Pastry chef Jean François Houdré has been delighting and amazing guests at tony Newport Beach, California's Sutton Place Hotel for the past 10 years. The hotel is perhaps one of Newport Beach's best kept secrets, offering guests unparelled levels of service, not to mention some of the best cuisine in Orange County, and a wonderful, intimate jazz music venue on the weekends.
Jean François' signature desserts, works of art for the eyes as much as the tastebuds, are highpoints in a meal filled with peaks. The hotel's Accents Restaurant frequently plays host to locals as well as tourists, a sure testimony to its year round quality. But Houdré, and in fact, the Sutton Place Hotel in general, really shines during holidays.
The Sutton Place regularly plans special holiday promotions and events, and Houdré is usually right in the middle of them. Like the time he built a Christmas Gingerbread scene so spectacular, so massive, it wouldn't fit through the kitchen doors!
Each holiday season,the Paris trained chef produces over 1000 Yule log cakes for hotel guests and banquet attendees. But while the recipes are traditional, Jean François takes the concept of the Yule log to new heights, adorning it with sugar ribbons, chocolate leaves and trees, marzipan holly and meringue mushrooms. Jean François credits his father, a Bordeaux pastry chef and amatuer sculptor, as his inspiration.
If you happen to be in the area of Newport Beach at holiday time, stop by the Sutton Place Hotel for their holiday celebrations. The hotel is especially cheery because of the hundreds of Teddy Bears decorating the halls. The bears are donated by corporate clients to be given to a local children's charity. Call the Sutton Place at 949-476-2001 for more information or reservations.
Otherwise, check out this feature, as chef Houdré graciously shares with us his secrets of making a Yule Log Cake. Don't worry if you can't exactly duplicate this work of art at home, I can't either. The cake alone, without all the extra adornments is still a spectacular finish to any holiday meal.
Before you can begin making the cake, you will need to make its components. For the cake in the photos Jean François used a plain cake that he soaked with simple syrup flavored with Frangelico liqueur. He filled his cake with hazelnut flavored pastry cream and hazelnut flavored buttercream. You can use any flavors you wish. Perhaps a chocolate filling or even jelly (the Yule Log is essentially a jellyroll) might better suit your personal taste. Use your imagination. Below are links to basic recipes:
Making the Yule Log Cake
Once you have your Yule Log Cake components, it's time to make the cake. The size of the cake that Jean François is using is double the size yours will be, so his will make 2 Yule Logs. The recipes above will make a single Yule Log.
One of the most important steps, according to Jean François, is to continually brush the cake with simple syrup during the assembly process to keep it moist and to avoid problems with the cake breaking while rolling. He flavored his simple syrup with Frangelico hazelnut liqueuer. You could use other liqueurs as your taste dictates, or just use the syrup plain. After carefully brushing the entire surface of the cake with syrup, an even layer of pastry cream is spread over the surface.
Now it's time to roll. To begin rolling, bring up the edge of th parchment paper to start the process. With each roll, the chef takes time to brush trhe cake with additional syrup.
You will want to roll the cake as tightly as possible. To facilitate this, Jean François keeps his cake on parchment paper and uses a wallpaper tool from a hardware store. The tool helps him to tighten the roll of the cake by using it to leverage against the paper as in the photo above.
Now come the fun part. It's time to frost the Yule Log Cake.
Jean François prepared 2 pastry bags filled with buttercream icing, one plain, one hazelnut flavored. You can use any flavor you like, but you will want icing that is somewhat darker in color than the other. He took the white icing and went down the length of the cake piping random little blobs. These will later become knotholes on the log, so don't pipe them in too symetrical a fashion.
He then took the hazelnut icing and piped it in long, flat strips along the length of the cake. When it come to the "knotholes" just pipe the frosting right on top of them, as shown in the photo above.
Jean François then used a small spatula and somewhat smoothed out the icing, eliminating the lines left from the pastry bag tip. He then used a small plastic comb tool that is usually used to texture paint. You can find this tool inexpensivley in hardware stores. The comb is used to create the log's texture by lightly swiriling it through the icing.
To further make the icing resemble wood, Jean François took a smaller comb tool, dipped it in melted chocolate and lightly brushed it randomly over the cake as in the photo above left. The photo on the right illustrates how he created the "knotholes." Jean François warmed the blade of a sharp knife (use hot water but dry the knife first), then simply sliced off the top of the bump that was first piped onto the cake. This left a two-toned knothole on the log.
The Artist's Touch
Jean François is known for the artistry of his desserts. To decorate his Yule Log Cake, he pulled out all the stops, adorning it with marbled chocolate oranments, spun sugar ribbons and playful meringue mushrooms.
To begin assembling the final dessert, Jean François carefully transferred the iced cake to a marble slab. Occupying the corner of this edible sculpture was an exquisite chocolate Christmas tree, decorated with delicate gossamer threads of white chocolate and surrounded with intricate packages made of marzipan.
Chocolate holly leaves with hazelnut "berries", marzipan holly, star cookies, and an edible chocolate greeting finish the picture.
If you enjoyed this feature, be sure to check out Making Exquisite Chocolate Easter Eggs with Jean François Houdré .