Text and recipe for the Bûche de Noël by my husband Nicolas:
When I was a kid, Christmas brought a number of unique moments. The end of the year meant shorter days and a transition of seasons from fall to winter. The leaves had fallen, and snow was occasionally present during the holidays. The stories of Santa Claus with deer and its winter landscape was not that different from the landscapes I could see while looking through windows. Only the deer were missing. Christmas also meant time with family and relatives around the table. It was the only time of the year where almost everyone could see one another, a perfect setting for great meals.
One of the traditional dishes for Christmas is the Bûche de Noël cake, which translates literally into a Christmas wood log given that the cake is made and decorated to look like a wood log. In English, it is commonly called Yule log or Chocolate log. The recipe for it is sometimes intimidating because it looks like a hard cake to make. It’s actually accessible to everyone provided that you are organized and can put together a few bowls on your table, whisks, and ingredients.
It’s also helpful to read the entire recipe once from beginning to end so you have a mental map of what you’ll have to do and at what time. This way you will better multi-task. The Yule Log cake is a rewarding multi-tasking challenge. There are three main steps to the recipe: a sponge cake, a butter-based cream that will be used for both the filling and the icing, and the assembly.
Bûche de Noël or Christmas Yule Log
For the sponge cake:
- 3.5 ounces of flour
- 3.5 ounces of sugar
- 5 eggs
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the cream filling and icing:
- ½ cup of water
- 3 egg yolks
- 3.5 ounces of sugar
- 9 ounces of butter room temperature
- 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate
- 3 teaspoons of instant coffee diluted in 2 tablespoons of water
Instructions for the sponge cake (Step 1 of 3), using the cake ingredients:
- Pre-heat oven to 400 F degrees. Take 4 egg yolks and mix them with sugar and vanilla extract. Use a hand whisk or wood spatula and blend them gently for about 3 minutes. Add the whole 5th egg and continue mixing for 3 more minutes. Slowly add the flour to the mix. Take the 4 egg whites and mix them into foam using an electric whisk. Once the egg white foam turns into firm peaks, add them slowly to the egg yolk mix. Using a floured large rectangular metal baking sheet, lay a sheet of parchment paper or if you have one, a silicone jelly roll pan. Spread the cake mix on the rectangle surface, keeping a little over half an inch of thickness across the area. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes at 400 F degrees. Take the cake out and cover it with a damp towel for 5 to 10 minutes. At this point, carefully detach the cake from the parchment paper or jelly roll pan.
Instructions for the butter cream (Step 2 of 3), using the cream filling and icing ingredients:
- Melt the sugar and water in a pan over low heat. Slowly and regularly stir to avoid sticking. Mix the egg yolks in a bowl, and add the sugar syrup with a whisk. Do this slowly and gently mix until the temperature drops below the level where eggs would cook and solidify. Add the room temperature butter and mix until a thick cream forms. This is where multi-tasking comes in. At the same time in another pan, slowly melt the dark chocolate with a little bit of water. At this point, split the cream into two equal halves. In one bowl, add the liquefied instant coffee and mix. In the other bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix. Both creams should be thick. If you find the creams not thick enough, place them both in the fridge for 15 minutes and the butter will thicken them back. Mix again on exit. Thickness is important for the creams not to leak and dislocate during the assembly process.
For the Christmas log assembly (Step 3 of 3):
- Remove the damp towel from the sponge cake and apply the coffee cream uniformly on top of it. Make it as thick as possible and use it entirely. Roll the cake length-wise by taking the shorter side and gently rolling it across the length of the cake. Do not press, and do not worry too much about the edges being non-uniform at this point. Now gently spread the chocolate cream from the top and use a spoon or flat spatula to cover the sides and bottom. One tip is to let the chocolate cream fall from the cake, catch it back with a spoon and repeat the process in empty spots until completely and thickly covered. Refrigerate for about an hour to let the icing solidify. Next, use a sharp knife to cut the edges of the rolled cake to make them clean and straight. Do all this on a “draft” plate, which will be full of chocolate and other preparation. Once the cake is all finished you can lift it and transfer it to the plate you’ll use for presentation and final serving. Use the point of chopstick to very lightly carve the chocolate cream into a log like texture, without removing it entirely. Be very soft. Decorate according to your preferences and refrigerate until ready to serve.