Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons learned

As is fairly obvious around here, I'm Jewish. Chinese food on Christmas Jewish. The first Christmas celebration I ever went to was in Colombia 3 years ago; I've still never been to a Christmas dinner/lunch in the states. This year, we were invited to two Christmas Eve things, one at the house of some Colombian friends, and the other at our Brazilian roommate's mother's house. Let's just say I learned some things, which I plan on remembering if anyone ever decides to invite me again to their Christmas.

Things Not To Do On Christmas, or Reasons You Should Not Involve Me In Your Christmas Celebration

-Do not decide to make two involved things for two different parties (and definitely don't try to do them the same day). We very casually decided that we would bring buñuelos and natilla to the first dinner and a Yule Log to the second, and we started working at 2 pm the 24th. Ha. Ha. Ha. Guess who arrived super late?

-Do not decide to make a Yule Log without an electric mixer: spongecake, buttercream and meringue. Ask Felipe how his arm is today. I dare you. 
-Oh, and don't decide to make something you've never made before (buttercream?), especially when you don't have the right equipment to do it (thermometer? jelly roll pan? oven that you can control the temperature?)
-Do not try to carry the Yule Log 20 minutes downhill on cobblestones to the subway (especially not with an extra-heavy upside down stock pot "protecting" the log).
-Do not let your 19-year-old art student roommate roll out the gingerbread cookies. Ha, or just make sure to separate the adult-appropriate ones from the kids ones, and try not to act like 12-year-olds when it comes time to decide who eats which.

Chez Panisse gingersnaps...but probably not the way Alice Waters had in mind.
-Do not publicly tell off another guest at your friend's party, no matter how obnoxious or inappropriate he is being (and no, we did not bring the above cookies to that party). Want someone to kill your Christmas celebration? Invite me.
-Do not lose your purse with your camera in it on the way to the second dinner (the dinner picture below is courtesy of another of the guests. I love the decorations.)

In spite of all these things (and the very awkward hour after the fight I caused at our friend's house), we had a good time, and the yule log turned out really delicious (we actually had a lot of fun putting it together, and coffee buttercream is amazing). Both dinners we went to had an enormous amount of great food: the Brazilian family had a turkey, a ham, bacalhau (salted cod, a traditional Christmas food here), a bazillion sides and 4 desserts; our Colombian friends made tamales, a huge undertaking, with plantain leaves picked from their neighbor's tree, along with hojaldres and flan, and people were very friendly and happy. The Brazilian family gave us all presents, which we felt bad about because we didn't know it was coming, but now Felipe has a very Brazilian-looking turquoise sleeveless shirt that is perfect for the humid sauna we have been living in, which he is quite pleased about.

I say in spite of the fight, but I'm not sure that's true. It was pretty much a lose-lose-lose-lose situation: our hosts, who are extremely warm, welcoming people, were upset that the party had turned into a big argument, I felt awful that I had killed any fun that was being had, the girl who was being harassed felt like she had caused the problem, and the guy was so uncomfortable that he left immediately afterwards. Although it certainly would have been much less disruptive to pull the guy aside and say something, I'm not sure it would have worked without other people getting involved. I'm female, I'm not Colombian, and the guy, who is from a part of the country known for being extremely machista, was harassing a girl who doesn't speak Spanish, so it wasn't exactly a level playing field. I can tell you that I won't be doing what I did again, though: starting an argument in someone else's house is not cool, no matter what the cause, especially not during their Christmas. As I said, lesson learned.

I would definitely break up the making of the Yule Log into two or even three days. At a minimum, make the meringues the day before. I'd say to make the spongecake the day before, too, but I haven't tried that and I don't know how much it would dry out, making it difficult to roll.

Yule Log
     adapted from here and here

For the spongecake:
3 eggs
3 yolks
pinch of salt
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. cake flour (I used all-purpose because it's what I had around)
1/4 c. cornstarch

Butter and line with parchment paper a 10 x 15 in. jelly roll pan, then butter it again. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400F.
Whisk the eggs, yolk, salt and sugar together in a heat-proof bowl, then place over a bowl of simmering water and whisk until the mixture is lukewarm to the touch. Whip (with a whisk or egg beaters on med-high speed) until the mixture has cooled and tripled in volume. It will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back into the mixture if you lift the whisk/beaters.
In another bowl, stir together the flour and cornstarch. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the eggs, then fold in the flour gently with a spatula, making sure to scrape around the sides and the bottom. Fold in another third of the flour mixture until there are no lumps, then fold in the remaining flour. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. 
Bake for about 10 minutes, until it is golden and springs back if you press it gently. Do not overbake. Let it cool in the pan.

