Grinding pepper over our savory meals is very much the ‘norm’, but when you add it to sweet desserts it preforms a strange chemistry, especially against a mellow backdrop of vanilla.
Adding flavor to cuisines of all nations, black pepper is the most widely produced and popular spice in the world. Pound for pound, it is also the least expensive spice.
Contrary to popular belief, pepper is not intended to be used like salt. Although, it holds a special spot right beside the salt on our dinner tables, it is not a flavor enhancer but rather a spice.
There is a distinct and undeniable earthiness to the flavor of black pepper, one that is biting, hot, piney, pungent, woody and sharp all at the same time.
Using pepper in baked goods or sprinkling it on fresh fruit is not exactly a new idea. Gingerbread and pfeffernuse have long been spiced with pepper. No matter how you use black pepper, its a spice of grand proportions.
These ‘pepper’ cookies are real handy since you can freeze them and ‘slice & bake’ when needed. The flavor combo is exceptional.
Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & creamy.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, lemon zest & spices.
Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Combine only until incorporated. Turn dough out onto a work surface & divide in half. Roll each portion into a log about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap & refrigerate until firm ... at least 2 hours or freeze until needed.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap & slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place on baking sheet & bake for 6 minutes, rotate pan & continue baking for an additional 6 minutes. The edges of the cookies will be firm, but the tops will be soft. Cool on a wire rack.
Scones were originally made from oats and shaped into a large round called a ‘bannock’. Each round was scored into four to six triangles and cooked on a griddle either over an open fire or on top of the stove.
A scone is not a cupcake. Making scones is like stirring together biscuits. A simple mixture of flour, salt, baking powder and/or soda, milk or sour cream, butter and sometimes eggs. Scones are the perfect blank canvas and can be flavored to taste and loaded with add-ons.
Many times, scones have been perceived as dry and boring. The classic scone is crusty on the outside and biscuit textured within. A cakey super moist texture should not be expected in a scone.
We found this dried fruit scone was excellent eaten slightly warm. The cardamom spice really enhanced the flavor of the papaya fruit in them. I used the flour/oatmeal combo, as I most often do because of the the nice texture and taste it gives. The glaze is optional as it kind of goes against the basics of a scone but what the heck!
Tropical Papaya Scones with Vanilla Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse oatmeal for a few seconds then add next 5 ingredients & pulse a few more seconds. Add butter; whirl ONLY until mixture resembles coarse crumbs then place in a large bowl. Stir in chopped fruit.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk & vanilla. Add to dry mixture blending only until JUST incorporated. Scoop onto baking sheet & bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth. With a small spoon, drizzle glaze over scones.
Buche de Noel is not just another cake roll. It is THE cake. As in, the iconic French Christmas Cake. It was a tradition, dating from pre-Christian times, to honor the God Thor and celebrate the winter solstice with the building of a bonfire. As Christmas came to replace the winter solstice celebrations, France carried on the tradition for a ‘Yule’ log by cutting down a tree each year and placing it in the fireplace so heat from the log could be used to prepare the Christmas Eve midnight supper. The ashes from this yule log were believed to hold magical and medicinal powers that would ward off the evil spirits in the coming year. Another tradition was started when new homes were built without fireplaces so they could not burn a real yule log. The story goes than an innovative French pastry chef came up with the idea of replacing the real yule log with a cake that was log shaped.
Marzipan and meringue decorations, two of the most popular choices for yule logs, appeared on many a medieval table. Sponge cake, which often constitutes the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today, dating back to at least 1615.
The beauty of this cake is that you can use any flavor combination that you choose in both the cake and filling. It can range all the way from very basic to very sophisticated. During the many years I worked in the commercial food industry, it was probably one of the most requested desserts with trifle coming in right behind it.
Walnut Orange Buche de Noel
Orange Mascarpone Filling
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a 12 X 17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray & flour parchment, tapping off excess; set aside. In a food processor, pulse walnuts with flour until coarsely ground; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg yolks with 5 Tbsp sugar until thick & pale. Beat in vanilla. In a clean mixing bowl fitted with a clean whisk, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks. form. Gradually add remaining 5 Tbsp sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold egg whites into yolk mixture in 3 equal batches; add walnut/flour mixture with last batch.
Spread batter evenly in prepared baking pan. Bake until top is golden & springs back when touched, about 30 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around edges of cake; invert cake onto a clean, dry towel dusted with powdered sugar. Peel off parchment paper. Starting at short side, gently roll the cake into a log, incorporating towel. Transfer to a wire rack, cool completely for about 1 hour.
Orange Mascarpone Filling
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat all ingredients except heavy cream, until smooth. Gently fold in whipped cream.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl; set over a pan of simmering water, stir until melted. Remove bowl from heat; let chocolate cool, stirring occasionally, until it registers 88 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Pour onto prepared baking sheet; spread evenly with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, 8-10 minutes. Tear into jagged pieces, no larger than 1 1/2-inches each. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, beat egg whites until frothy; add cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form then increase speed to high & gradually add sugar, 1 tsp at a time. Beat egg whites until shiny & hold stiff peaks, being careful not to dry. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.
For Mushroom Caps: hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle about 1/2-inch from the parchment. Using firm & even pressure, squeeze out a round meringue disk about 2-inches in diameter & 1-inch high. Stop squeezing, then twist the bag & lift it from the meringue to get a clean 'break' from the cap. Repeat in regular intervals on the baking sheet until you have approximately 2 dozen mushroom caps. You can smooth out the tops by wetting you index finger & lightly running it along the caps.
For Stems: Position the bag perpendicular, about 1/2-inch from the baking sheet. Begin squeezing the bag to form a 1-inch round base. Continue to squeeze as you slowly & evenly draw the bag up, forming a tapering stem about 1 1/2-inches tall. Use the remaining meringue to pipe as many stems as possible.
Bake the meringues for about 90 minutes, turning them halfway through the cooking time to ensure even baking. The meringues should be hard to the touch & easy to lift off the parchment. Once they are done, turn off the oven & let them sit in the oven for several hours.
To Assemble the Mushrooms: melt white chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Use a toothpick to carve a small hole in the bottom of a mushroom cap. Dip the top of a stem into white chocolate, then place the stem in the hole on the bottom of mushroom cap. Repeat until all caps & stems are used; placing them on a baking sheet. Place cocoa powder in a wire sieve & lightly dust tops of the mushrooms.
Due to the amount of time required to make mushrooms, it is nice if you can do this well in advance. Mushrooms can be stored for up to a month in an airtight container in a cool, dark room. Humidity can make them collapse, so do not place them on a cake (or in the refrigerator) until immediately before serving.
Assembly of Buche de Noel
Reserve 1 1/2 cups mascarpone filling. Unroll cake & spread with remaining filling, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Carefully re-roll cake. Arrange, seam side down, on serving platter. Spread top & sides ONLY with remaining 1 1/2 cups mascarpone filling. Using a serrated knife, trim off ends of log to even it ( if you wish ). Arrange chocolate bark, overlapping pieces slightly, to look like wood bark. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Garnish with meringue mushrooms, fresh, whole cranberries, marzipan holly leaves, a dusting of powdered sugar or whatever is your choice.