Raspberry Bûche de Noël

Holiday meals are just around the corner, and if you’re still unsure what to make for dessert, I’m just one step ahead of you: we will be having Christmas lunch at Maxence’s mother’s, I’ve offered to bring dessert, and I’ve only made up my mind yesterday, when I did a trial run to make sure the recipe would work as I imagined it would.

The classic French dessert to serve at Christmas is the bûche de Noël (yule log), which people typically buy ready-made. Depending on the fanciness of the pastry shop, it is either A- loaded with buttercream, pretty kitschy, and entirely too sweet*, or B- a refined and elaborate affair that costs about twice the price of the rest of the meal, and requires you to wait in line among other stressed-out customers openly freaking out over the unchecked items on their to-do list.

I’m all for simple and peaceful during the holidays, so my plan instead is to bring this easy homemade bûche, rolled up with vanilla cream (a quick mix of yogurt and mascarpone cheese) and studded with raspberries. It is a moist and super refreshing dessert, light on the tongue and bright on the palate, moderately sweet and interspersed with the tangy, perfect notes of the berries. Just the kind of dessert I wish for at the end of a rich meal.

Two of the guests at our lunch don’t eat chocolate (I know!), but if that wasn’t the case I would likely have added dark chocolate shavings to the filling and some cacao powder dusted on top. I also considered adding chopped hazelnuts or toasted coconut to the cream, but decided to keep the flavors simple (sensing a pattern here?) and stick to the vanilla and raspberry pairing.

Raspberries aren’t exactly in season this time of year (unless of course you live in the Southern hemisphere) but I buy them frozen and can live with this exception to my season-abiding cooking habits. For a more winter-friendly filling, you could replace the raspberries with poached and diced pears, and add some toasted walnuts or crumbled bits of candied chestnut for flavor and color.

As far as decorations go, again I’m going for simplicity, but you can place small paper stars on top the cake to act as stencils when you dust on the confectioner’s sugar, you can drizzle the top in a zig-zag pattern with melted chocolate or caramel sauce, or you can place little marzipan trees across the top.

Join the conversation!

Will you be doing any cooking or baking for holiday meals this year? What are your plans? And have you ever made, or wanted to make, a Bûche de Noël?

PS: An equally holiday-friendly raspberry dacquoise, some holiday gift suggestions, and my ginger and almond chocolate clusters.

* And not necessarily made in-house: more and more pastry shops just buy frozen, factory-made bûches and pass them off as their own. If a neighborhood pastry shop seems to be selling lots of different sizes and designs, it is worth asking whether they are homemade. You can view a France 5 documentary on that subject (in French) for another few days: Noël, une bûche à tout prix !

Raspberry Bûche de Noël

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Warming Pink Lentil Soup

The days are getting shorter, the air is getting chillier, and our collective noses are getting snifflier. It’s time for a warming bowl of wholesome, immune-boosting ingredients, and this pink lentil soup is precisely that.

It is drawn from an early review copy of Sarah Britton’s upcoming book My New Roots, which won’t come out until spring, but this particular recipe is one that’s actually available on her beautiful blog of the same name.

The entire book is a treasure trove of inspiration and I’ve tagged many recipes to try, but this one was first in line: it is incredibly quick to put together, with hardly any prep work at all, and mostly pantry ingredients you likely have on hand as we speak.

The result is a remarkably satisfying, lightly chunky soup that hits all the right spots — the sweetness of the lentils, the earthiness of the cumin, the acidity of the lemon, the umami of the tomatoes, the fiery kick of the ginger and chili pepper — and I can already see it becoming a staple of my wintry repertoire.

Join the conversation!

What’s your favorite warming, soothing dish to prepare when you need to keep the cold, and the sniffles, out?

PS: A winter vegetable curry, my favorite gift ideas for the holiday, and chocolate walnut cookies.

