake to look like a part of the autumn forest he'd never see again, to not only represent the time he'd leave, but so he could remember his favorite time in the Shire.
As to what he'd call this new creation, he'd heard his uncle talk about a young lady he'd met on his travels who spoke a foreign language no one had heard before. From this woman, Bilbo had learned that to say goodbye, one had to decide whether one would see the person again. If the goodbye was temporary, one said, "Au Revoir," which means, "Of Your Return," indicating they planned to see one another again. But if one knew the farewell was final, one said, "Adieu," which meant, "To God." And that meant goodbye ... forever ...
Even when not formed into mushroom shapes, there confection are a great favorite especially among young girls! The simplest thing to do is to make them into blobs, but it's really worth the effort to make and construct the mushrooms. Frodo's friends who saw them gasped with pleasure, but hobbits could not resist mushrooms cooked in any form. When they discovered Frodo had made mushrooms from meringue, their pleasure knew no bounds! So please do make the effort and make these mushrooms properly.
Clean and dry the mixing bowl and whisk blades thoroughly, making sure there is no fat of any kind adhering to the surfaces. If any fat is present, the eggwhites will not whip.
Measure the eggwhites on a scale and note the weight. Add the cream of tartar and start whipping the eggwhites till they start to take on extra volume (or whip to medium-soft peaks). Measure out a weight of sugar equal to the weight of the eggwhites. Add the white sugar to the whites and continue beating on a lower speed till the meringue forms into stiff peaks, but they should not be dry. Do not overbeat the whites, or they will start to separate into "foam" and "liquid" and look kind of grainy. When done, fold in the powdered sugar till completely mixed. The meringue will look glossy and have an an almost plastic and marshmallowy texture.
Heat the oven to about 200°F / 95°C. Pipe out the mushroom caps and stems separately on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet using a pastry bag and very flat, wide tip. Place the meringues in the oven till the meringues are dry and very light. If they take on color before they are done, you can crack the oven door open a bit and/or lower the heat. Leave to cool in the turned off oven with the door cracked open a bit to let moisture escape this is especially important if you have a gas oven, which generates moisture.
To assemble the mushrooms, poke or carve a little hole in the center of the flat underside of your mushroom cap and put a dab of meringue or icing on the tip of a stem piece, and put the two together. If you are using meringue, you can dry it out in a low oven for 10 minutes or so.
You'd think there was nothing better than chocolate in its pure, sweetened form, but there is actually an additive that makes it so much more luscious rich cream. In the peaceful post-war time, the crossroads at Bree became a burgeoning trade market, and Frodo dared to walk there on his own something unheard of just a few years previous. To be sure, Sam would have been horrified to know that his former master had gone off so far on his own, but this was a special occasion, and Frodo meant to give his friends the best he could procure on his own!
Put the chocolate morsels or chopped up bits into a large bowl. Pour about half of the hot cream over the chocolate and leave for about a minute to let the heat in the cream start to soften the chocolate. Use an immersion blender to beat the chocolate and cream together. It should be thick and glossy, and not separate. Slowly add the remainder of the cream, blending well after each addition. Do not add the hot cream all at once, or the cocobutter could split out of the chocolate. If the mixture does split, it will lose its thickness and look thinner and soupier. If if happens, add a few spoonfuls of cold cream and whisk the mixture well till it thickens up again.
Pour the ganache into a shallow, wide container, or into a gallon ziploc plastic bag and seal, eliminating as much air as possible. Lay out flat at room temperature overnight, so it can set and thicken up. It's ready to use when it has a texture similar to the consistency of toothpaste.
Makes 4 to 5 cups of ganache.
Rum Simple Syrup
This recipe is simple, but has a complex history in the Shire. It started with the time Lily Cotton prepared her batter to bake a cake when the village breadoven was cooling, but she got there too early. Unable to wait for the heated bricks to cool down enough, she stuck her cake in, reasoning she could get back before it was done and it would be okay. Alas, she didn't get back in time and the cake was "as dry as dust" according to Sam's father, the Gaffer. The Cottons had been looking after him while Frodo was away, and he took many happy meals with them, and felt comfortable enough to speak his mind when the proud lady's baking was not up to snuff.
