Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël

When I signed up for the Plymouth Chamber Christmas Bake Off, all I really wanted was to do well enough to get to the final week, as the theme was cake and I much prefer baking cakes to biscuits, bread or pastry.

However, by the time I got there, down to the final three contestants, I’d be lying if I said a bit of competitiveness hadn’t started to creep in.

I had to create a festive-themed showstopper cake, and knew straight away that I wanted to do a bûche de Noël – the question was, how would I make it stand out against the other two entries?

Decoration was one of the judging criteria, so I knew I had to go over the top. Giant cake board, covered in green sugarpaste, meringue mushrooms, holly leaves and berries, a fondant robin, gold almond pine cone and even a little ladybird, added at the last minute to fill a gap in the forest floor.

I struggled more deciding on what flavours to go with, but fate intervened when I had to go and meet with a chef for work – the fantastic Tom Milby from the Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek, on the south coast of Cornwall.

I told Tom one of the options I was considering was salted caramel, and he suggested pairing it with something nutty – and then gave me a tub of the most beautiful Callebaut hazelnut praline paste, which is what turned a good cake into an amazing one.

I folded the praline into whipped cream for the filling, and made a salted caramel chocolate ganache to cover the cake. The two flavours complimented each other perfectly, and I was very happy with the outcome.

The judging of the final round of the bake off was led by Chris Tanner, one half of the Tanner Brothers who own two excellent restaurants in Plymouth and are cookery tv show regulars.

So, how did I do? Well, I won!! Amazing! Apparently my cake was ‘the clear winner’, and Chris said he loved all my detailing and decoration as well as the taste.

My prizes are a bread baking masterclass at the Devonport Column Bakehouse, and tickets to see Paul Hollywood when he brings his tour to Plymouth next year. Aside from the prizes though, I’m just thrilled to have won, and for an actual proper chef to say he likes my baking! Such an awesome Christmas present 🙂

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël (loosely adapted from a Mary Berry yule log recipe and a Hummingbird Bakery chocolate ganache)

  • 4 medium eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder

For the filling:

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100g hazelnut praline paste

For the ganache icing:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 180ml double cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped

For the sponge, whisk together the eggs and sugar until really light and fluffy and tripled in volume – at least 4-5 minutes of whisking. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, and fold in gently, taking care not to knock the air out of the mixture. Spread into a 14×10″ baking tin, lined with baking paper, and bake at 200 degrees (180 fan) for 8-10 minutes,  or until springy and pulling away from the edges of the tin.

Lay out another piece of baking paper and dust liberally with icing sugar. Turn out the sponge onto the paper, and peel off the backing paper from the underneath of the sponge. Score a line along one of the long edges of the sponge, about 1″ from the edge, then starting from that side tightly roll up the sponge and leave to cool.

To make the cream filling, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold a third of it into the hazelnut praline to loosen the mixture, then fold in the rest.

For the ganache, heat the caster sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan with 60ml of water. Heat the cream and salt in a separate pan and set aside. Keep the caramel pan on the heat and simmer until it turns a lovely deep golden colour, then quickly whisk in the heated cream mixture, stirring until it stops bubbling.

Pour the caramel over the chopped chocolate, and stir until all the chocolate melts. Leave to cool to room temperature, when it should be a spreadable consistency. If it seems too thick, you can reheat and add a little more cream, then leave it to cool again.

To assemble, unroll the sponge and spread the hazelnut cream all over. Re-roll as tightly as you can, then trim the two ends to neaten it. Cut the log a third of the way down at a 45 degree angle, to create a piece to use as the branch. Place the two pieces on whatever cake board or serving plate you’re using, then cover with the chocolate ganache. To get the bark-like effect, I just used a butter knife to roughly spread the icing lengthways down the log, then swirled it on the ends of the branches.

Dust with icing sugar and serve!

If you want to make meringue mushrooms, there’s a great tutorial over on Sprinkle Bakes – they’re easier than they look, but they are very fragile – at least a third of mine broke before getting anywhere near the cake!

