BÛCHE DE NOËL: A French Yule Log Cake, the Perfect Christmas Dessert
Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Great British Baking Show? You know, the one where Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and now Dame Prue Leith judge contestants competing to be the “Best Amateur Baker in the UK”? Where, inspired by classic English village baking competitions, the baking happens in two huge, bunting-draped tents set on the green? It's delightful!
On the show they make “crème pat” (pastry cream), “biscuits” (cookies) and “sponges” (cakes made with whipped eggs folded into a flour mixture) and say amusing things like “nobody likes a soggy bottom”. And the ultimate compliment for a “very nice bake” is the rare handshake from Paul Hollywood. At our house it’s a favorite Netflix binge and popular topic of conversation at family gatherings!
So last weekend we had an early Christmas dinner at my son’s house. I brought dessert—a Bûche de Noël, the traditional French Yule Log cake. I make it every year, and it’s always a big hit! Despite the fancy name, it’s just a simple, chocolate-filled rolled cake. You bake a thin, light sponge on a sheet pan, cover it with chocolate cream, roll it up and frost with whipped chocolate ganache or whipped cream. Since the cake is meant to look like a real log, it’s traditionally decorated simply, with a forest-y theme (mushrooms--marzipan or real, nuts, chocolate shavings, powdered sugar or sugared greens and berries). While there are a few steps to this recipe, and it takes a bit of time (allow about 4 hours for the whole shebang), it’s really not difficult. But the result is festive and absolutely delicious!!
This year I’m happy to report my Bûche de Noël earned me a Paul Hollywood-esque handshake from my sons. Huzzah! (From The Great—another of my favorite tv shows on Hulu!). Below is my recipe, adapted from TLC.
Recipe for Bûche de Noël
Note: To make a Bûche de Noël, you’ll need a jellyroll pan (about 15” x 10”), waxed paper and Crisco shortening to grease the pan.
Start by preheating your oven to 375F.
Before baking you’ll need to prepare your pan. Using Crisco, generously grease the bare pan. Then line the greased pan with waxed paper, and generously grease the waxed paper. (I know it seems like a lot of Crisco, but the baked cake will be thin, and you want it to release easily from the pan.)
¾ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cake)
In a small bowl, stir together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand or electric mixer on high speed, beat 2/3 cup of sugar with the egg yolks until the mixture is thick and lemon-yellow. This should take about five minutes. Add the vanilla, beat and set aside.
Wash and dry your beaters. In a fresh bowl beat the egg whites on high until they’re foamy. Slowly add in the last 1/3 cup of sugar, beating until the whites form stiff peaks.
Now here’s the trickiest part: folding everything together. First, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg yolks. This result will be slightly dry and pasty. No worries. Next, gently, carefully fold the flour/yolk mixture into the egg whites. Try to incorporate everything evenly without deflating the whites!
Spread the mixture in your greased pan, working the batter into the corners. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes—the cake will be very lightly brown and should spring back when you touch it in the center.
In the meantime, prepare a clean dish cloth by sifting powdered sugar all over it. (This prevents the cake from sticking to the cloth.)
Remove pan from the oven and run a knife along the edges, loosening the cake. Carefully invert the pan onto the dish towel, then lift off the pan; gently peel the waxed paper off the cake. (You want to do all this while the pan is still hot, because the Crisco and soft wax paper will allow the cake to release easily.). From the short end, roll the cake up in the towel, sifting more powdered sugar onto the towel as needed to prevent the cake sticking. Set the wrapped cake on a wire rack to cool.
While the cake cools completely, make the filling.
1 cup semisweet or espresso chocolate chips
¾ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon rum
In a heavy 1-quart saucepan over low heat, stir the chocolate chips and whipping cream together. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, remove it from the heat and stir in the rum. Pour it into a bowl, cover and refrigerate about 1 ½ hours, until filling thickens to a spreadable consistency.
While the filling cools, make the frosting.
For Cocoa Frosting:
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat all four ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer.). Cover and chill until ready to frost the cake.
Assemble Your Bûche de Noël:
Gently unroll the cake. Using a small metal spatula spread the filling thickly and evenly over the unrolled cake, staying within ½” of the side edges and end. Re-roll the cake, lifting it off the towel and placing it on a plate with the seam underneath. Frost the cake with the cocoa cream, then run the tines of a fork along the cake to simulate bark. Top with chocolate curls, powdered sugar, or cocoa powder.
Voila!! A beautiful Bûche de Noël.
-Timing: Active: 1 ¾ hours; Total time 3 ¾ hours.
Allow about 1 hour to prepare the pan, mix and bake the cake; another 2 hours to make and cool the filling; 30-45 minutes to fill the cake, make the frosting, frost and decorate.
-Do ahead: This cake can be baked, cooled, filled and refrigerated overnight to allow the flavors to develop. Frost and decorate before serving.
-Decorate: Garnish the plate with greenery, mushrooms, or sugared berries.
-The Bûche de Noël was originally a medieval pagan tradition. Around the Winter Solstice a large wooden log sprinkled with wine or salt was burned for several days in the hearth to ensure bounty and good luck in the following year. The ashes and coals were used medicinally. Over time, as wood-burning stoves replaced the hearth in homes, the log became decorative, and eventually evolved into a holiday culinary tradition.
-The cake is also linked to Napoleon Bonaparte. Apparently, in an effort to prevent illnesses resulting from cold air entering homes, the emperor ordered Parisians to close off their chimneys. (Brrrr!!) Prohibited from burning logs, the Bûche de Noël gave people something festive and symbolic to gather around during the winter holiday season.