Baking With Dorie Greenspan: Secrets of a bûche de Noël, holiday baking and more.

Dec 14, 2016

Beloved cookbook author Dorie Greenspan ("Baking Chez Moi," "Baking: From My Home To Yours," "Around My French Table" and more) answers your questions about baking, her "Everyday Dorie" column and everything else she's cooking.
This week's column: The secret about making France’s favorite holiday cake
This week's recipe: Dorie Greenspan’s Ginger and Jam Bûche de Noël

It's beginning to feel a lot like ... Baking Season! Time for Christmas Cookies and Hanukah Doughnuts.

What are you doing in the kitchen? We all want to know!


Hi - I'm hosting a small cookie party, and I want to serve 3 types of cookies. I have two chocolate ones, and want to find a 3rd that doesn't have chocolate. Can you suggest a fairly easy one? Bonus points if it's Christmasy. Thanks!!

Try the Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Dough - see below.  You can make 5 different cookies from the dough.  It rolls out beautifully, so you can make the cookies as Christmasy as you'd like.

Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough

Hi Dorie: Thanks for doing these chats. I am hoping you could help me with something. My husband likes yellow cake with chocolate frosting (I'm fine with double chocolate). I have been researching recipes, but it seems that a lot of yellow cakes come out dry. I just found this one on serious eats. Their recipes are usually pretty good and it has buttermilk which I figure will add to the moistness, but I was wondering if you have a recipe to recommend. Thank you!

The recipe you're looking at comes from Joanne Chang's book, Flour.  It looks really good and I think it will give you the moistness you're looking for.

I have a very similar cake in my book Baking From My Home to Yours.  It's a Black-and-White Chocolate Cake - here's the link.

Reading your article about making a Buche de Noel reminded me of my high school French club. Our Buche de Noel was more like a Botch de Noel with the rolling not going well. I may try your recipe for the new year. Joyeux Noel!

"Botch de Noel" is very, very funny, if sad. Hope is the year your Buche de Noel is beautiful!

Hello Dorie! I made an Italian pear cake last year and thought it didn't turn out too great since it was soggy in the middle, but apparently my in-laws loved it and have requested it for Christmas. Do you have a reliable recipe or any tips to ensure even baking? Or should I just make it soggy again? :) Thank you for the chats! I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Well, if my in-laws liked my soggy cake, I might never change it :)

When you've got fresh, juicy fruit in a cake, you often get moist (soggy?) areas around the fruit.  I would try cutting the fruit, patting it dry and then placing it between triple layers of paper towels to really dry it.  If you're worried about it discoloring, just rub it with a cut lemon.


Hi Dorie! I'd love to make the chocolate raspberry cream cheese cookies from the recent cookie issue, but one of my main cookie recipients doesn't like raspberry very much so I was wondering if I can make an orange version of the dough instead. I can substitute orange extract for the raspberry extract, but I'm less sure about the 6 oz fresh or frozen raspberries. Since they get turned into a jam for the dough, could I use marmalade instead? Or would some smaller amount of orange juice be a better substitution? 

Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Cream Cheese Chewy Cookies

RECIPE: Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Cream Cheese Chewy Cookies

Hmmm, I haven't made these cookies - although they look great - but I think you should be able to replace the raspberries that you cook into a jam with some orange marmalade.  It's hard for me to know if the marmalade will be too thick or not.  You might have to play this part by ear.

I don't think you'll get the chewy texture or enough flavor if you use orange juice.

That said, I would not use 2 teaspoons of orange extract - it will be way too strong.  I'd go for 1/2 teaspoon - you'll get plenty of flavor from the jam and too much extract starts to taste more medicinal than delicious.

Let us know how it goes.

Dorie, I'm an experienced baker with a World Peace cookies curse! The outcome is without fail delicious, but the process of shaping the dough into a log always gets me! The dough just won't come together and crumbs fly everywhere at this stage and then again at the cutting stage. The cookies never look as beautiful as your pictures. I'm determined this Christmas to figure it out. (On batch number 3 now.) I read that the butter has to be really soft so trying to be patient on the beating. Also considering rolling out and cutting circles per a recent article. Love your recipes otherwise :)

Oh dear, oh dear.  Don't worry about your butter - it should be pliable, but if it's a little cool, that shouldn't be a problem.

I'd suggest that you mix your dough longer.  Always mix on lowish speed, but mix until you can squeeze the dough and have it hold together.

When you take the dough out of the mixer, pull it together by kneading it briefly.

Make sure your logs are tight with no hollow spots, then chill or freeze them. (I freeze them.)

As you cut the cold logs, the rounds might break, but all you've got to do is push them together and they'll be just fine when they bake.

There are instructions for rolling and cutting the dough in my book, Dorie's Cookies.  But I'm sure you can master the slice-and-bake technique.

Keep us posted.

