You would have seen a couple of months ago here and here that I attended a photography workshop in Ireland. Through this adventure I had the opportunity to make a lot of new friends from near and far. One of those new friends is the ever so talented and beautiful Skye McAlpine of From My Dining Table. We didn’t get the chance to talk very much at the workshop because we were so busy with our heads down learning and practising. But since then we have exchanged many emails with the intention of catching up, as we both live in London. We finally locked in a date recently and I had the most wonderful day spent with Skye and her adorable pet Coco chatting, baking (Skye did all the baking), food styling, photographing and eating. I felt like we were recreating the Ireland workshop all over again but on an intimate scale and in her beautiful home.
If you haven’t checked out her blog, head on over to it here where you will find recipes and stories influenced by her childhood spent in Venice. Read her posts and you will discover how intrinsic her Venetian connection is to her cooking. You will find recipes that are cooked and shared out of love and nostalgia for the comfort food she grew up eating.
Today I'm excited to share a Christmas themed recipe and excerpt from Skye, just in time for the festive season ahead. A huge thank you to Skye for her generous hospitality and I hope we get to do this again soon.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Tronchetto di Natale - or Yule Log - is a traditional French Christmas dessert that somehow has woven its way into the vocabulary of Italian cooking too. Growing up in Venice, we would always have a chocolate log at our Christmas table. And we still do now: it’s as much of a tradition for us as panettone. Come December the pastry shops are filled with all manner of these pretty chocolate logs, like some kind of sugar snow-laden woodlands fantasy. I remember how, as a child, I was entranced. I would spend hours gazing through the bakery windows, pondering which cake we should take home with us: ‘this one with the little sugar mushrooms? or that one with the white chocolate filling?’. Nowadays, we make our own tronchetto. I like to fill mine with a sweet chestnut purée. Mostly because I love all things chestnut, but also because its rich and smooth tones really do go so very beautifully with the light chocolate sponge that makes the cake. Then I top it with meringue buttercream, which is - truly - as light as air. And sprinkle with snow white icing sugar.
TRONCHETTO DI NATALE
(Chocolate Yule Log with a Sweet Chestnut Filling & Italian Meringue Buttercream)
This is such a simple dessert to make and so much fun to decorate - you can really let your imagination go wild. Use berries, sugar flowers, tiny mushrooms and fresh herbs, if you like. Otherwise, keep it simple with just a little dusting of icing sugar and a few pine cones.
Prep Time: 30 mins
Baking Time: 20 mins
150g caster sugar
400g sweet chestnut purée
Sugar mushrooms and fresh thyme for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Grease and line a swiss roll tray with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang of paper at the edges.
Separate the eggs and beat the whites until they begin to peak, then slowly add 50g of the sugar, whisking constantly until they turn stiff and glossy.
In a large mixing bowl, add the yolks and the rest of the sugar, and beat until they become creamy and pale, then sift in the cocoa powder and beat again until well combined.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture, taking care to keep as much of the air in as possible and pour into the tin.
Set in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until sort and springy to touch.
Leave the cake to cool a little when it comes out of the oven, then turn it out on to another sheet of greaseproof paper.
Spread the chestnut purée over the top of the cake, taking care to cover it well into the corners. Then roll from the long edge nearest to you. Use the parchment paper to help you do this, pressing down on the paper to keep the roll as tight as you can. If the cake breaks a little, don’t worry too much - you will be able to cover up a fair amount of damage with the buttercream icing.
Gently lift the roll onto the serving plate (or board - it looks very nice on a wooden board) and ice with the buttercream. Then decorate with sugar mushrooms or red currants, and fresh thyme. Dust lightly with icing sugar just before serving.
ITALIAN MERINGUE BUTTER CREAM ICING
Meringue buttercream may seem a little daunting to make the first time, as the recipe is a little technical. But be brave, arm yourself with a sugar thermometer (which you can buy here) and you will find that you’ll never want to make buttercream any other way. It’s so deliciously light and airy.
80g caster sugar
70 ml water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
170g butter, softened
80g dark chocolate
Pour 60g of sugar into a small saucepan, add the water and bring to the boil. While the water is simmering, separate the eggs, and add the whites to a clean mixing bowl. You won’t need the yolks.
Whisk the whites until they begin to froth, then add the cream of tartar. Continue whisking the whites and when they begin to peak, slowly add the rest of the sugar - still beating continuously.
As the sugar water begins to boil, monitor the temperature with a sugar thermometer - when it reaches between 248 and 250 degrees, take it off the heat and pour it into the whipped egg whites, and start beating at a high speed immediately. Keep beating constantly until the sugar has cooled fully - press your hands on the bowl, and when it no longer feels warm the meringue is ready.
Roughly chop the butter and little by little add it to the meringue, whipping all the while. You will see the texture of the frosting change instantly, as it turns from meringue to buttercream. If it looks like it’s curdled, don’t panic - keep whipping and it will come together.
Chop the chocolate into chunks and add it to a small heatproof bowl, set over a saucepan of simmering water and gently melt. Allow the chocolate to cool a little, then add to the buttercream, beating until smooth and well combined.
You can make the buttercream up to one week ahead of when you want to use it, just refrigerate in a sealed container and bring to room temperature before you want to use it. If it looks a little tired, just whip it again to bring it back to life.