Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's Better Than Bad, It's Good

I decided to work from home for the afternoon; I had gotten two big pieces of bureaucratese written and shipped off, so I felt no guilt. The BlackBerry keeps me available, and everyone is taking off for vacation anyway (have I rationalized enough yet?)

Anyway, it was time to bake the Buche de Noel (Chocolate Yule Log) to freeze and bring with us to Chicago on Friday.

Buche de Noel (or Log, as the kids call it, referencing that great piece of TV culture, "Ren and Stimpy", and the ad for "Log, Log, It's better than bad, it's good") is a big family favorite and a tip of the hat to my late mother, who loved all things French, especially chocolate things. Time to get out Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible. My copy is so well-used, it is falling apart. It's well-stained with egg, chocolate, vanilla extract, mysterious substances.

There are three parts to my recipe: the cake part, chocolate sponge roll that is like chocolate air, an espresso buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache to frost the outside. You have to make the buttercream and the ganache first, since they take time to set up. Many pots and bowls are dirtied in the process. It is a good thing.

It reminds me how much I love to bake. Cooking is a creative process; it's an art class. Baking is science. It's chemistry class, with harsh lessons if you don't follow directions and measurements precisely. Mis en place, setting out all the ingredients so you can work efficiently, is de rigueur. A scullery maid to wash the bowls and utensils would be nice, but cleaning as I go is the more theologically sound way, I think.

Once the cake is baked, it must cool. Then I spread the coffee buttercream and roll it. I cut off an angled piece to attach to the side of the roll as a branch. It goes into the fridge to firm up, then I get to do the fun part: frosting it with the dark chocolate ganache and making the bark-like ridges with the tines of a fork. It looks like a bit of the deep, dark woods when I put it into the freezer.

We'll get on a plane for Chicago on Friday afternoon. By the time we get to PH's family's house that evening, the cake will be mostly thawed, and by Christmas Eve, it will be ready for the feast. Traditions, and chocolate, are wondrous things.

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