One year, we made a turducken. From scratch – bird deboning and all. And there was the famous “Yule Log” year, which was just a complete delight. So what to do this year?
Yup. A cake with a Christmas-tree-shaped tunnel of white chocolate mint mousse.
But what the heck? How do you do this? One important ingredient is an obsessive engineer who likes to sketch out concepts.And then draft patterns.
Of course, you need to make a cake. I made about 3 batches of a chocolate butter cake in 9” diameter pans of various heights, similar to a recipe that I used before.
And before we get too involved with the construction, you have to make mousse - filling this cake will take about two batches of the following recipe.
Mint White Chocolate Mousse (adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Chocolate)
1 cup heavy cream
16 ounces white chocolate, chopped (Callebaut)
1/3 cup crème de menthe
4 egg whites
¼ cup sugar
Bring the cream to a boil, pour over chocolate. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then whisk smooth. Add in the crème de menthe, stir until well mixed. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, but not until solid.
When mixture has cooled, whisk the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a mixture over a pan of simmering water until hot. Move to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until cooled and inflated in volume. Fold mixtures together until just combined, refrigerate until stiff.
As the mousse chilled, I started working on assembling the cake layers. First, a half-inch layer that formed the trunk of the Christmas tree.
I know it looks like a target, but think of this in vertical slices instead – and you’ll see where I’m going. Then I worked on the layer for the top of the tree. On the bottom of this layer, I traced concentric circles.
On the top of the layer, I traced one circle that was halfway between.
Then I carved out a triangle-shaped tunnel based on those traced guides.
Neat, huh? Those drafting patterns were key.
I needed to work on assembling all the layers, including the unpictured middle of the tree, but my dad and uncle needed the kitchen to work on the ribs we were eating for Christmas Eve dinner.
Since I knew how good the ribs would be, I relocated myself to the basement, where I had a nearly empty deep freeze and the top of a clothes dryer available to me.
It works. OK? So I did it. And I also got to eat ribs for dinner. So there.
I started out putting the trunk layer on top of the very bottom layer, which was uncut.
Then I spread mousse into the gap, which would be the Christmas tree trunk. This is the bottom half of the cake.
Then I got to work with the top and middle layer, with the uncut top later on the bottom, the top of the tree on top of that, and then the middle on top of that – together, they all made the top half of the cake.
Again, turn this upside-down, think vertical slices, and you’ll see the triangle-ish shape that will make the tree. I filled the whole thing with mousse, and froze both the bottom and top halves
After these froze, I carefully put the top half on top of the bottom half, and dutifully filled gaps with moistened cake crumbs left from cutting out the mousse tunnel.
After this froze overnight, I whipped up some ganache with 1 ½ cups of heavy cream and 10 ounces of Scharffen Berger, and covered the frozen cake.
All that was left to do was cut into the cake, and hope that the mousse tunnel shape turned out.
Not perfect, but OK for a first attempt.
The fact that I said this means that I’m already thinking about attempt #2. Perhaps in a different shape.
What’s the most outrageous culinary feat you've ever attempted? How did it go?