Buche Noel is the typical French dessert that graces the windows of pastry shops and tables of homes throughout France during the month of December. The literal translation is Christmas log. I recently had the pleasure of receiving detailed instructions on making the Buche Noel from a French native. She gave me some great assembly pointers as well as some decorating tips. Yes, that is one the cool things about the Buche Noel. It is meant to be decorated in a “forest” theme.
There are no set rules, the imagination of the cook is the limit. According to my friend, the tradition of the Buche Noel dates back to the Middle Ages. At Christmastime, a giant log would be brought into the home to be placed in the chimney. The hope was for the log to last 7 days. If this happened, it was an omen that the next harvest would be a good one. Throughout the ensuing centuries as people got away from using firewood to heat their homes, an imaginative pastry chef came up with the idea of the Buche Noel so people could still have a “log” in their homes at Christmas time.
I will say this: This dessert is not for those who expect quick results. The process is lengthy, yet surprisingly uncomplicated. There are three key components to this dessert: filling, frosting, cake. I recommend making the filling first since it has to cool considerably (about 4 hours). The frosting needs to cool for about 2 hours. If after cooling, you find your frosting looks too thick, don’t worry, this actually works in your favor since it will impart a more authentic texture to your Buche Noel. I didn’t make this up; it came directly from Helene, my French friend! You can create whimsical forest scenes by using marzipan to make mushrooms, cocoa powder, or ground walnuts to imitate dust on the ground. Creativity is your friend.
The cake is actually the easiest part, you just need to be careful when rolling it so it doesn’t break. Slow and steady wins the race! Buche Noel takes time, but the result is such a delight to the eyes and palate. Bon Appetit mes amis!
If you want to try some other French desserts here are a couple really simple ones to make that I love to have with my family or take to parties.
French patisserie fruit tart is so easy to make with a blind baked shell, filled with custard and topped with fresh fruit. Some like to call it fruit pizza but I prefer tart. 🙂
Tart Normande is a rustic apple tart with custard from the Normandy region of France.
A traditional French Christmas dessert with a soft sponge cake rolled with cream filling and decorated like a "Yule Log". This very festive dessert is one of my favorites and so fun to make.
Almond cream filling:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 6 eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter melted
- For the filling: In a small bowl whisk the eggs and the sugar. Slowly add the flour until the mixture is unified.
- On medium heat, bring the milk and butter to a gentle boil. Slowly whisk in the warm milk into the egg mixture. Do this slowly so as not to cook the eggs. When mixture is well blended return to the saucepan and slowly add the marzipan, stirring constantly. Add the butter, and both extracts. Remove from heat and stir about 2 more minutes. Place in a bowl and refrigerate for about 3 hours.
- For the frosting: In a small saucepan on medium heat bring cream to a gentle boil. Add the butter. When butter is melted, slowly begin to add the chocolate about 1/4 at a time.
- Stir constantly until chocolate is thoroughly melted. Place in a small bowl and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
- For the cake: Preheat over to 350F.
- Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and rub with butter.
- Separate the eggs and set the whites aside.
- In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and flour. Add the salt and almond extract and melted butter(at room temperature).
- Place the whites in a large bowl and using an electric mixer beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. Slowly, using a spatula, mix in the egg yolk mixture.
- Spread batter on parchment paper and bake for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and wait about 5 minutes.
- Invert onto a lightly floured kitchen towel.
- Gently pull parchment off cake and allow to cool slightly (about 10 minutes).
- Using a wide spatula, spread almond filling all over the cake.
- Starting at the bottom, carefully roll up and place seam side down on a large serving platter.
- To make branches, slice off about 1/2" from either end of the cake and "glue" to cake using the chocolate frosting.
- Using another spatula spread chocolate frosting over the rolled cake, trying to achieve texture (like a log). If the texture appears a bit too smooth, use the tines of a fork to create texture.