A Bûche de Noël is a well-known French Christmas Tradition. Also known as a “Yule Log” It is a yummy cake rolled up and frosted to look like a log. No one knows the exact way this traditional Christmas treat came to be, but one popular guess is that Napoleon I ordered families in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter because they believed that cold air caused medical problems. Because the French have long-standing Christmas traditions that revolve around the hearth, it is said that the bakers in Paris created this dessert as a symbolic replacement around which the family could gather.
As an avid francophile, I decided last year that this was a tradition that I wanted to bring to my family each Christmas season, in hopes that it would eventually turn into a project that Little AG and I would do together on Christmas Eve. Making a Bûche de Noël is a rather lengthy process (not to mention messy) and some would say an ambitious undertaking. However, should you decide to move forward with a tradition like this for your family, I have the best recipe in the world to share with you here. (And trust me, as a former French teacher who gave my students extra credit for making one of these and bringing it in to share with the class, I’ve tried them all. This one is definitely the best!)
So you know, the traditional cake typically has a chocolate mousse filling, but I prefer a vanilla cream filling, and it’s delicious too. This cake includes a Vanilla pastry cream and a chocolate ganache topping which is absolutely decadent and amazingly tasty! Pictures of them do not do it justice. You should know that the recipe is in-depth, but you can do it even with minimal cooking skills, it just takes patience. So, without further ado, here is the recipe for my favorite Bûche de Noël. (accompanied by a photo of one that I made last Christmas!)
Step One – Making the Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)
(Yields about 2 cups)
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
Bring the milk to a boil and set aside.
Place the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and work it with a wire whisk until it reaches ribbon stage, 3 to 4 minutes. (You’ll know it’s reached Ribbon stage has the eggs a light yellow and stiff enough to form a ribbon of mix when the whisk is lifted from the bowl.)
Add the flour and mix well.
Temper the eggs by adding half the hot milk to the eggs and stirring well.
Pour that mix back into the remaining milk, whisking as you pour.
Bring the entire mixture to a boil on medium heat. Reduce heat and stir constantly for two to three minutes, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. Be sure to get into the “corners” of the saucepan by really pushing the whisk hard up against the sides of the pan. The crème should be quite thick.
Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill.
Step Two – Making the Biscuit Roulé (Rolled Cake)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 stick (2 Tbs) butter, melted
Preheat oven to 330 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and the vanilla together in a metal mixing bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water for a few moments to bring the mix to a lukewarm temperature. Remove the bowl from heat and beat the mixture on high speed for five to six minutes. Gradually add the flour, then add the butter, continuing to mix.
Lightly butter a 16 x 12 inch cookie sheet or jelly roll pan in several spots, then line the sheet with parchment paper. (The butter holds the paper in place.) Prepare the paper by greasing it with butter and flour. Spread the mix evenly over the paper and bake for 11 – 13 minutes.
Remove from oven and let sit for five minutes. Place a piece of lightly floured wax paper on the table and invert the cake upside down onto the paper. Peel off the paper which covered the bottom of the cake, then put it back on the cake. Let the cake cool to barely lukewarm (it is important that it doesn’t cool all of the way or the cake will break when you roll it), then roll between the two sheets of paper. Fold ends to seal the cake and refrigerate or hold in a plastic bag until ready to use.
Step Three – Making the Chocolate Buttercream Ganache
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 egg yolks
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, softened
2 – 3 drops green food coloring
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and set aside – it works best if you chop it coarsely then microwave it. Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and continue to boil for two minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and let it cool to lukewarm or cooler.
Place the egg yolks in the bowl of a mixer and pour the cooled syrup over the top. Beat on high speed for five minutes until the mix is thick and pale yellow. Add the butter bit by bit, mixing at low to medium speed until smooth. Remove 1 Tbs and color with green food coloring. Remove another 2 Tbs and set aside. Lastly, mix the melted chocolate into the remaining buttercream mix, beating until smooth.
Step Four – Assembling Your Bûche de Noël
3 Tbs lukewarm water
1 Tbs dark rum (optional. I don’t use this, but you can.)
1 Tbs sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Crème Pâtissière
Mix the water, optional rum and sugar together. Set aside. Beat your heavy cream until stiff and combine it with the cup of crème pâtissière . Set aside.
Unroll the biscuit roulé and remove the waxed paper from the top. Sprinkle or brush with rum syrup and then spread the crème pâtissière over the top. Carefully roll the cake up across the width (so the log is as long as possible) removing the paper as you go.
Finally, spread the chocolate buttercream all over the log, covering the log ends with the white butter cream. Pull the tines of a fork down the length of the log to simulate bark. Decorate the ends of the log and the top of the stump with chocolate butter cream to simulate the grain of the wood. Use a paper cornet or plastic bag with the end cut off to pipe the green frosting across the log to simulate ivy vines and leaves.
Et, Voila! That’s it! Once it is refrigerated for 30 minutes or so, the chocolate buttercream will set and the whole thing will look really fantastic! Be sure to keep it covered to keep it from drying out!