Woodlands hold a place in our imagination, existing on the edge of what we know, a bit beyond the comfortable, familiar borders of civilization. The dense press of trees keeps woods in perpetual shadow, now and then broken by dazzling little clearings and cool streams. Darkness makes forests mysterious and exciting, places where anything might happen.
These desserts were inspired by walks in the forest -- by the elegant complexity of trees, the simplicity of mushrooms, even the perfection of the snowflakes that blanket wintry woods.
The familiar buche de Noel, a classic rolled holiday cake shaped into a chocolate-covered log, prompted our food editors to dream up a magical landscape to surround it. From there, their imaginations roamed wooded paths until they reached a fantastic world in which the mushrooms are sweet, airy meringues; the leaves, crisp sugar cookies; the sticks, cool peppermint candy.
"We thought of the ordinary things you find and made extraordinary desserts out of them -- some inspired by French patisserie but with an American playfulness," says senior associate food editor Jennifer Aaronson. "We wanted to add whimsy to the dessert table while maintaining some sophistication."
The results indulge the eye as much as the taste buds. The pinecones, sure to draw raves, are simple individual cakes coated with frosting; with an exacting hand, you arrange their scales. The taffy twigs require only basic candy-making skills -- success depends more on feel than on any fussy science. The two variations on buches de Noel are really dolled-up jelly rolls, one with easy-to-make chocolate bark, the other aesthetically elevated with a wood-grain pattern made of white and dark chocolates.
Since the beginning of time, man has believed that the woods are filled with fairies and sprites, with magic that has taken refuge from the bright lights and warm hearths of human community. This holiday season, bring that charm indoors with these culinary symbols of the wilderness. As you watch them delight family and friends, you'll see that every forest is indeed an enchanted forest.
The delights of the forest -- elegant leaves, delicate branches, small birds -- are the inspiration behind unique and enchanting cakes.
This is the one if you are looking for a whimsical wedding cake.
Offer slices of roulade in contrasting flavors as an alternative to wedding cake. Yellow sponge cake is rolled with pistachio mousse, iced with whipped cream, and covered in white chocolate bark. The other version is filled and iced with a chestnut puree mixture, and is coated with dark chocolate bark.
Faux bois, French for "fake wood," is a lovely decorative motif. A wood-graining tool creates the white chocolate markings on bittersweet chocolate panels; they're then pressed into the chocolate ganache that envelopes the cake. To make the leaves, tempered bittersweet chocolate is brushed onto real lemon leaves, which are peeled off after chilling briefly.
Diminutive gum-paste birds, their markings painted with petal dust, search for treats: flecks of vanilla bean used to flavor fondant "snow." Birch twigs circle the cake; their tips are wrapped in floral tape (remove birds and twigs before serving). A cake board concealed by fondant sits between the bottom tier and tree-trunk base.
For a crop of "mushrooms" in realistic hues, we tinted some of the meringue with varying amounts of cocoa.
If you are looking for more than just cake, check out these Woodland Sweets.