Monday, December 29, 2014

Yule log cake pretty and delicious

Starting my own Christmas tradition

We have a new Christmas tradition at my house. This will be the third year I’ve made a delicious yule log from Debbi Baker Covington’s cookbook "Celebrate Everything!” 

I like everything about this dessert. The spongy layer is light and tasty, the whipped cream is perfectly sweet and creamy, and the chocolate glaze is perfect. And it’s easy to make, really! 

I was unsure about trying the cake at first. I had never really made roll cakes. But Debbi assured me it was easy and worth the effort. 

I decided to cook my first yule log on Christmas morning two years ago. I know it sounds silly to make dessert on Christmas morning, but I wanted it perfectly fresh for the night’s special Christmas dinner. 

The layer, cooked in a large jelly roll pan, is very simple to make. If you follow the instructions for preparing the pan with aluminum foil and cooking spray, you should have no trouble removing the cake from the pan and rolling it in a tea towel to cool. 

While the cake is cooking or even cooling, you can prepare the whipped cream for the filling; it only takes a few minutes. Let it chill in the refrigerator until it’s time to use it. 

Once the cake is completely cool, unroll it and remove the tea towel. Spread the whipped cream on the cake layer and roll up again. I usually have some whipped cream left over. If you use too much, it runs out the end of the cake. 

Debbi’s recipe, which came from a French class at Fike High School, uses a different chocolate frosting or glaze. I use a favorite standby recipe that I also make for cakes and cupcakes at my house. It’s a very simple to make with ingredients I always have on hand: chocolate chips, butter, honey and vanilla extract. 

Once the cake is made, it’s very tempting to slice it immediately, but don’t. It needs to be refrigerated to completely cool. 

This cake is delicious just a few hours after it is made, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to make it the same day I wanted to serve it. We love it the next day and day after as well, if there’s any left! 

If you’d like to order a copy of Debbi’s book, visit www.cateringbydebbicovington.com or purchase through Amazon. 

New cookbook 

The Wilson Woman’s Club has a new cookbook, and I will be writing about it soon. But for now, you can purchase it at Fine Prints, Ross McDaniel Salon and Embellishments. You can also leave a message at the Wilson Woman’s Club, 243-3742 and someone will get back with you. 

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810 

Yule Log 

For the filling: 

1 cup heavy whipping cream 

1/4 cup powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1/4 cup chopped pecans (I omit the pecans) 

For the cake: 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 cup cocoa 

3 large eggs 

1 cup sugar 

1/3 cup water 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

Powdered sugar 

For the thin chocolate icing: 

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips 

3 tablespoons butter 

1 tablespoon honey 

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Chill a deep bowl. Place whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until stiff. Fold in nuts if using. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Can also make whipped cream while cake cooks or cools. 

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a jelly roll pan (151/2 x 101/2 x 1-inch) and line bottom with greased aluminum foil. Blend flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa, set aside. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl until very thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in sugar. Blend in water and vanilla on low speed. Slowly mix in dry ingredients just until batter is smooth. Pour into pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. 

Loosen edges and immediately turn upside down on a tea towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove foil. While hot, roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on wire rack. 

When completely cool, gently unroll cake and remove towel. Spread with whipped cream filling. Roll again and place on a serving platter, seam side down. 

For chocolate glaze, pour chocolate chips and butter into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir until chips are blended. Mix in honey and vanilla. Pour over cake and use a spoon or knife to cover and smooth. 

Let cool in refrigerator before serving. 

Serves 8 to 10. 

Adapted from Debbi Covington’s "Celebrate Everything” 

Christmas candy tradition

Mother and daughter make favorite holiday sweets

A cozy kitchen stocked with plenty of sugar, corn syrup, local pecans, butter and chocolate turned into a candy shop Monday morning with Brenda Bailey and her daughter, Candace Bailey, hard at work for several hours making fudge, crystal candy, divinity and butter crunch.

It’s a tradition passed down from mother to daughter in its fourth generation now with Candace’s daughter, Emma Renfrow: candy making, the good kind, and just in time for Christmas.

It’s been about a year since my high school friend Candace mentioned on Facebook that she had spent the day making candy with her mother. My first thought was that I had missed an opportunity to spend the morning with these fine ladies who could teach me a thing or two. My second thought? Tell Candace to invite me next year!

Lucky me; we both remembered.

The mother and daughter team started out making what they call "real fudge” — not the kind made with marshmallows, Candace said, although her mom loves that recipe as well!

Brenda pulled out a small, worn cookbook and flipped through the pages to find the handwritten recipe passed down from her mother, Beatrice Dixon, also known as Mama Beat. She’s the inspiration for this yearly cooking binge. Mama Beat used to fill a bedroom with candy for Christmas, the women said, and they love carrying on her tradition.

