Things I learnt from a buche de Noel:
- icing hides a multitude of sins
- the time to learn about hard crack, soft crack and other stages of boiling sugar is not while the sugar is boiling
No one in my family likes Christmas pudding. In years past, my mother would buy a 100g pudding and split it between four of us. Then we'd crack on with the Yule Log.
I signed up to Saveur, an American food magazine that's a little too highbrow for me. They started their New Year's buffet with caviar. That's highbrow.
Anyway, one of their rather-too-gorgeous emails had Christmas-desserts-from-around-the-world. I have a dim memory of some lemon pudding, but the one that stood out was the buche de Noel. That's a Yule Log.
So I emailed Mum and in a moment of madness said 'I'll come over Christmas Eve, and we'll make this'. Mum, in an equal moment of madness, said yes. I figured getting snippy with each other somewhere round about the hour mark was a given, along with possibly a shattered log.
We ditched the meringue mushrooms, as I didn't fancy eating even fake mushrooms on a dessert.
First up was the icing in a double boiler. Then we left it to thicken while we did the Christmas shop. I forgot, however, that my parents' kitchen is about the same temperature as a fridge, and it was solid when we get back.
Then we made the roulade. Perfectly easy, but by this time I was rather fed up of melting chocolate and stirring it.
The filling, which includes a hot sugar syrup poured into egg yolks, was rather more tricky. Mum has a sugar thermometer, but doesn't use it a lot. I haven't ever made jam or candies.
The recipe says the syrup should be 236 degrees, or 'soft crack'. I got a little worried when the boiling syrup began to brown.
Now the great thing about the Joy of Cooking, at least the old edition, is that it contains EVERYTHING. That includes the different stages of sugar syrup, including how to tell without a thermometer. (It also includes how to make a champagne fountain, and, dammit, I'm using that information some day). Some frantic running around later, and a glass of ice water told me what I already knew - the sugar was too far gone.
So, of course, we did it all again. Second time went fine, and, frankly, I was quite pleased to not be dealing with chocolate.
And now the bit I'd been worrying about all along - the rum and roll-up. We'd invested about two hours into this thing, and I really wanted it to work.
The recipe calls for two tablespoons of rum. We were using a pan smaller than the 16inch one the recipe called for, because they appear to be impossible to get here (*scribbles note for next trip to France*). Two tablespoons of rum actually translated to a thin sheen of rum over the entire roulade.
I wouldn't have wanted to roll up the roulade two-handed, and I'm glad we iced it (including the corner that, uh, basically fell off). I even decorated it carefully with a grooved spatula.
Imagine my disappointment when I went on Twitter and writer Charlie Higson had done a much better looking one with his twelve-year-old.
Also, I fear we may have started a tradition, which I'll somehow have to fit around the traditional Christmas Eve pub crawl...