I don't want to be boring but I really like a soft sugar cookie with frosting. Do you have a recipe for such a thing?

The way I see things, a good sugar cookie, soft or crisp, is never boring! Here's one from the Food Section's files:

Soft Amish-Style Sugar Cookies

RECIPE: Soft Amish-Style Sugar Cookies

I'm making these for the office cookie swap (my co-workers are very excited) and was thinking about swapping out vanilla extract for orange extract. Would one teaspoon give enough orange flavor, do you think? Or should I consider vanilla *and* orange? Thanks for all you do!

One teaspoon of orange extract will probably be too much - it's such a strong flavor.

I would keep the vanilla and add 1/4 teaspoon orange extract, if you want that flavor. 

Another option is to skip the orange extract and add the finely grated zest of 1 orange.

Do you have a favorite recipe for my favorite cookie?

It's so funny, I've been traveling across the country on book tour for Dorie's Cookies and soooo many people asked me about Snickerdoodles. I love them year-round, but I was getting the sense that Christmas is when people love them most.

I have a recipe on my website for Cardamom Snickerdoodles from ... ta-dah: Joe Yonan, editor of Washington Post Food.  

Joe made them when he came to visit me in NYC and I've been making them and enjoying them ever since. Hope you will too.

Would apricot preserves also work as a substitute for the raspberries-turned-into-jam?

Once again, this is all to-be-tested territory, since I haven't made the cookies, but if the orange marmalade will work, so will apricot preserves.

Hi, Dorie! I made these cookies the other day and while they tasted amazing, they were so crumbly that I worry I did something wrong. My butter was room temp, but that room was in the 60s, so maybe it wasn't warm enough? Thank you! I definitely want to make them again.

was the dough crumbly or the cookies?

Crumbly dough is a sign that you haven't mixed the dough enough.

How long can I keep cookie dough in the fridge before baking the actual cookies? I'm hoping to prep a few batches of dough this weekend, but not do the baking itself until Thursday night or Friday morning of next week. All three doughs require some chilling time, but I'm not sure whether it's OK to keep them in the fridge for four to five days. Thoughts? Thank you! I know it probably depends on the kind of dough, so here's what I'm making: jewel slices, cherry-kiss cookies, and molasses cookies.

You should be fine keeping these doughs in the refrigerator for 4 days.  Make sure to wrap them well.

I noticed that the Jewel Slices need to be frozen, so that's an easy one. You might have to let the other two doughs soften at room temperature a bit before rolling them into balls.

My all-purpose cooking bible for the past half-century has been the 11th edition of Fannie Farmer. I love her not-too-sweet Norwegian Butter Cookie recipe, for cookie-press use. The ingredients are: 2 hard-boiled (!!!) egg yolks, cooled / ½ cup (= 1 stick) butter, softened / ¼ cup sugar / 1 cup flour / ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract. They must be baked on an UN-greased cookie sheet. (Leftover hard-boiled egg whites can be combined with hard-boiled whole eggs in egg salad).

Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.

I've seen several recipes, often German, Austrian or Swiss, that use hard-boiled egg yolks and all of them have had a wonderful texture.

I find butter frostings made with powdered sugar to be cloyingly, teeth-achingly sweet. Do you have a not-too-difficult cooked fudgy frosting recipe you could recommend?

I understand what you're saying about butter-and-powdered-sugar frostings, but with the addition of a dark, bittersweet chocolate, you might come up with something you'd like more.

I think that one of the nicest frostings is a cooked meringue buttercream.  It's foolproof, beautiful and you can play with the flavoring almost endlessly.  Here's a recipe for a chocolate version.

Dorie, do you experiment much with different varieties of vanilla? Madagascar bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian, etc. What are your thoughts, please?

I've worked with all of these vanilla beans.  I have a soft spot for Tahitian beans because they are so wildly aromatic.

No matter which beans you choose, make sure that the beans are plump, super-fragrant (you're using the beans for aroma as well as flavor), moist and pliable - you should be able to bend the bean without cracking it.  If there is a silvery sheen to the bean, that's fine.

Have you been watching the "Great American Baking Show"? Although not quite as good as the British original, it does have Mary Berry as one of the judges. I've been especially enjoying the contestant who bakes all those Portuguese goodies, as he brings a different perspective to the show.

I've been on book tour, so I haven't gotten to watch anything ... I know, poor me.

But I so want to watch it, especially since I'm a big fan of Mary Berry and a friend of Johnny Iuzzini. When I was in Chicago, I met one of the contestants.  Yes, I tried to get a little advance-info from her.  And no, she didn't tell me a thing!  

My all-time favorite Christmas cookie is the buttery, sublime Spritz, made with an old-fashioned cookie press or "gun." However, this year, I've been exiled to a humid southern town, and I'm afraid that my cookies aren't going to turn out. Do you have any tips for baking in a humid climate?

