History of the Bûche de Noël
It’s hard to think of Christmas desserts without immediately thinking of the show-stopping Bûche de Noël or Yule log cake. This traditional French Christmas cake is made from a rolled Génoise sponge cake brushed with a sweet syrup, and filled with a fluffy filling. It’s then covered with chocolate buttercream and chocolate shavings to resemble bark (or vanilla if you’re going for a birch look), and dotted with meringue mushrooms and edible marzipan decorations.
The Yule log got its start in the 6th century when Celtic and Gaelic Europeans would celebrate the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun; and the warmth and new season it bring. As a symbol of a good harvest season to come and to ward off evil spirits of the past, families would burn large logs elaborately decorated with holly, pinecones, berries, seasonal elements and anointed with wine and salt.
Through the years, the tradition continued, eventually making it into Christian celebration with the burning of logs adorned with ribbon and greenery on Christmas Eve. Some families even would gather the remaining ashes and used throughout the year to cure sicknesses, to ward off evil, or for good luck.
As hearths grew smaller, the tradition of burning large logs was replaced with creating festive table displays of logs and greenery surrounded by “friandises,” a variety of small sweets and preserved fruits that were served to guests.
While it’s unknown who created the first Yule log cake, the earliest known written recipe that included similar ingredients dates back to the early 1600s, appearing in a book of English cookery and remedies called “The English Huswife” by Gervase Markham. However, modern attributions of the Bûche de Noël in Alfred Suzanne’s La cuisine anglaise et la pâtisserie, published in 1894.
During the 1800s, doing as the French do, they perfected the recipe, and bakeries created elaborate showpieces that adorned tables during Christmas; an urban reflection of a provincial tradition so to speak.
Today, the buche de noel has regained popularity particularly in Québec, Belgium, France, and the US, and is used more for the nostalgia of the tradition rather than for a prosperous crop in the new year. Regardless, it’s a fun and kitschy Christmas dessert with an interesting history that won’t be going away any time soon; and perhaps may grace your table this Christmas.
How to Make a Bûche de Noël
Although it may seem intimidating, learning how to make buche de noel just takes a little time and use of the cake-making skills that you already possess. This version embodies two essential flavors of Christmas— chocolate and hazelnut. This versatile set of recipes allows you to mix and match with the flavors of your choice. For an in-depth look at assembling the cake, click here. Now, let’s break down the process:
1: Make Meringue Mushrooms and Buttercream
If you have made meringue, you can make meringue mushrooms! These sugary treats come together super-easy and add the perfect amount of whimsy to your buche de noel.
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon (1g) cream of tartar
1/2 cup (115g) superfine sugar
3 –1/2 oz (255g) semisweet chocolate
cocoa powder for dusting
- Heat the oven to 225 degrees F
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the egg whites on low for about a minute until foamy.
- Add cream of tartar to the egg whites and on medium speed beat until soft peaks are formed, 1-2 minutes more.
- Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add the sugar until glossy, stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready when the mixture stands straight up when the beaters are lifted.
- Fill a pastry bag half the meringue and pipe twenty 1-1/2-inch rounds onto one of the lined baking sheets, leaving an inch or so between the rounds.
- Add remaining meringue to the bag. Using the second prepared baking sheet, pipe the mushroom stems. Start a little thicker at the base and then thin out as you straight pipe up, creating a vertical cone shape. (Be sure you have an even number of caps and stems — if not, pipe more of whatever you need.)
- Dip your finger in a little water and gently smooth the tops of the rounds. (Don’t worry about the stems, as you’ll be trimming them after they’re baked.)
- Bake the meringues for 1-1/2 hours, until crisp and dry (do not let them brown), then let them cool on the baking sheets.
- When meringues are almost finished baking, melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments or over a double boiler. Let the chocolate cool slightly so that it thickens up a little and isn’t as runny.
- While the chocolate cools, use a sharp knife to carefully trim about 1/4 of an inch off the the pointed tips of the mushroom stems, creating a flat surface.
- Dip the bottom of each meringue mushroom cap into the chocolate, creating a thin layer, and then attach the the narrow end of the stem, using the chocolate as glue. Arrange the mushrooms right-side-up on a baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate sets. Dust the tops of the mushrooms with cocoa powder to finish.
The subtle hazelnut flavor shines through in this rich, dense chocolate ganache-like frosting that is perfect to cover your buche de noel or your favorite cake base.
20 tablespoons (283g) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 cup (113 grams) powdered sugar
3/4 cup (63g) dutch-processed cocoa
pinch of salt
3/4 cup (234g) light corn syrup
1 teaspoon (4.5g) vanilla extract
4 oz (150g) semisweet chocolate
4 oz (150g) nutella hazelnut spread
- In a food processor or stand mixer, combine the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powdered, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Add the corn syrup and vanilla and mix until just combined.
- Scrape the sides of bowl, then add the melted chocolate and blend until smooth and creamy.
- Store in a air-tight container at room temperature until ready to use.
2: Make FillingsPrint
1/2 cup (60g) hazelnut flavored beverage syrup (I used Torani)
2 tablespoons (10.5g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon (1g) almond extract
- Combine beverage syrup almond extract, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and stir well.
- Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.
3/4 teaspoon (5g) unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon (15g) cold water
6 oz (170g) hazelnuts (or nut of choice)
1 cup (227g) whole milk
1/2 teaspoon (3g) kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon (2.5g) vanilla extract
1 cup (226g) heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- Place cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle in gelatin, stirring until dissolved; set aside.
