Today, the 6th of January, marks the 12th day of Christmas. As we bring this holiday season to a close I thought it appropriate to end it the same way we marked the end of our Christmas Day dinner, namely with a spectacular dessert that joyfully proclaims everything that is traditionally Christmas… a beautiful and luscious Buche de Noel.
Buche de Noel literally translates as Christmas log and refers to the traditional Yule log that was burned in centuries past. Of French origins, the Buche de Noel is most likely a 19th century creation, as suggested by its ingredients. It was at that time that thinly rolled sponge cakes filled with cream or jam and covered with buttercream icing began appearing in European cookbooks. The decorative use of marzipan and meringue date to earlier times, the Medieval Ages and the 17th century respectively.
The origins of this renowned pastry can be traced back to the ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The Celts would search for a large trunk of oak, cherry, elm or beech to burn as a symbol of the rebith of the sun. This ceremony became more detailed during the Middle Ages when the logs would be decorated with ribbons and greenery. It was at that time that the youngest and the oldest member of the family would carry the log to the hearth and set it ablaze to burn during the course of the night. The next day the vestiges, thought to help cure a variety of ailments and ward off the wickedness of evil spirits, would be collected to be used during the course of the next year. As the years passed the log became smaller and ultimately evolved into a dessert that was served to guests. This symbolic substitution around which the family could gather for story telling and celebration was thought to have been invented by ingenious French bakers when the great Napolean Bonaparte issued a proclamation ordering the houses of Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter because of the medical problems caused by cool air.
The Buche de Noel that graced our table contained two of our favorite things, chocolate and raspberry. This Yule log is a simple chocolate souffle roll filled with black raspberry jam, whipped cream and fresh raspberry curd, frosted with a white chocolate buttercream and decorated with meringue mushrooms and marzipan holly and berries.
Buche de Noel
– Marzipan Holly Leaves and Berries –
The decorative marzipan holly and berries, as well as the meringue mushrooms, store well so make them in advance. For the holly leaves color the marzipan with green food gel until the desired color is obtained. Work the color in well so that it is uniformly distributed throughout the marzipan. We recommend the use of clean rubber gloves during this process to prevent staining your hands and fingers:
Roll out the marzipan to the desired thickness between two sheets of film:
Remove the top layer of film and, using a holly leaf cutter, cut out a number of leaves:
Using the tip of a paring knife, add veins to each leaf:
Transfer the completed leaves to parchment to be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator until presentation and service:
Repeat the coloring process for the holly berries, using red food gel and shaping them uniformly for final Buche de Noel decoration.
– Meringue Mushrooms –
For the meringue mushrooms place in the bowl of a mixer:
- the whites of 6 large eggs, room temperature
- a dash of salt
- 1 – 2 drops of lemon juice
Whip on medium speed until soft peaks are achieved. Increase the mixer speed to high, gradually adding over the course of 1 minute:
- 1 1/2 C baker’s sugar
Continue beating for an additional 1 minute, at which point the meringue should be stiff and glossy.
Coat a sheet pan with butter and flour and transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tube:
Pipe out the mushroom caps by holding the tip of the tube close to the surface of the pan and gently squeezing the pastry bag. Make the stems pointed by pulling the meringue up after a bit has been squeezed from the tip:
Flatten the “tail” of the caps by dipping your finger in cold water and gently pushing it down:
Bake in a preheated oven set on the low setting (180 – 190 degrees) for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool for 15 minutes. Hold the mushroom cap in one hand and gently carve a small hole on the bottom side of the cap with a sharp paring knife:
Place a dab of meringue in the hole and insert a meringue stem:
Smooth the fresh meringue and return the completed mushroom to the sheetpan:
Return the meringues to the oven and bake for an additional 30 – 45 minutes. When cool gently transfer the completed mushrooms to a covered container. The dried meringues will keep for a number of months:
– Chocolate Souffle Roll –
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch X 15-inch jelly roll pan, line with parchment, then butter the parchment:
5 large eggs, at room temperature
To the bowl of a bain marie over simmering water add:
1 generous C (six ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 T unsalted butter
2 T brandy or cognac
Stir until chocolate is melted. Remove pan from the heat and add one at a time, beating well after each addition:
the 5 egg yolks
Set aside. To the egg whites add:
a pinch of salt
Beat at medium speed until soft peaks have formed. Increase the speed to high and gradually add:
1/3 C baker’s sugar
When the meringue is thick and glossy fold in 1/3 of the chocolate mixture to lighten it:
Add the remaining chocolate mixture, folding in well:
Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and smooth with a spatula:
Bake until firm to the touch, approximately 15 – 20 minutes:
Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it and transfer to a large wire rack, parchment intact. Allow cake to cool for 20 minutes:
Cover the sponge with another sheet of parchment, then place a sheetpan or cookie sheet on top:
Firmly grasping the sheetpan and the underlying wire rack, flip the cake over and remove the wire rack and parchment:
Cover the bottom of the sponge with a clean sheet of parchment, followed by the sheetpan or cookie sheet:
Remove the top pan and the parchment. Slide the souffle and parchment off of the bottom pan onto a work surface:
The souffle is now ready to be filled. Prepare the raspberry curd filling.
– Raspberry Curd Filling –
To a Pyrex measuring cup add:
1/4 C boiling water
Add to dissolve:
1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
Allow the gelatin to cool, then whip:
1 C heavy cream
Gently fold in:
1/2 C fresh raspberry curd
the cooled gelatin
Set aside and begin to construct the Buche de Noel. Over the top surface of the chocolate souffle evenly spread:
1 10-oz jar of black raspberry jam
Follow with the raspberry and whipped cream filling:
Gently roll up in jelly roll fashion with the seam on the bottom:
Trim the edges and slice an angular piece from one side to use as a branch when the buttercream frosting is being spread:
Frost with white chocolate buttercream.
– White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting –
Melt in a bain marie over simmering water:
4-oz white chocolate
Stir to assure all chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Baker’s Note: Use a premium baking chocolate that has a high cocoa butter content, such as Ghirardelli. Cocoa butter should be one of the first two ingredients listed on the product wrapper.
To make the Italian meringue place in a medium saucepan:
2 1/4 C baker’s sugar
1/2 C water
1 T light corn syrup
Using a candy thermometer, heat to 230 degrees. Turn off flame, cover and hold. In the stainless steel bowl of a mixer place:
7 large egg whites (1 cup), room temperature
Whip on medium speed to achieve a dense froth. When egg whites begin forming soft peaks increase speed to high and slowly add:
8 tsp baker’s sugar
Re-ignite the flame under the sugar syrup and quickly heat to 245 degrees. Add the hot syrup in a slow steady stream to the whites, the mixer running on a continuous high speed.
Baker’s Note: Drizzle the syrup into the egg whites as close to the edge of the bowl as possible and not over the whip in order to prevent splattering of the hot syrup.
Continue whipping until the bowl is body temperature to the touch. With the whip continuing to run, add in increments of 1 tablespoon:
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, at room temperature
Whip until the frosting is fluffy and begins to mount, approximately 15 minutes. Add:
the melted and cooled white chocolate
Generously frost the roll, adding the reserved piece of cut cake to form the branch. Spread the frosting with an angled spatula to simulate bark, using a toothpick to create rings on the ends of the bough and the branch:
At this point the cake can be refrigerated. Just prior to presentation and service decorate the Buche de Noel with the marzipan holly leaves and berries as well as the meringue mushrooms. This spectacular dessert is both visually impressive and unbelievably delicious… as well as being a wonderful way to bring the Christmas holiday to a close… Bon Appetit!
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