“Actually, it’s Bûche de Noël, honey.”
“BOOOSH UH NOELLLLL!”
Aww, never mind. My son was having the grandest time with the name.
“A Bûche de Noël is a traditional French cake made to resemble a yule log.”
They looked incredulous; it did seem a bit silly. Even the sound of the word — log, lawwg, l-o-g — is heavy to the ear, and the opposite of what one would presumably want in a cake. But once I showed them some photos, and gave them a little historical context, they were on board.
(Before we go any further, I’ve got to point out that this project was our most ambitious yet. Meringue mushrooms and a cake in the shape of a log? Thus, we took an hour or so to make the meringues, then two days later we spent the afternoon baking and assembling the cake.)
So, we have — Day 1: Mushrooming
They had made meringue before, so we just jumped right in.
Once the meringue was silky smooth and held a stiff peak, we loaded it into pastry bags fitted with piping tips.
The kids took turns piping the mushroom stems by making small cone shapes, squeezing the meringue out onto the parchment while gently pulling up on the bag. They were tickled by this whole process. Some stems drooped or fell over, but the kids kept going. And going. And going.
“Guys, we still have to pipe out the mushroom caps.”
The caps were a little easier; they were just like piping cream puffs.
Little points on the caps were smoothed over with a barely damp finger.
While the meringues baked, the kids played, and the moms chatted. All was right with the world.
Day 2: Zee bûche
Oh look, we’re making meringue again!
The other ingredients for the cake were mixed and sat waiting for the egg whites and sugar to whip to a stiff peak.
We folded a third of the billowy meringue into the cake batter to lighten it.
Then we quickly incorporated the rest.
The resulting mixture was placed into a half-sheetpan and we popped it into the oven.
Making filling and frosting with this crew, on top of everything else, sounded impossible, so I opted to have a batch of plain buttercream and a batch of ganache ready to go.
We wanted to flavor the buttercream though. I suggested a little melted chocolate, (just enough to contrast with the cake), and to build on our last lesson, some caramel powder. Gilding the lily? Maybe. But we wanted this to be an epic log. Also, tasty.
“I made caramel, just like we did for our apple crêpes, but instead of adding butter and cream, I just poured the cooked sugar out onto a piece of foil where it hardened.”
“It’s like glass!”
They picked it up and gazed through it.
Then squealed as I smashed it to pieces.
We used a food processor to grind the pieces into a fine powder.
“It’s like sand!”
“Can we taste it?”
This would be the start of sampling sugar in several different forms.
We mixed the chocolate and caramel powder into the buttercream and turned our attention to assembling the meringue mushrooms.
They trimmed the pointy tips off the stems and dipped the bottoms of the caps in melted chocolate before attaching the two pieces.
“They’re so cute!”
“Can we taste them?”
We were still waiting for the cake to bake, so we decided to make some woodland creatures for the log.
Marzipan is the traditional medium for log decor, but I had some fondant leftover from a birthday cake, so that’s what we used.
“It looks like clay!”
“Can we taste it?”
I was beginning to worry about answering to one of the dads, a dentist.
But oh my! They dove right in.
So much focus and creativity.
Flora and fauna.
And proud artists.
The cake was done. It was time to fill.
I showed them how to spread an even layer of buttercream over the cooled cake, leaving about an inch, at the topmost long edge, bare.
Starting from that place, I began rolling the cake onto itself.
I reassured them that any cracks on the roulade would be covered with frosting and hidden from view.
Using the parchment to help keep the cake from sticking to my hands, I continued rolling the buttercream covered chiffon sheet.
“Eventually it becomes easy to use the parchment to pull the cake toward you.”
“It looks like a log already!”
“Yeah, you could leave it as is, but we are going to make some stumpy parts and attach them with frosting.”
I cut the ends off the roll on a slight diagonal.
“Where shall we put them?”
They each offered an opinion on placement before we came to a consensus.
Now for the chocolate “bark.”
They used an icing spatula to fill in cracks and crevices with the soft ganache.
The point where the pieces met proved the most challenging, but I assured them that it was supposed to look rough, like a knobby old piece of wood.
When everyone had had a turn, they used a fork to add texture to the wood.
“Time to add the decorations!”
They didn’t need to be told twice. The kids pounced on the cake, decorations in hand. They were so excited to bring it to life.
They encouraged each other and moved things around to accommodate another child’s favorite piece.
When they had placed the last figure on the cake, we stood back to take a look.
There were gnomes, and insects, and birds, and foliage.
We spied colorful flowers and several rocks. There was even a mini-log on the log.
They were so pleased and proud.
“Can we eat it?!”
Just like that, without hesitation or concern for all the work they had put into it, they happily devoured the cake, creatures and all.
And yes, it was sweet, but not only because of the sugar.
Bûche de Noël (serves about 16 – 18)
You could make this as elaborate a production as you want, or as minimal. Either way, there are several components, but they can all be made in advance so that the actual assembly moves a lot quicker.
Chocolate Chiffon Sheet
Have ready a half-sheetpan (11″ x 17″), ungreased and lined with parchment
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2 1/3 c (8 1/4 oz) cake flour
2/3 c (2 3/4 oz) cocoa powder
2 c (14 oz) granulated sugar, reserve 1/2 c (3 1/2 oz)
1 T baking powder
3/4 t fine sea salt
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 c water
1/4 c neutral flavored cooking oil
1 t vanilla
Sift all the dry ingredients, except the reserved sugar, together and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks with the water, oil, and vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture until combined. Whip egg whites with the reserved sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the cocoa mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining meringue, until completely combined. Pour into prepared sheet pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake until the cake springs back to the touch, about 15 minutes. Let cake cool on a rack for 5 minutes before loosening the edges with a knife. Invert on to a cooling rack and remove parchment. Let cool completely before filling.
You will need about 2 1/2 cups, flavored as you like. We used melted chocolate to taste and caramel powder (see above and here).
I like this recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Make just 1/2 of a batch for this cake.
You can make this several days in advance. Refrigerate and let come to room temperature before re-whipping.
You will need about 1 1/2 times this ganache recipe. You probably won’t use it all, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Use leftovers for hot chocolate!
This can also be made in advance, (see above recipe for softening cold ganache), but it’s so quick and easy to make as needed, I prefer to do that.
Here is a good recipe for the mushrooms. You don’t need superfine sugar, regular works fine, just make sure you add it slowly and that you whip it until it is no longer gritty. The mushroom caps and stems can be made in advance, and stored in an airtight container in a dry spot for several days. Attach the caps to the stems with chocolate just before you assemble the cake.
Other items you might want:
Marzipan to mold into figures, leaves, etc. This can be tinted with food coloring.
If you are going for a more natural looking log, (not ours), rosemary branches or other unsprayed foliage.
Sugared cranberries. So pretty!
Google some examples. The sky is the limit. Have fun. And have a happy and peaceful holiday season!