But the Gaffer had a solution a sugar syrup flavored with rum, a spirit Bilbo had brought back from his adventures and had given to the Gaffer, knowing his love of good food and drink. He doused the dry cake thoroughly in this syrup, and it added flavor and moistness. Lily especially loved the solution, since it meant she didn't have to be so darned careful with the delicate cake anymore.
When Sam and Frodo returned, they had this cake at the Cotton home, and Frodo listened carefully to the Gaffer go on about how "I'd saved the cake" and used it on his cakes, too. Even if they didn't need the extra moistness, it was a great way to inject more flavor into even a fancy cake, and he discovered the cake wasn't so crumbly when he was icing it if he used this syrup as a "primer."
Chocolate Pastry Cream
One could use the above ganache recipe to fill the chocolate roll, but Frodo remembered Bilbo telling him that the classical preparation for this dish was something called pastry cream a soft, delicious custard, flavored with the fermented pod of a rare tropical orchid. This custard is so delicious that Frodo would eat it out of the bowl with a mixing spoon or even his fingers, even before the chocolate was added. In fact, this is the basis for the best pudding you'll taste, and Frodo made sure to make enough for Sam to take home to his children though he had to admonish Sam to not eat it all himself!
Return the mixture into the pot you'd boiled the milk and cook over low heat, whisking continuously. When the mixture comes to a slow boil it should thicken. Whisk harder and cook for another minute, reducing the heat if you need to, to prevent burning or curdling. Strain the hot pastry cream through a fine sieve to remove the vanilla bean chunks as well as any chunks of scrambled egg (there should not be much). Use a spatula to help push the thickened mixture through.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir to melt them into the pastry cream. Be sure all the lumps are melted.
Chill this mixture with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface, like for pudding. Allowing air between the wrap and the surface of the pastry cream will cause a skin to form, or condensation will drip down onto the surface. Cool on the counter to room temperature, then refrigerate till needed.
This is an old-fashioned classical spongecake, leavened only by the air whipped into the eggswhites. It's a lot of work, and you have to be careful not to overwhip the whites or they go all grainy and don't hold air anymore. You might be tempted to use a more modern cake or even a box mix, but don't! Those cakes don't hold up to the rolling, stuffing, syruping, etc. needed for this cake. And this recipe is much simpler if you have an electric standmixer an excuse to get one if you don't have one already.
Of course, the Shire didn't have electricity, but they did have a mixer! Frodo remembered Merry and Pippin had invented a sort of paddleboat with a small waterwheel on the end of a homemade raft. The two would use the lakes and streams for quick getaways after stealing food, tobacco, and even small animals from the unfortunate farmers with land near the water. Once being caught by the Green Dragon's owner in Bywater, Merry and Pippin were forced to adapt and use their contraption to froth up the Yule eggnog for a few years. Though the memory of the punishment did make them cringe in a happy way, the two gladly performed the excercise again for Frodo's cake.
Beat the eggwhites with the sugar in a clean bowl with clean beaters till it forms a soft meringue with droopy peaks.
Beat the yolks till smooth. Fold carefully into the whites till completely combined, but try not to deflate the mixture the more you touch it, the more it will deflate. Sift the flour and add to the egg mixture in ¼ cup portions, incorporating well after each addition.
Spread the batter carefully and evenly onto the halfsheet pans to make a thin layer of cake batter. Use a large offset spatula to help with the spreading.
Bake till lightly browned and spongy press the batter lightly with the tip of your finger and the cake will spring back. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
Frodo opted to use this recipe for icing over the more arduous buttercream. Not only did he have the use of Merry and Pippin's foot-powered mixer, but because the icing was white, it dyed well, and because it dried hard the decorations wouldn't smudge. Frodo didn't want his "goodbye message" blurred up before they could be delivered.