For the coffee buttercream:
1 egg
1/2 c. white sugar
3 Tbsp. water
6 oz. salted butter
1-2 Tbsp. strong coffee (room temperature)

Whisk the egg to break it up in a large bowl. Boil the sugar and water together until it registers 240F on a candy thermometer (I completely guessed, and the first time I let the syrup boil too long and it 100% failed. The second time I let it boil for less time, and it worked, but....use a thermometer.) Whisk the egg until it's frothy, and begin to add the sugar syrup slowly, whisking constantly, and then whisk until the mixture is cool. Beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, then add in the coffee. Beat until the mixture is thick and glossy. Store in the fridge, covered, if you're not going to use it immediately.

For the chocolate ganache:
 7 oz. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. strong coffee 
3.5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Heat the cream and coffee in a small saucepan just until they come to a boil, turn off the heat and add in the chocolate without stirring. After 5 minutes, whisk until the mixture is completely smooth, then leave to cool and thicken up (but not solidify), covered, in the fridge. Right before using, take it out of the fridge, and beat it to soft peaks.

To assemble:
I used the Serious Eats recipe for meringue mushrooms, which cracked given the high temperature of the oven (which I couldn't regulate) and probably because I was distracted and poured all the sugar in at once into the unbeaten egg whites, which I highly do not recommend. Despite all this, they still came out pretty and tasty, though not as photogenic as the originals.
Turn the cooled spongecake out onto a piece of parchment paper, then spread it evenly with the chocolate ganache. Carefully roll the spongecake up, trying to avoid cracking (ours did, we lived). Put the roll in the fridge, covered, for a couple of hours to chill.
Take the roll out of the fridge, and cut (diagonally looks better I think) a slice 3-4 inches wide off one side. Cozy it up to one side of the log so the cut side is sticking out of the log like a large branch. Ice the log with the buttercream, filling in any cracks, and then use the tines of a fork to make grooves so it looks like a log. Trim the uncut side of the roll if it looks a bit rough (I cut a very small slice off and it looked much better). Arrange the meringue mushrooms. That's it! It's really pretty, right? If you're going to serve it much later, refrigerate it, very carefully covered.

Galletas Crocantes de Jengibre  (para Muñuequitos de Jengibre)
     de Alice Waters

280 g. de harina de trigo
1½ cucharitas bicarbonato de soda
½ cucharita de sal
2 cucharitas de canela molida
1 ½ cucharitas de jengibre molido
½ cucharita de pimienta negra
150 g. de mantequilla
130 g. de azúcar
½ cucharita de extracto de vainilla
80 g. (¼ taza) de melado espeso
1 huevo, temperatura ambiente

Mezclar todos los ingredientes secos juntos.  En un bol grande, bate la mantequilla hasta que esté más liviana, agrega el azúcar y bate hasta que esté suave y bien incorporado. Agregale la vainilla, melado y huevo. Echa los ingredientes secos a la mezcla de mantequilla hasta que estén incorporados. Envuelve la masa en plástico y metela en la nevera un par de horas. Tambien se puede formar rollitos para despues cortar tajadas para tener galletas redondas. Envuelvelas en plastico y metelas en la nevera igual. Precalienta el horno a 180C. Con un rodillo o una botella de vino, estira la masa sobre un superficie enharinado. Corta en las formas que desees, sacalas y voltealas en un plato con azucar solo por el lado que va hacia arriba-- azucar por debajo se quemaria en el horno (grueso si la tenes. Azucar moreno en Colombia seria genial aqui). Si la masa se pone muy blanda devuelvela a la nevera hasta que se endurezca otra vez. Translada las formas a una bandeja y hornea hasta que esten bien doraditas, 12-15 minutos.


  1. Fights and porno ginger-snaps - sounds like a very entertaining Christmas! Did you get your purse/camera back?

  2. Yeah, it was, just not quite in the way planned...and I did get my camera back the next day, someone found it in their car-- I thought I had lost it in the metro!