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Christmas profiteroles

I know I’ve been slow updating on my progress in the Bake Off competition I mentioned previously, and anyone who follows me on Twitter will already know the outcome, but here’s my week 3 pastry round update – I made profiteroles and got through to the final!

These are chocolate choux buns, with a chocolate orange and brandy cream filling, decorated with white chocolate and holly berries and leaves, to look like mini Christmas puddings.

For the competition, I decided I needed to up the ante on presentation, so I also made fondant icing snowmen and penguins, which turned out rather cute if I do say so myself!

The actual profiteroles were great, a festive flavour combination that would hopefully please anyone who doesn’t like actual Christmas pudding.

The judges must have liked them too, as I was put through to the final round, in which I went head to head with two other bakers  in the festive cake round – I will probably post the update on that when I can’t stand any more family Christmas time tomorrow…

Christmas profiteroles (adapted from Holly Bell’s recipe)

  • 60g cold butter, cubed
  • 150ml cold water
  • 55g strong white flour
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 10g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs

For filling and decorating

  • 75g marscapone
  • 50g orange flavoured dark chocolate
  • 100ml whipping cream
  • 1-2 tsp brandy
  • 50g white chocolate
  • holly leaf and berry decorations (I got mine from Asda)

Start by getting all your ingredients laid out, as there’s no time for faffing about when making profiteroles! Holly’s instructions for making the pastry and baking the profiteroles are pretty comprehensive so I won’t repeat them, just add in the cocoa powder at the same time as the flour and sugar.

For the filling, start by melting the chocolate in a small bowl. Leave to cool, then beat in the marscapone and brandy (to taste, my taste is for a strong kick!) In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks, then fold into the chocolate mixture a third at a time. Use a piping bag to fill each of the profiteroles, piping into the hole you made to let the steam out.

To decorate, melt the white chocolate then spoon on top of each bun, letting it run down the sides. Add a few leaves and berries, then leave to set.

Someone at work said they were like profiterole canapes, which I think is a great idea if you’re having a Christmas party! Just keep them in the fridge and get them out about 30 mins before serving.

We_Should_Cocoa_V3

As these do have a nice good glug of brandy in, I’m going to enter them into this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by Choclette, who chose alcohol as the festive theme. Excellent choice!

Turkey, cranberry and stuffing rolls

After the success of my festive alfajores in round one of the Plymouth Chamber bake off, the pressure was on for week two, when three people would be eliminated from the competition.

The theme was bread – the aspect f baking I’m least experienced in and least confident about. Great!

I had quite a lot of ideas, and couldn’t decide whether to go sweet or savoury. The sweet option, white chocolate, cranberry and marzipan sweet rolls, went down well with all my taste testers, but the savoury option got the majority of the votes, so that’s what I went for.

I used the dough from this recipe as I knew it worked well, and took inspiration for the filling from a Paul Hollywood recipe – cooked turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, and my own additions of edam cheese and black pepper.

My favourite aspect of this bake was definitely the presentation – arranged in a Christmas tree shape with a ribbon tied around the base, so festive and cute!

Although I wasn’t at all confident when I dropped these off for judging, I needn’t have worried – not only did they get me through to round three, but I was actually awarded Star Baker! Amazing!

These are so perfect to make with leftovers from your Christmas dinner, they’d make the ideal boxing day lunch. Try them, and maybe your family will even give you Star Baker status too… 😉

Turkey, cranberry and stuffing rolls (adapted from here and here)

Makes 12 rolls (with some dough leftover)

  • 450g plain flour
  • 14g sachet dried yeast
  • 1tsp salt
  • 250ml milk
  • 55g butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 150g cranberry sauce
  • 150g cooked turkey, shredded
  • 100g cooked sage and onion stuffing, broken up
  • 20g edam cheese, finely chopped or grated
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix together half the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Heat the milk to a lukewarm temperature, then add into the dry ingredients with the eggs and butter. Stir to combine all the ingredients, then add in the rest of the flour a bit at a time, until the dough forms a ball that leaves the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough for about five minutes, until springy, then spray the bowl with cooking spray, put the dough back in, cover and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

When risen, knock the dough back, give it a quick knead, and then leave for a second rising, for another hour until doubled again.

