There are two family traditions that I most strongly associate with Christmas Eve. The first is the reading of a book called Silent Night that we would read as a family with all 6 of us squished onto the couch. The second is my mom’s ‘Buche de Noel’ or ‘Yule Log.’ Every year, my mom would create a light and spongy chocolate cake that she rolled around fluffy whipped cream and topped with a rich chocolate glaze. I don’t even remember what we usually ate for the main course of Christmas Eve dinner because I was too focused on the sweet goodness that I knew was coming. The fact that we ate it only once a year made it all the more special and tasty.
So when I was asked to test a Buche de Noel for the latest Bethesda Magazine Cooking Class I jumped at the chance to recreate my holiday favorite.
Well, let me just say that making this recipe made me appreciate the work that my mom put into making this cake every year! It is, shall we say, work intensive. By the time I had made the cake, the buttercream filling and the ganache, I had neither the time or patience to care much about the Marzipan decorations that are supposed to make the log look like it is nestled into the forest floor next to the house of Snow White and the seven dwarves. I slapped Marzipan mushrooms together so fast that Nathan came and reformed them after telling me that my mushrooms looked like they were straight out of the 80’s version of Super Mario Brothers. He then asked me if he could use a toothpick to texturize the exterior of the log to make it look more realistically log-like. Seriously, where did I find this guy?
The cake ultimately came out well but was very different from the Buche de Noel that I knew from my youth. This recipe features a vanilla flavored cake filled with coffee buttercream and topped with chocolate ganache. I brought the cake into work for my coworkers to taste and it received rave reviews… however, I would only recommend making this cake if you have the patience, endurance and fortitude of St. Nicolas (or an artistic husband to help out). Happy Holidays!
For those curious, the Buche de Noel is French in origin and means ‘Christmas Log’. This Christmas Log is in reference to an age-old practice of burning a large and very hard log during the long Christmas eve night.
Buche de Noel
For the cake roll:
6 eggs, separated
¾ cup granulated sugar, split into
two equal portions
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups cake flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
For the pastry syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Vanilla extract, coffee liqueur,
rum or similar flavoring
For the coffee buttercream
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
3 large egg whites
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (or strong instant coffee) dissolved in 2 teaspoons of hot water or more, to taste
For the ganache:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate,
1 cup heavy cream
For the Decorations
Store-bought marzipan, usually found in the baking aisle
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, whip the egg yolks and one portion of sugar at high speed until pale yellow and very thick, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla to yolk-sugar mixture.
2. To make the meringue, whip egg whites on high speed in a clean bowl, using a clean whisk attachment, for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Reduce mixer speed to medium and whip until egg whites get very foamy. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar to the egg whites and whip until the whites begin to just form peaks. Add remaining sugar slowly and continue whipping until soft peaks form.
3. Fold half the meringue into the egg yolk mixture. Place remaining meringue on top of egg yolk mixture and continue folding while slowly sifting the cake flour and salt into the batter. Fold just until evenly mixed.
4. Grease sides of a 12-by-18-inch sheet pan with shortening. Make an “x” on the bottom of the sheet pan with shortening and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into pan and smooth evenly to the sides. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, springy to touch and pulling away from the sides. Remove from pan (on paper) immediately and place on cooling rack. Use immediately or wrap and keep at room temperature up to one day before assembling the log cake.
1. Bring sugar and water to a boil. Boil until clear. Remove from heat and chill. Flavor to taste with extract or liqueur. Store up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
1. Place chocolate in a large bowl. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream onto the chocolate and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes; whisk or stir gently to mix. Set the ganache aside at room temperature until firm. Ganache will keep at a cool room temperature for 2 to 3 days. (It is best not to refrigerate it.)
1. Place sugar in a small saucepan. Add water and mix. If any sugar sticks to the sides of the pan, be sure to wash the sides down with your fingers or a clean brush. Place egg whites in a mixer and whip on medium speed using the whisk attachment. Cook sugar over high heat until it reaches 238 degrees; add the corn syrup as soon as the sugar comes to a boil.
2. When sugar reaches 238 degrees and egg whites are foamy, continue to let the mixer run and slowly pour sugar over whipping egg whites. Balance the lip of the saucepan on the edge of the bowl while steadily pouring the sugar. Be careful not to let the sugar hit the sides of the bowl or the metal whip.
3. Whip egg whites and sugar on medium-high speed until lukewarm. Add butter and espresso and whip until light and fluffy. (If buttercream looks chunky, it is too cold. Warm gently over steam and then whip until light and fluffy.) Cover buttercream with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one week or freeze for one month. Recondition buttercream by warming gently in microwave or over steam and then whipping in mixer until light and fluffy.
1. Pinch off a piece of marzipan about the size of a gumball. Wearing gloves, knead red food coloring into marzipan one drop at a time until desired color is achieved. Pinch off another piece about the size of a ping-pong ball and color it with green food coloring.
2. Shape the remaining marzipan into mushrooms by making hemispheres the size of quarters for tops and logs with fatter bottoms for stems. Attach the mushroom tops to the bottoms by pressing gently and then smudge the mushroom caps with a little bit of cocoa powder. Tilt them in different directions and make some clusters of mushrooms growing together. Roll the red marzipan into balls to make berries the size of pencil erasers.
3. Sprinkle cornstarch on a work surface and use a rolling pin to roll the green marzipan to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a paring knife to cut leaf shapes about 1½ to 2 inches long by ¾ inches wide. Use the back side of the paring knife to make veins by pressing gently into the leaves. To curl the leaves, lay them over a curved surface, such as a spoon handle. Let them rest there for one hour to overnight to firm up or place directly on the cake.
Assembling, Icing and Decorating Buche de Noel
1. Remove parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Brush about 1 cup of flavored pastry syrup onto the cake.
2. Then spread coffee buttercream about ¼ inch thick. Reserve some of the coffee buttercream to close the ends of the cake.
3. Roll the cake from the wide end. Loosely wrap a piece of parchment paper around it.
4. While pulling the bottom layer of paper, press a ruler against the cake and the top layer of paper to help tighten the cake. Tightly wrap the cake in parchment paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5. Trim one end of the cake at a 45-degree angle.
6. Attach the trimmed piece to the top of the cake with buttercream or ganache to resemble a tree branch. Trim the other end of the cake at a 90-degree angle.
7. Spread a thick layer of ganache on the cake, but leave the three ends uncovered.
8. Spread or pipe coffee buttercream over the three exposed ends of the cake. The cake can be assembled up to this point and refrigerated for 24 hours. Since the Buche de Noel is best served at room temperature, remove the cake from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before serving and finish decorating the cake. Group berries and leaves to look like holly, and place them and the mushrooms around and on top of the cake as if they grew there. Using a sieve, lightly dust confectioner’s sugar over the entire cake to look like snow.