The Bûche de Noël I made this Christmas. The white shapes sprouting from my yule log? Meringue mushrooms of course!
If I had stayed in France, I would have wanted apple pie at Christmas. As I instead flew to Sacramento, California for the holidays, I wanted to bring back a taste of a French Christmas. So, I decided to make a Bûche de Noël, a traditional French dessert that we would call a yule log cake.
Around mid-December, Bûche de Noël began to appear in the pastry-shop windows of Toulouse. "Bûche" is the French word for log. They are small, cylindrical jelly roll cakes shaped and decorated as yule logs. These otherwise simple, brown cakes become a slice of woodland wonderment with little forest figures, sprigs of holly and a heavy frosting of powder-sugar adorning them. Small dear, a lone ax and mushrooms often complete the woodsy look.
Making the cake is a bit tricky for beginners. You have to roll a sheet of baked sponge cake into a cylinder shape, let it cool, and then go back and ice the curling cake carefully, trying not to brake it. Then you cover the entire log with frosting and add your woodland details on top. When the cake is cut, there is a spiral of frosted cake reminiscent of the rings in a log.
The most difficult part of my cake-baking experience was the meringue needed for the mushrooms and frosting. The Julia Child recipe I used called for meringue mushrooms and crystallized caramel cobweb decorations, two things that are normally beyond my pastry talents. I had to throw out two trail batches of meringue gone bad before I got it right! One tasted horribly burned and the other was too stiff. I decided to ditch the sugary cobweb, although I've never had a cobwebbed cake and it sounded tempting. But Christmas Eve dinner was fast approaching I had been yule logging most of my day away, so my cake was cobweb-less.
But, a culinary experience with Julia Child is bound to be worth it in the end. I was ultimately happy with my meringue mushrooms. They look very impressive once on the cake! And the bûche got many compliments which I should thank Julia for.
Of course, my family didn’t give up the apple pie tradition, and we ate a bit of both pie and bûche. However, I can see visions of yule logs dancing in our future Christmas Eve’s!
You can see more on how to make a “Bûche de Noël” here
The recipe I used was Julia Child's and can be found in the recipe book Christmas Memories. She makes it with an almond sponge cake and rum flavored frosting and I'm a fan.