Cooking The Books: A Taste of Birmingham

Taste of Birmingham - Yule Log Recipe

Image from Copthorne Hotel

If Joe’s Bloggers send you an email with a challenge, you take it! And this one involved chocolate…

Joe’s Bloggers have teamed up with the Copthorne Hotel and it’s head chef, Michael Chambers, to create an epically Brummie recipe. No, not a balti – CHOCOLATE! Birmingham is the home of Cadbury’s after all. Chambers created a ‘festive’ (better late than never, right?) recipe for a Chocolate Yule Log with a Chestnut filling.

Armed with the recipe and a giant delivery of baking goodies, I set to work. At first glance, I was a bit worried. There was talk of swiss roll tins, egg separating and whipping egg whites into ‘soft peaks’. Visions of Bake Off style sobbing over egg whites swam in my head. Now, my kitchen is about the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, with about 4 square inches of work surface, so this was always going to be a challenge. I like recipes that don’t require a lot of space, lots of equipment or a lot of faffing about. Most people my age are getting to grips with the kitchen still, and aren’t working with a lot of space or equipment, and recipes that allow for that are fantastic. Still, I got to work.

I started well, and actually found the recipe pretty simple to follow. Separating eggs was bloody messy, but not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. At this point, I hit a snag. The recipe needed me to whisk eggs, and I was already using my lone mixing bowl for the beginnings of the cake mix. You need a decent sized bowl to work with eggs like this, and I didn’t have one. I improvised with a saucepan, and tried not to think about the cooking for the dinner party scene in Bridget Jones. I have enough of the Bridgets about me as it is… The egg whites whisked beautifully, soft peaks intact, and even withstood the old ‘holding the bowl over your head’ test. So far, so good…

Mixing the egg whites into the cake mix took about a thousand years, but created a beautiful, light mix that I could tell would make a light, fluffy sponge. It’s always nice when you understand what the recipe is trying to achieve. Problem number two. What on earth is a swiss roll tin? Is this a thing that people actually own? Do you get one when you become a grown-up, like gravy boats and pelmets? I am not a proper grown-up, and do not own these things. Hmmm…well, a baking tray must be pretty similar, right? I lined one with baking paper, plonked in the mix and put it in the oven, and hoped for the best. Next up, filling.

If you were wondering, chestnut puree does not look tasty. It looks like dodgy mushroom soup crossed with cheap cat food. With some double cream and mascarpone, it did whip up into something that looked tasty though, and I went back to feeling hopeful. Sponge out of the oven, and it was definitely too thick. It cooked through nicely and looked light and fluffy, but was too thick to roll easily for sure. Apparently a baking tray isn’t like a swiss roll tin after all…The recipe asked me to cool the sponge for two hours. By this point, because I’m baking after work and a commute, it’s about 10pm. Two hours. I decided an hour in the fridge would be fine. They don’t get two hours cooling time on Bake Off, and I’ve definitely seen them make swiss roll. It actually was fine. The filling spread on nicely and while the sponge was much too thick to roll without cracking, it did roll and stayed rolled. Back on the side.

Icing. This was where things started to get trickier. It sounded simple enough, with melting together chocolate, cream and icing sugar. But the thing refused to set at all. According to the recipe, the icing would need to cool for an hour to reach spreadable consistency. Into the fridge it went. After an hour it was thicker, but not what I’d call spreadable, exactly…I left it a little longer, before eventually giving up and hoping it would set more when actually on the cake. The icing poured over okay and I popped the roll into the fridge.

The verdict? Well, after a night in the fridge, the icing still hadn’t set much at all, and the icing sugar had begun to separate from the chocolate and cream. Not ideal! The swiss roll actually did taste pretty good. The chestnut and mascarpone filling cuts through the sweetness of the sponge and the icing, stopping it from getting too sickly. It looked a mess though. Now, some of this is my fault for making too thick sponge which cracked, but the icing’s refusal to set at all made it look pretty unappetising, rather than just a bit ‘home-made’ looking. A solid icing would have helped a lot in the appearance.

I also think this recipe isn’t really suited to a lot of home bakers. Swiss rolls are always fiddly, and nobody wants to have to use every bowl and spoon you own, which this recipe kind of calls for. Expect to spend a lot of time washing up afterwards! On a ‘starter’ kitchen, with limited space and equipment, it was awkward and time consuming. For me, there was too much slow progress – folding in egg whites spoonful by spoonful, hours of cooling time and so on. There was a lot of fiddly technique involved, and calls for thing like swiss roll tins make this much better for experienced bakers with more kit and more space! I’ll leave the swiss roll to the proper grown-ups next time.

Still…at least I didn’t turn anything blue…

Bridget Jones blue soup