Turn the proofed dough out onto a floured surface and knead quickly. You only need 2/3 of the dough, so keep the rest wrapped in clingfilm and use for something else (I made cinnamon rolls!)

Roll the dough into a rectangle 12″ long and 9″ high. Spread the cranberry sauce all over, then evenly distribute the turkey, stuffing and cheese, then finish with a little black pepper. Roll up the dough from one of the long sides, keeping it as tight as you can, until you have a long roll of dough with all the filling rolled up inside.

Slice the roll into 12 1″ pieces with a sharp knife – try not to press down too hard so they don’t lose their shape.

Place 11 of the rolls on a large baking tray arranged in a triangle shape, with one extra at the base, leaving a couple of centimetres between them. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise again, this time for about 45 minutes. Once risen, bake at 200 degrees for 25 minutes until risen and golden on top. Brush with melted butter straight away, then eat hot or leave to cool.

Festive alfajores

So, for those of you who don’t already know, I’ve gone and entered myself in ANOTHER baking competition. I just can’t stop!

I’m keeping it local this time though, with the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce Christmas Bake Off. I’m representing the company I work for and two rounds into the competition, it seems to be going pretty well…

The way it works is there are four rounds, one per week, each with a different theme – biscuits, bread, pastry and cakes. There are nine bakers in the competition, and after getting a free pass in the first week three will be knocked out in weeks two and three, to leave three for the final.

Week one was biscuits, and for some reason I decided straight away that I wanted to make alfajores, with a festive twist.

Alfajores are an Argentinian/South American biscuit, made with cornflour so they’re quite dry and crumbly, flavoured with Pisco and sandwiched with dulce de leche.

For my version, I changed the flavour to vanilla and cinnamon, and as well as using straight up dulce de leche added a layer of white chocolate caramel. Over the top, me? No…

Add a star shaped cookie cutter, sprinkles and glitter, and you have one festive alfajore.

I didn’t quite manage to get the title of star baker with them, but I came second out of nine which I’m more than happy with! The bread round has also taken place now, but I’ll wait until I blog about the recipe before revealing how it went…

Festive Alfajores (adapted from Chow)

  • 115g cornflour
  • 90g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp saltt
  • 115g butter
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

For the filling:

  • 100g white chocolate
  • 60g dulce de leche
  • 1tbsp milk
  • 100g(ish) more dulce de leche to sandwich

Mix together the cornflour, flour, baking powder, bicarb, cinnamon and salt. Beat together the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined, then wrap the dough in cling film and chill for half an hour in the fridge.

Roll the chilled dough out to the thickness of a pound coin, then cut out stars, circles, whatever. Re-roll the scraps and cut more shapes until all the dough has been used. Place spaced out on baking sheets lined with baking paper, then bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 9-11 minutes, or until just crisp and golden. Leave on the tray for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

You can decorate however you like – I used white royal icing, star and snowflake sprinkles, and white edible glitter for a nice festive sparkle! I only decorated the half that were going to be on top, but you could to top and bottom if you want.

For the filling, melt the white chocolate (microwave is fine if you stir often) then stir in the dulce de leche. You can buy the fancy stuff, or use tinned caramel, both work! The mixture might seize up a bit, but add the milk, stir, and reheat a little, and it should be fine. Leave to cool until thick enough to spread.

Turn the biscuits upside down, and spread the white chocolate caramel onto the undecorated bottom biscuits, and the dulce de leche onto the bake of the decorated tops. Sandwich them together and enjoy 🙂

tea time treats

I think these biscuits would make a great gift this Christmas, and so I’m entering them for the December Tea Time Treats Challenge, hosted (sadly for the last time) by Kate at What Kate Baked (although Karen at Lavender and Lovage will be keeping the challenge going in the new year, yay!