By Yotam Ottolenghi, The New York Times
LONDON — I grew up largely unaware of Christmas.
It wasn’t until my mid-20s, after leaving my home city of Jerusalem, that I heard carols or saw great, big roasted birds at the center of tables. It wasn’t until I lived with a man who grew up with those traditions that I tried any of those things myself. And it wasn’t until we had kids, who are growing up in London, that I realized there would always be a bit of a contradiction there. If tradition is largely about passing on what you have grown up with, how do you navigate such a traditional day as Christmas when you have no memory of it yourself?
As always, I turn to food — where tradition can both be adhered to and, at the same time, allowed to evolve. The main meal is one that my husband, Karl, closely guards. He’s normally as relaxed as I am about “the way things should be,” but he still likes to maintain the link between the Christmas dinners he grew up eating and what our sons now tuck in to.
So, there will unquestionably be a goose or a turkey (with the prized turkey leg meat saved for sandwiches once everyone has had their fill) and brown sugar-dusted and clove-studded gammon. And there will be potatoes roasted in drippings or goose fat, carrots mashed with nutmeg and peaks of butter (sticking to the proportions perfected by my Irish mother-in-law), and a big bowl of sauerkraut to offset all that fattiness (and to nod to my father-in-law’s German heritage). I might just be allowed a flourish with the old sprouts — say, a handful of basil leaves and julienned lemon shavings — but that’s about as far as it goes.
Where I am given complete free rein, though, is dessert. Before kids, I used to be all about the trifle. Nothing felt more like a celebration than an epic, layered concoction of boozy fruit, sponge cake and cream. These days, the booze-soaked sponge has given way to a rather more family-friendly roulade. It’s as celebratory and light and creamy and “ta-da”-ish, but without all the liqueur! I also love that it nods toward the classic Christmas chocolate log — or bûche de Noël — without actually being it. It feels right: traditional but not traditional.
For 364 days of the year, I’m unequivocally unconfused about who I am, what to do and what the protocols are. Now that I have kids who are growing up in a community where Santa does stop by, I am happy to duck down, forget all complexities and lose myself in a cloud of festive meringue.
Recipe: Brown Sugar Roulade With Burnt Honey Apples
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling and chilling
For the apple filling:
- 1/2 cup/150 grams runny honey
- 1 vanilla bean (vanilla pod), halved, seeds scraped out and bean reserved
- 5 fresh bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 1/2 pounds/1.1 kilograms Braeburn apples (about 7 to 8), peeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges (or 10 if the apples are larger)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the roulade:
- 9 ounces/250 grams chilled egg whites (from 6 to 8 large eggs, or an egg white carton)
- 1 1/4 cups/250 grams superfine sugar (caster sugar)
- 1/2 cup/100 grams soft light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch (corn flour)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the cream:
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/250 grams mascarpone, cold
- 2/3 cup/160 milliliters cold whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons/20 grams powdered sugar (icing sugar)
- 1 tablespoon orange zest, plus 1 teaspoon to garnish
1. Heat the oven 425 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius.
2. Make the apple filling: Add the honey, vanilla seeds and bean (pod), bay leaves, cinnamon stick, ground cinnamon and flaky salt to a large, ovenproof saute pan. Cook over medium heat until the honey is deeply brown and almost burned, stirring often. (Don’t be afraid to take it to the edge; you want it to be very dark.) This process can take anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes, so make sure you keep an eye on it. Off the heat, whisk in the orange juice. Gently pour 5 tablespoons/65 grams of the burnt honey into a heatproof bowl. Pick out the bay leaves and vanilla beans (pods), and add them to the bowl.
3. Stir the apples and olive oil into the saute pan with the remaining burnt honey. Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the apples have softened and caramelized but still retain their shape. Set aside to cool completely. Pick out the cinnamon stick and add it to the reserved burnt honey bowl. Keep the oven on.
4. Make the roulade: Line an 11-by-15-inch (30-by-40-centimeter) baking sheet (baking tray) with parchment paper.
5. Add the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until soft peaks form. Combine both sugars in a bowl, then gradually add them to the mixer, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously on medium-high for 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture becomes a thick, glossy meringue. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla, vinegar, cornstarch (corn flour) and cinnamon, then scrape the sides of the bowl, if needed. Turn the speed to medium and whisk for 1 minute to fully combine.
6. Spoon the meringue onto the prepared tray and use an offset spatula to spread it out evenly about 3/4-inch thick so it measures about 10 by 14 inches (25 by 35 centimeters). Once the apples have cooked, transfer the meringue to the oven and immediately turn the heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit/200 degrees Celsius. Bake for 32 minutes, until the meringue is crusty on top and lightly browned. Set aside to deflate and cool completely, about 45 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, make the cream: Add the mascarpone, whipping cream and powdered sugar (icing sugar) to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, until soft peaks form. Stir in 1 tablespoon orange zest.
8. Place a clean tea towel on top of the cooled meringue and quickly invert the whole thing onto a work surface. Lift off the pan (tin) and peel away the parchment paper. Spread three-quarters of the cream evenly all over the meringue. Top evenly with the burnt honey apples. (Reserve any liquid released from the apples for another use.)
9. Starting with the longest side closest to you and using the tea towel to assist you, roll the meringue up and over, so that the edges come together to form a log, gently pulling away the tea towel as you roll. Slide the meringue onto a long tray or platter, seam-side down. Use a serrated knife to trim off 3/4 inch (2 centimeters) from the sides to create neat edges. (You can nibble on these, if you like!) Refrigerate to firm up, at least 30 minutes (and up to 3 hours if you’re getting ahead).
10. To serve, spoon the remaining cream down the length of the roulade. Top artfully with the bay leaves, vanilla pods and cinnamon stick. Drizzle with the reserved burnt honey syrup and sprinkle with the extra zest.
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