- Place hazelnuts in a shallow pan and roast over low heat until fragrant. Place into a food processor and blend to form a coarse sand-like texture.
- In a small saucepan, bring milk, salt, and vanilla to a simmer and cook 12−15 minutes until milk has reduced by half.
- Add gelatin and hazelnuts to saucepan and stir until well blended and gelatin is dissolved. Transfer hazelnut milk mixture to a large bowl and let cool.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, again using a stand or hand mixer, beat yolks and granulated sugar about 4 minutes, until pale and thick.
- Add the cooled hazelnut milk mixture to the egg and sugar mixture and mix on low until combined.
- Using a spatula to gently fold in whipped cream.
- Set aside until ready to use.
The gelatin in the mousse stabilizes it, so you can make and fill the roll a day ahead without worrying about it getting runny or deflating.
3: Make The CakePrint
A dessert that is sure to impress and easier to make than you might think! This versatile base jelly roll cake recipe can be paired with your choice of frostings, flavors or fillings. A fun and tasty take on the traditional French Christmas cake.
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (21g) cornstarch
1/3 cup (56g) unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup (57g) whole milk
3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon (12g) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (2.5g) kosher salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 (150g) cup sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) cognac or brandy
- Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×18″ rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving overhang on long sides. Spray top of parchment.
- In a small bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch, and cocoa powder.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring milk, butter, oil, vanilla, and salt to a simmer. Keep warm over low heat.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs and egg yolks with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Increase speed to high and beat until approximately doubled in volume.
- With mixer on low, gradually add sugar, then turn speed to high and beat until mixture is very light, fluffy and falls back on itself in a slowly dissolving ribbon (it should be at least 4 times the volume now), this should take about 5 minutes.
- Reduce speed to medium and gradually pour in milk mixture, mixing until combined.
- Remove bowl from mixer and sift in one-third of dry ingredients. Gently fold in with a rubber spatula until only a few streaks remain. Working in 2 more batches, repeat with remaining dry ingredients, scraping bottom of bowl and using as few strokes as possible to keep eggs from deflating (a few streaks are fine).
- Transfer batter into prepared baking sheet and gently spread to edges of pan. Tap sheet lightly on counter to pop any large air bubbles.
- Bake cake 10–12 minutes, until surface is puffed and springy to the touch.
- Continue on to part 4 to assemble cake.
4: Assembling The CakePrint
Begin by making the meringue mushrooms, cocoa hazelnut syrup, hazelnut mousse, chocolate buttercream, and sponge cake using the above recipes (or recipes of your choice).
Roll Up and Cool Sponge Cake
- After baking, let cake cool in pan 2 minutes. Run a butter knife along short edges to loosen, then invert onto a wire rack and carefully peel away parchment.
- Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the of of the cake with cocoa powder.
- Cover the cake with a large kitchen towel, then place another wire rack on top.
- Carefully flip the cake over so towel side is underneath. Remove top rack, then dust exposed side with cocoa powder.
- Starting at one of the long sides, gently, but fairly tightly roll up the still warm cake inside towel.
- Let cake cool, seam side down, 30–35 minutes.
Fill and Re-Roll Sponge Cake
- After cooled, carefully unroll towel and cake on a large flat surface (cake will curl at the ends and may have a few small cracks but should stay in 1 piece).
- Place the cake positioned so the end that was in innermost part of roll is closest to you, and brush off any excess cocoa.
- Using a pastry brush, gently dab cocoa syrup over entire surface of cake; you may not use all of it.
- Dollop the hazelnut cream filling over cake, carefully spreading over the entire surface, except the last inch of cake along long side farthest from you.
- Using towel as an aid, carefully lift the long edge closest to you and firmly re-roll cake, keeping towel on exterior.
- Chill in the fridge, seam side down, until filling is set, about 30 minutes.
Create and Decorate Log
- Transfer filled cake to a baking sheet. Set aside ½ cup of buttercream for attaching branches. Evenly spread remaining buttercream over cake with an offset spatula.
- Using a long serrated knife, trim 1/2 inch of cake from each end to create clean edges; discard (or eat!). Slice off a 4 inch piece of cake at one end.
- Starting 1 inch from the end, divide 4 inch piece in half, cutting at a 45° angle, leaving 1″ at the opposite end.
- Transfer the log to a serving platter.
- Get creative! Place the angled side of each small piece of cake against the main roll to create branches, positioning one on top and the other on the side, using a large dab of buttercream to secure. Cover any exposed cake on sides with more buttercream but leave cut ends exposed.
- Use spatula or fork to create textured lines in buttercream to make it look like bark.
- Chill Bûche de Noël, uncovered, until ready to serve.
- Just before serving, press mushrooms perpendicularly into log in groups of 2 or 3.
- Add any additional decorations you would like including cranberries, sugared rosemary or marzipan figures.
Store cake covered and chilled for up to 1 day in advance, bringing to room temperature before serving. Apply meringue mushrooms when served, as they will start to lose crispness after application to the cake.
This is part of my “Christmas Around the World” series. Check out more foods and traditions around the world:
USA- Pecan Pie Stuffed Cupcakes
Greece- Greek Butter Cookies
Philippines – Bibingka
25 Christmas Desserts Around The World