For my European Holiday Challenge post, I decided to make a classic Bûche de Noël. For those of you who don’t know much about French holiday cooking, the Bûche de Noël is a “yule log” cake: a rolled genoise cake filled, frosted, and then decorated to look like a log. For many families, I suppose the presence of a Bûche de Noël must mark Christmas dinner, but not my family. I’ve never had one of these before! It seemed like quite an undertaking, but I have nothing but time on my hands so I figured I’d give it a go. I decided to make it for the christmas dinner my parents had for me and Boris.
The recipe sources from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, which I own and love very much. I’ll transcribe the recipe below, but it’s a long one, so I may make some abbreviations here or there.
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted, non-self-rising cake flour
- 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sifted granulated sugar
- 1 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 10 egg whites
To make the cake, butter two 13 x 11 -inch jellyroll pans, then line them with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short ends. Butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pan. Lightly dust the pan with flour and tap out the excess.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, the cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the whole eggs, oil, and vanilla until frothy. Stir in the flour mixture until blended and thick.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks start to form. One teaspoon at a time, add the remaining 9 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat until stiff but not dry.
Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the egg-and-flour mixture. 1/3 at a time, continue to incorporate the remaining egg whites by folding. Do not overmix. scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and spread evenly. (This is very important to try to spread into a flat surface! The cake has no butter in it, so it won’t melt and even out the way some other cakes do when they bake.)
Bake the cake for 12-15 minutes, until it springs back when gently touched in the center. (I thought my cakes weren’t nearly done enough when I pulled them out of my oven but they harden considerably when cooling – and you don’t want to over-bake them because they’ll crack when you roll them.) Run the tip of a knife around the edges of the pan. Cover the cake with a large piece of plastic wrap, and then cover with a damp towel. Invert the cake onto a baking rack. When it is just cool enough to touch, start at long side and roll the cake, with the parchment paper, plastic wrap, and towel, into a cylinder. Cool the rolled cake to room temperature.
Whew. Sounds like a lot, right? My cakes turned out beautifully, though.
Here’s halfway through folding in the glorious egg whites. I love whipped egg whites. I have since I was a kid.
Once my cakes came out of the oven, they both looked like lovely fields of chocolate. They were probably just under an inch thick, some total, and I did my best to flatten them without pressing the air out of them– a large offset spatula helped in this task. It didn’t take long for them to cool in my cold kitchen. Remember, you need them to be as warm as possible to roll (more on this in a second), so don’t be shy about handling them hot.
Then came the rolling. If I’ve ever been panicked about baking something, this was the time. You want me to WHAT? Roll them? HOW? Won’t they shatter into one million pieces? You just, like, go for it? It sounded too easy – but somehow, it really wasn’t that bad. First, it’s so helpful if your parchment really does hang out two inches from the sides of your cakes before you put them in the pan. Secondly, the damp cloth kitchen towel makes it easier, too. I made mine hot and damp, though they were mostly cooled anyway by the time I rolled them. Oh, well. Also, don’t use towels you don’t mind getting stained – because they WILL get stained when you fill the cakes.
So, I took a deep breath, covered my cakes with saran wrap and a hot damp tea towel, and rolled. Roll tightly!
Ta-Dah! Never mind my mother’s cat-shaped oven mitt.
While the cakes are cooling to room temperature, I made Almond Cream Filling to fill my cakes with. I love almond anything. I added a teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the mixture in the sauce pan to deepen the color (I wanted my Bûche to look swirly, like a cutaway portion of a tree.) My filling looked like it was made of silk.
Once my filling was complete and cooled, I unrolled my cakes – which, to my immense relief, looked beautiful! I filled my cakes (below), and rolled them back up. Into the fridge they went!
Filled, re-rolled in their tea towels, and in the fridge, my cakes spent the night while I went home and felt only relief at the so-far-so-good results. The next morning I got up and got ready to decorate, because Christmas Eve dinner was that night! (It wasn’t actually Christmas Eve, as Boris would be with his parents in Nevada that night. My parents really wanted to have a proper “Christmas Dinner” with him, though, so we did ours on the 20th.) My cookbook recipe included one for white chocolate swiss meringue buttercream for the cake – I made it, and it was beautiful and glossy and white but made me nauseous when I sampled the finished product (white chocolate has, puzzlingly, never agreed with me), so I threw out the entire (~4 cup) batch. Boo! I went to the store the next day and made true, plain Swiss Meringue Buttercream to ice it. Does this cake have a lot of eggs in it, or what? The frosting also adds just the tiiiiniest bit of butter:
I also made and assembled some meringue mushrooms, which are the traditional decorations of the Bûche de Noël.
To assemble my cake, I unrolled my cakes and removed all the parchment and towels etc. I cut all ends of my two cakes at a diagonal, to emphasize the swirly tree-like look. WOW! I was so excited to see how mine turned out. One of my rolls was prettier on the inside than the other – so I used the uglier roll for my long log “base”. The other, prettier roll was cut in half (on the diagonal again), and one “branch” was attached to the side, flat, with a glob of icing and the other “branch” was stuck to the top of the log with icing glue. Then I frosted! I decided a wooden cutting board would be a good platter for my cake, so that’s what I assembled, decorated, and presented on.
Frosting was fairly delicate work, as the cakes were soft. I got a nice, thick layer on it. Don’t worry about it being smooth – it’s supposed to look messy like tree bark. I ran a fork through my icing to make it look more like bark.
The final touches I added were a sifted dusting of cocoa powder (often, the frosting is chocolate and you dust with powdered sugar to make it look like snow, but since I chose a white icing I thought brown dust would look lovely). I also sifted some silver Wilton Pearl Dust over mine, which looked very snowy and decorative, if I do compliment my own taste. Finally, I added my meringue mushrooms.
This made a TON of cake. We ate it for like three weeks, ha.