A Log By Any Other Name


“Boosh uh noelll!”

“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.”

“A 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.

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Once the meringue was silky smooth and held a stiff peak, we loaded it into pastry bags fitted with piping tips.

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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.

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“Guys, we still have to pipe out the mushroom caps.”

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The caps were a little easier; they were just like piping cream puffs.

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Little points on the caps were smoothed over with a barely damp finger.

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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!

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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.

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Then we quickly incorporated the rest.

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The resulting mixture was placed into a half-sheetpan and we popped it into the oven.

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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.

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Then squealed as I smashed it to pieces.

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We used a food processor to grind the pieces into a fine powder.

“It’s like sand!”

“Can we taste it?”

“Sure.”

This would be the start of sampling sugar in several different forms.

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We mixed the chocolate and caramel powder into the buttercream and turned our attention to assembling the meringue mushrooms.

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They trimmed the pointy tips off the stems and dipped the bottoms of the caps in melted chocolate before attaching the two pieces.

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“They’re so cute!”

“Can we taste them?”

“Sure.”

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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?”

“Sure?”

I was beginning to worry about answering to one of the dads, a dentist.

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But oh my! They dove right in.

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So much focus and creativity.

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Flora and fauna.

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And proud artists.

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The cake was done. It was time to fill.

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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.

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Starting from that place, I began rolling the cake onto itself.

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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.

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“Eventually it becomes easy to use the parchment to pull the cake toward you.”

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“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.”

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I cut the ends off the roll on a slight diagonal.

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“Where shall we put them?”

They each offered an opinion on placement before we came to a consensus.

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Now for the chocolate “bark.”

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They used an icing spatula to fill in cracks and crevices with the soft ganache.

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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.

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When everyone had had a turn, they used a fork to add texture to the wood.

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“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.

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They encouraged each other and moved things around to accommodate another child’s favorite piece.

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When they had placed the last figure on the cake, we stood back to take a look.

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There were gnomes, and insects, and birds, and foliage.

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We spied colorful flowers and several rocks. There was even a mini-log on the log.

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They were so pleased and proud.

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“Can we eat it?!”

“Sure.”

Just like that, without hesitation or concern for all the work they had put into it, they happily devoured the cake, creatures and all.

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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.

Buttercream 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.

Ganache Frosting

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.

Meringue Mushrooms

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!

 

 

 

 

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…Five Piping Bags!…

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Four gel paste colors, three cups of flour, two sticks of butter, and a 200-count box of double-pointed round toothpicks!

That last part doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “a partridge in a pear tree”, but it was a stretch anyway.

It’s holiday cookie time!

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We skipped the mixing and baking this session and just jumped straight into decorating.

I had about five dozen sugar cookies at the ready, along with a large amount of royal icing.

We had used piping bags once before in baking class, but I felt a little reminder would be helpful.

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I demonstrated how to hold the bag, placing the closure in the crook of my hand.

“You’ll squeeze the bag from the top of the icing so it comes out at the tip, just like toothpaste. What do you think would happen if I were to squeeze it from the middle?”

“You’ll get icing coming out the other end!”

“Exactly. That would be super frustrating. And messy. So, from the top, you can twist the bag a bit to increase the pressure.  Easy peasy.”

I know what my bathroom looks like after the kids brush their teeth, so I was fully prepared for icing bag explosions.

“The icing in the bag is for outlining.  It is thicker than the icing in the bottle which is called flood icing.”

I showed them how to make a little dam of icing on the edge of the cookie, keeping the tip of the piping bag close the the surface and steadying it with the fingers of my other hand. Then, I partially filled in the outline with the thinner flood icing.

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The flood icing shouldn’t be so thin that it flattens out completely on its own.  A toothpick comes in handy for spreading it to the edges of the outline.

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After I had a base color down, I used contrasting flood icing to add dots and lines.  Then, using a toothpick, I enhanced the design by dragging the tip of it back and forth through the still wet icing.

“Ooooh”

That little trick never fails to thrill.

They were chomping at the bit to decorate at this point, but I wanted to show them how they could create other designs by drawing lines from the center out…

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Or by drawing concentric circles. Or how to turn dots into hearts by dragging the toothpick through the center of them.

“Just play around with it.”

So they did.

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They tackled the decorating, without trepidation.

They shared piping bags and bottles and encouraging words.

There were a few breaches of icing dams, one or two dropped cookies, and at least one masterpiece was ruined by a 95 lb. dog, but there was nary a fight or complaint, and only a couple of tears were shed, (thanks to the dog).

And there were no icing explosions!

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Just lots of creative color combinations.

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And concentration.

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And inspired designs.

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And meticulous work.

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And chatter.

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And excellent piping technique!

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And compliments, enthusiastically given.

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And proud children.

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And moms who happily took up the task of decorating when the kids had had enough.

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Oh, and messes.

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But it was totally worth it.

“Sure”, you say, “but what am I going to need to make this a tear-free, (parents included), cookie decorating party?”

Let me lay it out for you:

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Gel paste colors, I prefer Americolor.

(please note that all the decorating supplies aside from Americolor gel paste colors, can be found at many craft supply stores or even party supply, near the wedding or cake decorating items, and they are usually cheaper than Amazon.)

Piping bags, I prefer Wilton.

Round #2 piping tips (do not pay more than $2 a piece for these)

Couplers come in handy when decorating with kids because they provide a secure seal around the bag.  There is nothing worse than springing a leak near the tip and dripping icing all over your just finished masterpiece.

Plastic squeeze bottles

Toothpicks

Damp dish towels or plenty of paper towels

Cookies! Baked and completely cooled, (I usually bake them the day before).  After trying many different sugar cookie recipes, I found that I like this one the most.  I usually double the smaller recipe to get about 6 dozen cookies. Simple shapes are best for the kids, they are easier to decorate and less likely to break.

Royal icing, this recipe works well if you are using pasteurized egg whites from a carton, which I recommend because it is just easier, especially if you are making a big batch, which I also recommend. You do not want to run out of icing. For our decorating session, I used 9 oz of egg whites and 12 cups of powdered sugar.  That gave me more than enough to tint several colors. Remember, you will need two different consistencies of icing, the thicker outline icing, and the thinner flood icing. To do that…

Make it. It should be thick enough to make a little peak, but not so thick that it is hard to pipe. To adjust the consistency, you will be adding water to thin, or more powdered sugar to thicken it. But before you thin it…

Tint it.  Working with one color at a time, place some of the thick, white icing in a small bowl. Use the gel paste colors, (a little goes a long way!), to tint it.  When you have the color to your liking, place a third of that into a piping bag fitted with a piping tip.  Use the side of a spatula to press all the icing forward, like you would a toothpaste tube; you do that right? Do not overfill it, a third full is good for a child’s smaller hand; no more that half full for an adult. Twist the bag at the top of the icing and tie it with a piece of string.

Thin it. Add water, a half teaspoon at a time, to the other 2/3 of tinted icing left in your small bowl.  I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it thins out fast. Stop adding water when, if you lift a spoonful of it up and drag a ribbon of it across the surface, the ribbon disappears in “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi”. This is all very scientific, I know. Pour your flood icing into a squeeze bottle.

Continue tinting and thinning as before.  Don’t make yourself crazy with the colors.  The kids were fine with red, yellow, green and blue. And white, of course! Don’t forget to save some plain white icing, outline and flood.

Now, go make some cookies!

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday and a joyous new year.