If you wish, you can divide the icing into portions and color them with food coloring. However, most food colorings give a bitter taste to icings and are concentrated colors, so mix drop by drop.
The icing can be stored in airtight containers till you need them. To pipe the icing, half-fill a small paper cone and cut off the tip to the size and shape you want. A zip-loc bag also works for this, and doubles as an airtight storage container, too. Or for different widths and colors, use several cornets or bags. Royal icing hardens upon drying, so wipe away mistakes immediately, and don't leave the icing open to the air.
Assembling the Bûche
Though Frodo did get help from his friends to put the pieces together, he insisted on doing the final assembly on his own. He'd make the meringue mushrooms in advance he could do it up to a month in advance if he had enough air-tight containers. As for the the main assembly, he'd first make the pastry cream and made sure it was cool, then made the genoise which only took a little while to cook. When they cooled to room temperature, the genoise was painted with simple syrup, filled with pastry cream and rolled up and wrapped in greasproof paper. It can sit in a cool place for one or two days like that before cutting and icing with ganache and decorated with royal icing.
Sounds like a lot of steps, but if you are organized, it's all very do-able. Frodo even found it meditative to plan and perform all the steps, and it helped him to mentally prepare to leave his old home forever.
When the genoise is done, place a piece of parchment paper over the top and flip it off the jellyroll pan. Immediately brush plain water over the back of the paper, saturating the paper and making sure you get water around the corners and edges. This will help the cake "release" from the paper when it's cooled. You can stack the cakes one on top of the other to cool after they'd been brushed with water on the paper this will help "steam" the paper off the cake.
When the cakes are cool, peel the paper off the back of the cake carefully you don't want to break the cake. Using a pastry brush or squeezebottle, wet the cake a bit with about ¼ to ½ cup of the rum simple syrup, brush it evenly over the whole cake. Spread the pastry cream over the cake. Using the paper beneath the cake (which was the top of the cake when it was baking), roll up the spongecake tightly like a jellyroll. Wrap the cake up tightly and well, and put into the refrigerator for about an hour or overnight to "set."
Select a cakeplate or something disposable to build the cake onto (the latter if you are giving the cake away). A piece of cardboard covered in foil or parchment paper works well, or an old LP vinyl record ...
Decide how big a "Bûche" you want to make. One half-sheet pan cake will make two Bûche, each making 4 to 8 servings.
Cut wedges off the ends of the cake rolls this will give a nice "edge" to the central log and will also give you two pieces for "branch stumps." The open edges will be attached to the central log, so the nice cut ends will face outward. Use ganache to stick these end pieces to the cake, then use the ganache to ice the whole log. To make it look like treebark, take a fork and drag it along the length to make the bark lines you can go straight or wavy. These photos show an oak. Then gently "fluff up" the ganache with the fork to break up the straightness of the original fork lines. Or not ... do as you wish! Make it a modernist, stylized Bûche if you'd like!
Put some "puddles" of ganache beside the Bûche.
Using the royal icing pipe decorations. Traditionally, these are vines, leaves and holly berries or flowers, but they can also spell out a message or again, be your own design. Have fun experimenting!
Finally, arrange the meringue mushrooms around or on the Bûche, as you fancy. Try to use a collection of sizes and shapes this seems to look more natural.
Dust with powdered sugar which has been put through a sieve, to simulate snow. This is optional, and remember the ganache is rather wet and will dissolve the powdered sugar with time, so only do this just before serving.
This recipe combination makes four 4-8 serving Bûche. However, if you prefer, just cover the roll in ganache and slice into ½-inch wide slices, and serve on a plate with a meringue mushroom. This is often done at weddings and such one cake for show, with most of the cake being a much simpler, undecorated cake that is simpler to slice and serve. The whole recipe will serve up to 40.
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