Pink Lentil Soup

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Cinnamon Granola Chocolate Bars

I have been dreaming about something like this for a long time, inspired both by the nut-studded chocolate bars one finds at good chocolate shops in Paris — such as the one that’s on our desktop calendar for this month — and by the tradition of chocolat au couteau, or knife-cut chocolate, a generous slab of chocolate that is broken into smaller chunks for sale by the weight.

The two ideas merged into this chocolate bar, whose surface is covered with a nicely toasted, nutty granola spiked with a healthy amount of sea salt and some freshly grated cinnamon.

I find the concept of rough-cut chocolate curiously enticing, and have often snacked on a handful of granola with a side square of dark chocolate. Somehow the two ideas merged into this chocolate bar, whose surface is covered with a nicely toasted, nutty granola spiked with a healthy amount of sea salt and some freshly grated cinnamon.

And not just any cinnamon: I recently received a sample of the new cinnamon harvest from my partner Cinnamon Hill, a small British company I love that imports top-quality cinnamon sticks grown in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and every time I use their stuff in my cooking and my baking, I am reminded of the stark difference freshness makes — it’s just not the same spice at all.

I was so smitten with the cinnamon sticks and the gorgeous wooden grater they initially sent me that I bought the cinnamon lover’s pack for my mother for Christmas last year. And now they’ve created a lower-price, injection-molded version of that grater, based on the original design, with an identical grater blade, and also manufactured in the UK (not China!), which makes it an even more affordable gift option for the baker who has everything.

Cinnamon Graters from Cinnamon Hill

Cinnamon Graters from Cinnamon Hill

These cinnamon granola chocolate bars are the perfect recipe to dip your toes in the homemade chocolate pool if you’ve been wanting to try it this holiday season, giving you a great but low-risk opportunity to temper chocolate. Tempering chocolate means bringing it to three different temperature levels (high, low, medium) to control the crystallization of the cacao butter, and it translates to a chocolate that is glossy when set (as opposed to matte with white marbling), and breaks off with a clean, satisfying snap.

My plan for my inaugural batch of granola chocolate bar is to just nibble my way through it, bit by bit and chunk by chunk, but I ambition to make more, package it up, and give it away as an edible gift.

This is a process all chocolatiers apply to their chocolate and it may sound a little intimidating at first, but it is a lot less fiddly than it sounds and the result is plenty worth the effort. It does require a digital thermometer with a probe, so if you don’t have one or it just sounds like too much of a project, I’ve included instructions to skip that step.

My plan for my inaugural batch of granola chocolate bar is to just nibble my way through it, bit by bit and chunk by chunk, but I ambition to make more, package it up, and give it away as an edible gift. I can also imagine how charming it will be to bring this on a small platter when I have guests over for coffee during the holidays, with a few chunks broken off and a parmesan knife for chocolate enthusiasts to help themselves to more.

PS: How to taste chocolate, my favorite Christmas cookies, and easy candied nuts.

This post is brought to you by Cinnamon Hill. All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that support Chocolate & Zucchini.

Cinnamon Granola Chocolate Bars

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December 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for December is a picture of a candied pistachio chocolate bar from Alain Ducasse’s bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Paris.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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November Favorites

First of all, a reminder: if you’re in Paris this Saturday, November 29, I’ll be signing books at WHSmith from 4 till 5:30pm with my friend and illustrator Mélina Josserand and a platter of chocolate fleur de sel cookies. Please come and say hi!

A few reads and finds from the past month:

~ I was a guest on Radio Canada to talk (in French) about Edible French.

~ Have you ever wondered whether you could continue to cook if you ever went blind? Here’s how my friend Dave does it.

~ Bored with the pairing of beets and goat cheese? Here are five inspired ideas to break out of that rut.

~ A visual guide to determine the freshness of an egg.

~ What does a recipe editor do, anyway?

~ When and why it became socially acceptable for upper-class Parisians to smile.

~ A tempting maple syrup tart from Clamato’s executive chef.

~ Why does food stick to your knife?

~ To make bread, watch the dough, not the recipe.

What about you, any article or link that has stuck with you this month?

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