The fudge is made with cocoa, sugar, dark corn syrup, vanilla, butter and evaporated milk. Brenda came from a house with six children. When it came time to make candy, pies and even whipped cream, her mom didn’t want to sacrifice fresh milk on sweets and used canned milk instead.

"Therefore, I do the same thing,” she said.

As the fudge started simmering, the Bailey women kept a close eye on the candy thermometer. The enticing smell of dark chocolate filled the small kitchen. The anticipation of a pan filled with chocolate fudge made my mouth water!

Once the fudge had cooked and was cooling, Candace started assembling ingredients for crystal candy — or hard candy. Over the weekend she had made a batch of peppermint candy, not too strong — the way her daddy, J.W., likes it. Candace’s son, Graham Renfrow, suggested she make it blue. On Monday, we made cinnamon, my favorite!

This is the recipe I was most eager to learn, and I watched the process carefully.

The Baileys have been making crystal candy since 1984 when they saw the recipe in Southern Living. They’ve made butterscotch, clove and spearmint flavors as well. Once again, the candy thermometer came out. The candy must reach the hard crack stage, 300 degrees, before it’s poured into a pan to cool.

Candace and her mom, who lives in the Buckhorn community, have made this candy many times, so they know how to do it quickly. Once the bright red candy was poured into a glass dish and started to cool, Candace got to work scoring it over and over to make sure the marks stayed. She knew that would make it easier to break the candy once it was cool enough to handle. I loved helping with this process, taking off large chunks and breaking the candy along the lines Candace had cut.

When I ate the candy, I noticed the smooth edges from the marks Candace had made.

There’s plenty of experience behind the third candy of the morning as well: divinity or sea foam candy.

"The best thing my mother made was sea foam,” Brenda said.

Divinity is a favorite of many Southern families, but it is intimidating to many cooks.

Brenda and Candace worked as a team, watching the bubbling mixture reach 259 degrees and making sure the egg whites were perfectly stiff. Mama Beat never used a candy thermometer when she made her sea foam.

"My mom always made it spin a thread,” Brenda said, showing a string of the hot mixture extending from the spoon indicating it’s at the correct temperature.

Once the egg whites and nuts were beat into the hot mixture, the real teamwork started.

"We’ve got to do it fast,” Brenda said.

The two grabbed spoons and quickly scooped up just the right amount and placed the fluffy white pieces onto wax paper before the mixture cooled and hardened. The three of us couldn’t resist sampling the delicious white candy filled with fresh pecans. What a sweet, Southern treat!

Brenda’s main tip for making divinity is not to make it by yourself.

"You need help getting it out,” she said.

Also, when beating in the egg whites, beat only until the mixture just loses its gloss, she added.

Pay attention to the weather as well. It’s not a good idea to make sea foam candy on a damp or humid day.

"And if you don’t do it right the first time, try again,” she said.

Before we ate our lunch of Brenda’s delicious homemade vegetable soup, there was one more recipe to make, butter crunch, or toffee.

This is another of Mama Beat’s recipes that Brenda has adapted. Once again, a simmering pot of sweetness filled the kitchen, this time with the buttery smell of caramel or toffee. When the mixture had reached the correct temperature, it was poured onto a marble slab to cool. Pecans and chocolate chips were sprinkled on top, then the mixture cooled until it could be cut into pieces.

When the four recipes were complete, it was time to divide them into tins for the holiday season.Brenda gives away candy to neighbors and family. She also serves it as dessert at a family spaghetti party.

Candace, a professor at North Carolina Central University who also teaches music history at Duke University, often has a houseful of teenagers and young adults who love the candy.

"Mine will be eaten,” she said.

This candy making tradition is very important to both of them.

"It’s just what mom and I do at Christmas,” Candace said.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Real Fudge 

3/4 cup cocoa

3 cups sugar

Dash of salt

11/2 cups evaporated milk (not diluted)

2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped 

Stir cocoa, sugar, salt, evaporated milk and syrup in heavy pot with candy thermometer attached. Bring to a boil and continue cooking until mixture reaches 235 degrees. Remove from heat.

Add butter and let cool around 30 minutes or until cool enough to touch pot. Add vanilla and nuts. Beat fudge with electric mixer until it loses its gloss and firms up some. Pour into pan.

Brenda Bailey

Crystal Candy 

4 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup light corn syrup

5 drops or more food coloring of choice

3/4 to 1 teaspoon oil of cinnamon, peppermint or spearmint 

Combine water, sugar and syrup in saucepan or large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add coloring. Continue to cook without stirring until hard crack stage, 300 degrees. Remove from heat and stir in oil. Pour into well-greased 13X9-inch pan.

As it begins to cool, score candy to make it easier to break into pieces once it cools. When cool enough to handle, turn out onto parchment paper or other surface. Break into pieces. This can be messy as candy pieces break off and fly.

