How to Cook a Classic French Style Cake for Christmas December 19 2014

 

The bûche de Noël (“Christmas log,” or “Yule Log”) is a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and wood-grain scored frosting. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic celebrations of the winter solstice, but French pastry chefs popularized the confection in the 19th century and each bakery became known for its unique and elaborate embellishments. Today, few French people celebrate Christmas without one of these cakes.

Ingredients

Chocolate Genoise Sheet:

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

Pinch salt

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cake flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa

Special equipment: 10 by 15-inch pan, lined with parchment paper

Coffee Butter cream:

4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

2 tablespoons rum or brandy

Meringue for mushrooms

4 large egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

Marzipan:

Can be bought in most markets

For Finishing:

Cocoa powder

Red and green food coloring

Confectioners' sugar

Directions

Chocolate Genoise Sheet:

Set rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together in the bowl of a mixer. Place it over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is lukewarm, about 120 degrees (hot to your finger). Attach the bowl to the mixer and with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. If you do not have a mixer this can be done in a bowl by hand with a whisk.

While the eggs are whipping, mix together the flour, cornstarch, and cocoa.

Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder. This must be done very carefully to keep the mixture as fluffy as possible.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until well risen and firm to the touch. (Make sure the cake doesn't over bake and become too dry, or it will be impossible to roll.)

Use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Invert the cake onto a rack and let the cake cool right side up on the paper.

Storage: Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several days, or double-wrap and freeze for up to a month.

Yield: 1 (10 by 15-inch) sheet cake

Coffee Butter cream:

Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the butter cream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the warm liquor and incorporate into the butter cream.

Invert the genoise layer onto a fresh piece of paper and peel away the parchment paper used for cooking. Spread the layer with half the butter cream. Use the paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder Transfer to baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until set. Keep the remaining butter cream for icing of the buche.

Meringue mushrooms:

Using an electric mixer or whisk, beat the egg whites and sugar over a saucepan of simmering water until the sugar melts, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Beat the egg whites at high speed until stiff, then reduce the speed and beat until cool, about 5 minutes. Using a bag and a tube (#8), pipe a body and a half dome head. Sprinkle the heads with cocoa powder. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for 5 minutes. Using a knife, place the head on top of the body and return into the turned off oven to dry for 30’ or more.

Making holly leaves: Knead green color into marzipan and roll it. Cut leaves with a knife or use a holy leaf cutter and let them dry on a cylinder to shape them.

Making holly berries: Knead red color into a small piece of marzipan. Roll into tiny balls.

Finishing the Buche:

Remove the paper; trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 1 and 2 inches away from each end. Position the larger cut piece on the buche about 2/3 across the top. Cover the buche with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark. Transfer the buche to a platter and decorate with the mushrooms, holy leaves and berries. Sprinkle the platter and buche sparingly with confectioners' sugar for "snow" effect.

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.