The holidays bring out a little extra style and glamour in all of us. In the same way we like to decorate our homes and dress up for our celebrations, we should create festive desserts to match the allure and the magic of the season.
When deciding what to serve at a holiday gathering, I take into consideration a few factors: how easy it is to prepare a dessert, flavors I want to highlight, my budget and—of course—how much I want to impress my guests!
In terms of flavors, I like to keep holiday desserts within the seasonal range. Nothing says the holidays like cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potato or eggnog. After all, we have the rest of the year to make apple pie, don’t we?
Holiday celebrations are also the time to splurge on expensive ingredients that we might avoid otherwise, from nut pastes (pistachio, almond and praline) to expensive chocolates or liqueurs. As far as impressing guests, a beautiful presentation is key. There are some obvious options, like silver and gold dragées, but with a few easy tips, you can make any sweet more glamorous and festive.
If you would like to learn first-hand how to create show-stopping desserts, I will be teaching a Holiday Baking class at ICE on November 14th. In anticipation of the class, I’m sharing one of my favorite creative holiday treats: White Chocolate Bûche de Noël with Cranberry Marmalade.
The sweet nature of white chocolate provides the perfect blank canvas to showcase the tart flavor of cranberries. Cocoa butter is the main ingredient in white chocolate, a vegetable fat found in the cocoa beans of the cacao tree. This recipe uses melted white chocolate as the primary fat in a sponge cake, the base for a rolled cake or “roulade.” To create the roulade, the cake is layered with a thin coating of cranberry and clementine marmalade and filled with a white chocolate mousse. For a final touch, this bûche de noël is decorated with red and white buttercream, silver-dusted holly leaves and candied cranberries.
White Chocolate Bûche de Noël with Cranberry Marmalade
White Chocolate Roulade (yields 1 rectangular 18”X12” sheet pan)
- 170 g white chocolate
- 56 g butter
- 6 g vanilla
- 30 g water
- 320 g eggs
- 150 g sugar
- 122 g AP flour
- 1 g salt
- Gently melt white chocolate and butter over a bain-marie. Add the water and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Set aside and keep at room temperature.
- Whisk together the sugar and the eggs in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer set over a bain-marie and heat until warm and all the sugar has dissolved.
- Transfer the bowl to the machine and whip on medium-high speed until very thick, fluffy and increased in volume (ribbon stage)
- Fold in the sifted flour and salt by hand. Mix a small amount of the batter with the white chocolate mixture and then fold in the rest of the white chocolate.
- Spread the batter onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.
- Once the sheet cake has cooled for 5 minutes, run a knife around the edges, dust with a small amount of granulated sugar and flip over a piece of parchment paper. Peel off the back of the paper attached to the cake and gently roll up the sponge cake. Allow the cake to cool rolled up until ready to use.
White Chocolate Plastic (for holly leaves)
- 75 g white chocolate
- 30 g corn syrup
- Gently melt the chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave until completely melted and smooth.
- Add the corn syrup and mix only until the mixture thickens and is well blended.
- Wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- When ready, knead and roll the plastic and cut the holy leaves.
- Dust the leaves with silver or pearl dust.
Cranberry and Clementine Marmalade
- 200 g cranberries
- 200 g sugar
- 200 g clementine segments
- 100 g water
- Simmer all the ingredients together (low heat), stirring to avoid the mixture from sticking to the pan.
- The mixture will be ready when all the water has evaporated and the fruits have disintegrated.
White Chocolate and Clementine Mousse
- 50 g clementine juice
- 2 gel sheets
- 150 g milk
- 200 g white chocolate
- Grated zest of one clementine
- 200 g heavy cream (whipped to soft peaks)
- Soak the gelatin leaves in the clementine juice and keep refrigerated for 5 minutes.
- Place the white chocolate and the zest in a bowl.
- Bring the milk to a boil and pour over the white chocolate.
- Add the soaked gelatin and the clementine juice to the white chocolate and whisk to blend into a smooth mixture.
- Refrigerate until slightly thickened.
- Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks and carefully fold it into the white chocolate mixture.
- Refrigerate the mousse for one hour before filling the roulade.
- 225 g butter, softened
- 450 g confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 100 g clementine juice
- In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until very light and fluffy.
- Slowly begin to add the clementine juice and continue to cream the butter until all the juice is incorporated and the buttercream is smooth.
- Unravel the roulade, but keep the paper underneath. Spread the cranberry marmalade over the entire surface.
- Spread the white chocolate mousse over the marmalade, leaving a ½” space all around the edge without mousse.
- Carefully pick up the edge of the parchment paper and begin to roll up the cake.
- Place the roulade on a cardboard with the seam down and freeze it until ready to finish it with the buttercream.
- To create a swirled effect with the buttercream, first brush a couple of lines of red food coloring inside the pastry bag previously fitted with a star tip.
- Fill the bag with the buttercream and then pipe rosettes all over the surface of the roulade.
- Decorate with the holly leaves and cranberries.