Impress Your Guests with a Deceptively Easy Bûche de Noël
Every year I make a Bûche de Noël for my Christmas Eve dinner. A Bûche de Noël has EVERYTHING going for it to make it my favorite Christmas dessert. It’s French (which means its classier than most desserts), It looks insanely challenging and impressive (always very important to me when making a dessert) and you can constantly reinvent the look and flavors of your bûche. I make one every year - but every year is different than the last.
The Bûche de Noël, or Yule Log, historically comes from the Celtic tradition of burning a festively decorated log on the longest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. Families would sit over their burning logs sharing stories of hope for their future year.
But, one of my favorite stories about the Bûche de Noël is how it rose in popularity under Napoleon’s rule. Napoleon proclaimed that all chimneys were to be closed over the winter as he was quite sure that was how illness was being spread. Without the use of their chimneys the Bûche de Noël cake became the festive log that families could sit over as the celebrated the Christmas season.
You will be hard pressed to find a bakery in Paris that isn’t lined with gorgeous interpretations of the Bûche de Noël at Christmas. It is classic, beautiful, steeped in history and the perfect French Christmas dessert.
For this traditional Bûche de Noël, I made a light and airy chocolate cake filled with an almond buttercream. I will cover my log in a chocolate ganache and chocolate bark and then decorate it with meringue mushrooms, marzipan almond pinecones and cranberries.
For the Cake:
8 large eggs (seperated and room temperature)
1 cup sugar divided into 3/4 of a cup and 1/4 of a cup
1 1/4 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp of salt plus a pinch extra
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cream the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of your sugar.
In a separate bowl, sift together your flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cocoa powder. I always sift my dry ingredients to ensure that my leavening agent(s) are evenly distributed to ensure a perfect an even rise. Slowly beat your dry ingredients in to your creamed eggs and sugar.
In your third bowl you are basically going to make a meringue out of your egg whites and remaining sugar and salt. Always use a metal or glass bowl when working with a meringue. Plastic bowls can hold on to grease and fat over time which will inhibit your meringue. You also need to make sure your beaters are really clean. If you are using the same beaters as you did for earlier steps, wash them and dry them before you move to your meringue. Whisk your (room temperature) eggs with a pinch of salt on medium speed until they are frothy. Slowly add in your remaining 1/4 cup of sugar (about a teaspoon at a time - I really do mean slowly!) until stiff peaks form. Your peaks should stand up on their own without falling over. A good test to see if your eggs are done is to be willing to hold the bowl upside down over your head! Fold your meringue into your batter carefully making sure to incorporate it fully but not over mix. The light and airy meringue is going to make your cake the airiest cake ever.
Gently fold your egg whites into your batter. It should be fully incorporated without over mixing.
Grease the edges of a jelly roll pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Pour your batter into the pan and put it in your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.
When your cake is done but not yet cooled, flip it over onto a piece of parchment paper or a tea towel that is dusted with powdered sugar and roll up your cake. By letting your cake cool in a log shape, you are training it to love that shape. That is the trick to making sure it doesn’t break or crack when you are rolling it into your final log.