Are you concerned that your dough will be too soft from the humidity? Or that your cookies won't keep well?

I'd try pressing out a few cookies and baking them as a test.  If you think the dough is too soft and the cookies aren't holding their shape, I'd chill the dough (or press out the cookies and chill them on the baking sheet) before baking.

As for keeping, pull out those tins and pack your cookies as airtight as possible.

Good luck this year.

I bake, but like you, I'm scared of "jelly rolls," except the musician Jelly Roll something. But when it comes to baking, I have to confess - love hearing the praise at gatherings, because, most people opt for grocery store desserts (horrors in the US, maybe not in Paris). This year, I'd really like to wow them with your recipe, but like you were, I'm a bit hesitant. Think I've read your recipe today four times, but still worried - would you practice first? And do you know, where in the US, one finds Biscoff?

You can do it!  You can do it!  

And yes, if you have time, practice, but just remember, whipped cream covers so much!

Biscoff/Lotus Cookie Spread is available in most supermarkets and Trader Joe's has their own version is nice. In my supermarket, it's sold in the same section as peanut butter ... which also isn't bad in the buche.

Have fun making it and send pix.

Hi Dorie, I'm continuing to read through your cookbook and loving it! My baking time is somewhat limited this year, unfortunately, so cut-out cookies are off the (dessert) table for now. Can your Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough be sliced and baked? And, do you have any suggestions for three or four other relatively fast and easy cookies?

Yes, the Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough can be used for slice and bake cookies. In fact - and this is good to keep in mind - most butter-rich/shortbread-type doughs that you roll out can be logged and used as slice and bake.

In Dorie's Cookies, take a look at the Princeton Gingersnaps or the Double-Ginger Molasses Cookies - I love them and love that they're made in muffin tins.

Also, don't forget bar cookies - you get a lot of bang for your buck with those! 

From one experienced WPC baker to another, I find that starting with very soft butter helps make the dough more pliable when shaping into the logs. To get the butter very soft, I cut it into chunks and put the mixing bowl on the stove for maybe 10-15 seconds until the butter just begins to melt, then proceed with the recipe. And - thanks once more, Dorie for the best cookie recipe ever. Happy Holidays!

Thanks for this!

Thank you for answering my question about vanilla. What brand / source would you recommend for Tahitian and Mexican, please? There are so many that's it hard to know which is good.

Oh dear, I've never bought a 'brand' of vanilla bean, I've always bought the beans from a spice shop I've trusted. 

Anybody know a good source?

Does Spice House or Penzey's or King Arthur sell vanilla beans?

I was gifted a bunch, it's been carefully stored in my fridge, but hate to make something and find out the choc was bad?

Milk chocolate can be kept for about 1 year, dark chocolate longer and white chocolate shorter.

However, I'd get the chocolate out of the refrigerator - chocolate doesn't love humidity.  It's best kept in a cool, dry place away from light.

It takes a lot and a long time for chocolate to go bad (I've had very old milk chocolate turn on me, but never dark chocolate). If you're concerned, taste it.

If the chocolate has bloomed - that is, if it's cloudy or has a gray haze on it - it's not pretty, but it's fine.  

Those Cardamom Snickerdoodles sound yummy! But what I have is a jar of cardamom pods. Can I pop the seeds from the pods and directly use them on cookies?

You can pop the seeds from the pods, but you really should pound/grind them into a powder.

So just tasting it works? It won't become a monster in a recipe? And yes, I'm make that Buche De Noel - for practice - this weekend! Thank you!

I've never seen chocolate go 'bad' in the sense that it will hurt you.  Tasting should be a fine test.

Hi Dorie. I made a peach cobbler for Thanksgiving that didn't turn out well enough to share (but good enough to eat at home.) I need help all around but am willing for the time being to take advantage of pre made short cuts. Can I double up on store bought pie crusts for a thicker crust and if so, how long should I par bake them before filling them in? And would it be better to use frozen peaches over canned ones in syrup? (which I used the first time) Any help is appreciated, thanks.

Sadly, canned peaches don't bake the same way that fresh peaches do and fresh peaches are not a possibility now.

Why don't you try a crisp? If you make a crisp, then you don't have to worry about a crust? (And no, I wouldn't double-up on a storebought crust.)

I think that frozen peaches are a better choice than canned.  However, they're still going to have a lot of moisture.  Defrost the peaches, pat them dry and then keep them between layers of paper towels while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Here's a crisp topping you can try:

Mixed Berry Crisp

RECIPE: Mixed Berry Crisp

Soooo many good questions, soooo little time to get to all of them. Sorry.

Thanks all for coming - I always love chatting with you.

Wishing everyone the sweetest holidays - xoDorie

In This Chat
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan is the award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, the most recent of which is "Baking Chez Moi." Read more on her Web site,, and follow her on Twitter: @doriegreenspan.
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