According to legend, Parisian bakers invented Bûche de Noël after a proclamation was issued by Napoleon I of France, mandating that chimneys remain closed during the winter months to prevent the cold, drafty air, thought to cause illnesses, from entering homes. With the hearths of French households (around which many holiday traditions were centered) sitting cold and empty, Bûche de Noël, or “Yule log” became a delicious holiday symbol, a tradition created out of necessity that remains a holiday favorite today for the pure, indulgent enjoyment it brings.
Bûche de Noël traditionally begins with Genoise or another type of moist, rich yellow sponge cake. The cake is usually baked in a jellyroll pan, then frosted and filled with ingredients such as chocolate ganache, espresso, buttercream or flavorful icing or frosting. Rolled into a cylindrical shape, this distinctive dessert is finished off with an outer layer of chocolate icing or buttercream that is then artfully textured to resemble the patterned lines of tree bark. A dusting of snow-white powdered sugar, delicate meringue mushrooms, and jewel-toned fresh berries add a whimsical, woodsy touch. A favorite dessert in Quebec, Belgium and France, it will become a beloved holiday tradition from the moment it graces your holiday dessert table.
While gathering around the fireplace with friends and family is a wonderful way to warm up the winter, enjoying the beauty and sweet decadence of Bûche de Noël is a sensational way to celebrate the sights, smells and flavors of the season!
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/3 Cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 Cups half and half
- 8 ounces imported white chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
- 1 1/2 Cups toasted sliced almonds
- 2 Tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
- 6 large eggs; separated
- 10 Tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- powered sugar
- 1 Cup unsalted butter; (2 sticks) room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
- pine twigs
- Candied Cranberries (see Recipe) or fresh currants
- FOR BUTTERCREAM: Whisk egg yolks, sugar and flour in medium bowl to blend well. Bring half and half to simmer in heavy medium saucepan.
- Slowly whisk hot half and half into egg mixture. Return egg mixture to same saucepan and cook until mixture boils and thickens, whisking constantly.
- Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add chocolate and orange peel and stir until mixture is smooth. Press plastic wrap onto surface of pastry cream to prevent skin from forming. Cool completely. (Pastry cream can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)
- FOR CAKE: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter llxl7-inch jelly roll pan. Line with parchment. Butter and flour parchment.
- Coarsely grind toasted almonds with flour in processor.
- Using electric mixer, beat yolks with 5 tablespoons brown sugar in medium bowl until slowly dissolving ribbons form when beaters are lifted. Stir in orange peel and vanilla extract.
- Using clean dry beaters, beat whites with cream of tartar and salt in large bowl until soft peaks form.
- Gradually add remaining 5 tablespoons brown sugar and beat until stiff but not dry.
- Fold whites into yolk mixture. Gently fold in almond mixture.
- Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
- Run small sharp knife around pan sides if necessary to loosen cake.
- Slide cake on parchment onto rack. Cool.
- Slide cake on parchment onto work surface. Loosen cake from parchment using heavy large knife as an aid.
- Sift powdered sugar over cake. Invert onto cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and invert onto another parchment sheet.
- Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in Grand Marnier.
- Add pastry cream 1/4 cup at a time, beating after each addition until just blended.
- Spread half of buttercream over cake, leaving 1/2-inch border. Starting at 1 long side, roll up cake jelly roll fashion. Arrange seam side down on parchment.
- Set aside 1/2 cup buttercream; spread remaining buttercream over cake.
- Cut 2 inches off each end of cake, cutting on diagonal. Transfer cake to platter. Attach ends to top of cake, forming branches. Spread reserved 1/2 cup buttercream over cake ends and seams.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour to firm buttercream. (Cake can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.)
- Arrange pine twigs on cake and on platter. Garnish with cranberries.
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