Friday, December 21, 2007

My French Chef

So my son did not get my aversion to cooking and baking gene, thank goodness. Since hitting his teen years my son has become quite the cook. He goes through phases, we've had the nothing-but-smoothies-for-a-week phase, the pasta-with-pesto phase, the chocolate-chip-cookie phase, the experimental-spaghetti-sauce phase and my current favorite French-cooking phase.
Last night while I was at my last grad class of the semester, my kitchen turned into a French Culinary Institute.
My amazing child created, FROM SCRATCH, a traditional French pastry Buche de Noel which when completed looks like a yule log.
I arrived home to a French feast, complete with homemade croissants filed with chocolate (which my husband assisted with).
My son has been in French classes since the age of 3 when he was enrolled in a private Montessori school in Evanston and has quite the aptitude for languages, he also understands and can speak basic Spanish. His high school French teacher is excellent and the pastry was for his class party today.
As his very proud mama, I could not be more pleased with his abilities in both cooking and his enjoyment of French traditions. I think it's time to plan our next trip to Paris.
In case you are interested, here is the recipe:
Caramel-pecan buche de noel, French with a New Orleans flair
2 cups pecans, toasted, cooled
1/4 cup all purpose flour
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled

Frosting and caramel sauce
11/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
11/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Fresh bay leaves or lemon leaves
Powdered sugar (for sprinkling)
6 large bananas, sliced (optional)
2 pints butter pecan or pecan praline ice cream

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 17x12x1-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment; butter paper. Pulse nuts and flour in processor until nuts are finely chopped (not ground). Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt in very large bowl until foamy. With mixer running, gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar, beating just until stiff peaks form. Using electric mixer, beat yolks with 1/3 cup sugar and bourbon in large bowl until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add yolk mixture to egg-white mixture. Sprinkle nuts over; gently fold until almost incorporated. Add butter; fold gently just to blend. Pour into prepared baking sheet, spreading batter gently to form even layer.

Bake cake until edges begin to brown and cake is firm to touch, about 14 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

For frosting and caramel sauce:
Stir 1 1/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 9 minutes (time will vary, depending on size of pan). Remove from heat; immediately add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Whisk in butter, bourbon, and salt. Stir over medium heat until any caramel bits dissolve. Transfer 1 cup caramel sauce to small pitcher. Add chocolate to remaining caramel in saucepan. Let stand off heat 5 minutes; whisk until smooth. Transfer to bowl. Let frosting stand until spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Spread 1 cup frosting over cake in even layer. Beginning at 1 long side and using parchment as aid, roll up cake jelly-roll style. Starting 1 inch in from each end of cake, cut off 3-inch-long diagonal piece from each end. Arrange cake, seam side down, on platter. Spread cut side of each 3-inch cake piece with some of frosting. Attach 1 cake piece, frosting side down, to top of cake near 1 end. Attach second piece to side of cake near opposite end. Cover cake with remaining frosting. Run fork in concentric circles on cake ends. Do ahead Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with waxed paper and let stand at room temperature.

Garnish platter with leaves. Sprinkle cake lightly with powdered sugar. Cut cake into slices and serve with bananas, if desired, ice cream, and sauce.

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