Adapted from Southern Living

*Note: It’s best not to make this on a damp or humid day. The flavored oils are sold in tiny glass bottles in cooking supply sections of some stores (I purchased some at Hobby Lobby) as well as from pharmacies.

Sea Foam 

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

2/3 cup water

2 large or 3 medium egg whites

1 cup toasted pecans, chopped 

Beat egg whites until stiff and set aside.

Pour sugar, syrup and water into heavy saucepan with candy thermometer attached and bring to a boil. Do not stir. Let simmer until it reaches 259 degrees.

Slowly pour mixture into mixer bowl with egg whites, with mixer running on medium; add vanilla and nuts and beat until mixture just loses its gloss. Do not overbeat.

Quickly spoon candy (about a tablespoonful) onto wax paper using buttered spoons. It’s best to have two people doing this to finish before candy starts to harden.

*Note: It’s best not to make this on a damp or humid day.

Brenda Bailey

Butter Crunch 

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon corn syrup (either light or dark)

3/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted

6 ounces of chocolate chips 

Butter marble slab or large cookie sheet, preferably one with a rim.

Melt butter over low heat in a large saucepan. Add sugar; stirring constantly, add in water and syrup. Cook over medium heat until reaches 290 degrees. Remove from heat and pour onto prepared surface. Have a spoon or knife handy in case candy starts to run off edges of marble if that’s what you are using.

Sprinkle nuts over surface of candy. Then add chocolate chips. As they melt, use a spoon to smooth evenly.

When cool, cut into squares or break into serving-size pieces.

Brenda Bailey

Tale of two sausage balls

The tale of two sausage balls

I don’t remember the first time Mama made sausage balls for our family Christmas Eve party, but I do recall the conversation when she realized she made them differently from everyone else by browning the sausage before she formed the balls.

It’s probably been 40 years. We were standing in the kitchen and she was holding an index card with the recipe written out in her handwriting.

"If I don’t brown the sausage first, it might not get cooked all the way,” she said.

She never made sausage balls with uncooked sausage. Instead, she cooked a pan of Bass Farm sausage (it was always Bass Farm, green package), drained it, and formed her sausage balls with Bisquick and sharp Cheddar cheese. Then she baked them or froze them for later use.

On Christmas Eve, right before we started opening presents, she’d put them in the oven. Before long, we could smell them. Oh my, what a scrumptious smell.

They’d be added to the party table, along with nutty fingers, salted pecans, a variety of cookies and fudge that family members prepared, all washed down with an icy fruit punch. No matter if the temperature was 20 degrees outside, we all insisted on the punch! (Still do in fact.)

Mama’s sausage balls were always a favorite of mine. They are almost like a biscuit and are so good at breakfast as well as parties. I love eating them while they are still piping hot and the cheese is gooey.

That’s not to say I don’t love them the other way as well!

Several years ago, our dear neighbor Betty Hayes shared a plate of sausage balls. They were made the traditional way, formed with uncooked sausage before baking. They were very small, and some of the edges were crisp from the cooked cheese. My daughter immediately devoured them and begged for more. The secret was out; she knew there was a second way to cook sausage balls.

Anna requests that I make our neighbor’s sausage ball recipe often. We don’t just make them for parties, we often make a batch and freeze the bulk of the recipe in small batches for breakfast. I’ve done this with Mama’s version of the recipe more times than I can count. For Mama’s version, I freeze them without cooking the sausage balls first. With the more traditional method, I cook them and then freeze them.

I cannot tell you what a treat it is to have my mama’s sausage ball recipe for breakfast. I put the sausage balls in the toaster oven when I wake up, and before I know it, the wonderful smell of Christmas Eve at Mama and Daddy’s house fills my own kitchen! Love it.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Sausage Balls

1 pound of bulk sausage, mild or hot (I often use breakfast turkey sausage instead of pork sausage)

1 pound grated Cheddar cheese or 4 cups (grate your own if possible rather than using pre-packaged grated cheese)

3 cups Bisquick

Mama’s recipe: Brown sausage. Drain fat. Once sausage has cooled enough to handle, pour into large bowl and add other ingredients. Use your hands to mix until combined. Form into balls a little smaller than a walnut.

If it’s difficult to form a ball, hold the batter in your hands for a few seconds as you are making each ball. The warmth of your hands will help the mixture stay together.

Place sausage balls on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes. Can also freeze sausage balls before cooking for later use. Mama always froze them in single layers in plastic containers, separating the layers with wax paper.

Makes around 30.

Traditional recipe: Mix uncooked sausage, cheese and biscuit mix in large bowl. Use your hands to mix until combined. Form into balls about half the size of a walnut. My family likes them very small.

Place on baking sheet (I don’t use cooking spray). Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Makes around 60.