Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mighty Bûche

xmas 2010 fig. a: the look of xmas 2010

In case you didn't get the memo, it is that time of year again. Time to deck the halls with boughs of holly. Time to get lit on egg nog. Or if you're feeling especially adventurous, time to contemplate making your very own bûche de noël.

Now, here at AEB, we've been known to lean toward pastries that have a bit more of a Central and Eastern European inflection during the holidays, but there are exceptions. Plenty of them, actually. And most of them involve candied fruit in one way or another: there's panforte, panettone, and stollen, plum pudding, mincemeat tarts, and fruitcake. But one Christmas dessert that has never really been a big part of Michelle's repertoire is the traditionally French (and by extension, French-Canadian) bûche de noël, the yuletide log in pastry form. Michelle learned to make a professional-caliber bûche de noël in pastry school, of course--Quebec's pastry schools are nothing if not classical--but when she bakes Christmas goodies for our home, she dreams of sugar plums and crescent moons, wasps' nests and infant Jesuses.

All that said, when Ève Dumas of La Presse approached Michelle with an intriguing proposition--what if you were to re-imagine the bûche de noël to reflect your family roots--she couldn't pass it up. Suddenly the mighty bûche took on new relevance.*

In terms of appearance, Michelle modeled her bûche de noël after the beautiful white birches (les bouleaux) that are such an important part of our forests here in la Belle Province (and in the Northeast in general);

graffiti fig. b: white birch

and in terms of taste, she gave it a torte-like character that drew from her Central European heritage.

The result was a walnut cake with mocha filling, one that came liberally spritzed with rum and iced with a white meringue with beautiful brûlé accents. It looked like this:

birch bûche fig. c: birch bûche 1

The recipe ran in La Presse at the end of November, but Michelle wasn't crazy about the accompanying photograph. The photographer chose a low angle, probably to highlight the cake's "tree rings," but in doing so he lost most of the cake's birch-like qualities.

birch bûche 2 fig. d: birch bûche 2

Which is why we decided to run the recipe again here, with new photographs.

Feeling inspired? Here's the recipe as it appeared in La Presse (with translation courtesy of Yours Truly):

Gâteau à rouler/cake roll (10 personnes)


2 oeufs/eggs

3 jaunes d'oeufs/egg yolks

1/4 de tasse de sucre/cup of sugar

4 c. à soupe de farine/tbsp flour

4 c. à soupe de fécule de maïs/tbsp corn starch

1/2 t. de noix de Grenoble/cup walnuts


Mélanger la farine, la fécule et les noix dans un robot culinaire pour faire une farine et réserver. Chauffer les oeufs, les jaunes et le sucre dans un bain-marie en brassant, jusqu'à ce que ce soit chaud. Fouetter jusqu'au ruban (lorsque le mélange tient sa forme en tombant) avec une mixette ou un batteur sur pied.

[Preheat oven to 350ºF. Blend the flour, starch, and walnuts in a food processor until powdered and well mixed, then set aside. Heat the eggs, the yolks, and the sugar in a double-boiler, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot to the touch. Whip with a mixer or a standing mixer until the egg mixture "holds a ribbon."]

Ajouter les ingrédients secs avec une maryse en faisant attention de pas trop mélanger. On ne veut pas faire tomber l'appareil. Étendre sur une plaque à biscuits (18" x 13") couverte de papier parchemin ou d'un tapis en silicone.

[Add the dry ingredients and fold in with a spatula taking care not to overmix so that lose volume. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or a Silpat™.]

Cuire de 8 à 10 minutes à 350°F, jusqu'à ce que le gâteau soit doré. Couvrir tout de suite avec un linge humide et laisser refroidir.

[Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until the cake is golden. Cover with a damp towel and let cool.]

Crème mocha/mocha cream


1 t. de chocolat noir haché/cup of chopped dark chocolate

1/4 de tasse d'espresso chaud/cup hot espresso

1/2 c. à thé d'espresso en poudre (de type Nescafé)/teaspoon powdered espresso (such as Nescafé™)

1/3 de livre de beurre mou/pound softened butter

1/3 de tasse de sucre à glacer/cup icing sugar

2 jaunes d'oeufs/egg yolks


Dans un bain-marie, faire fondre le chocolat avec le café et le café en poudre. Réserver à la température de la pièce.

[In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate with the espresso and the espresso powder. Set aside and keep at room temperature.]

Avec une mixette, battre le beurre et le sucre jusqu'à ce qu'il soit léger. Ajouter les jaunes et mélanger. Ajouter le chocolat fondu et mélanger encore jusqu'à ce que ce soit homogène.

[With a mixer, beat the butter and the sugar until they are fluffy. Add the yolks one at a time and mix. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix some more until thoroughly combined.]

Glaçage meringue/meringue icing


4 blancs d'oeufs/egg whites

1 t. de sucre/cup of sugar


Faire chauffer les blancs et le sucre au bain-marie, en brassant.

[Heat the egg whites and the sugar in a double-boiler, mixing all the while.]

Fouetter jusqu'à formation de pics moyens.

[Place mixture in a mixer and whip until it forms medium peaks.


1 oz de rhum brun (ou plus!)/ounce dark rum (or more!)

Feuilles de laurier fraîches/fresh bay leaves

Canneberges fraîches/fresh cranberries

pine branches

Démouler le gâteau à l'envers sur un morceau de papier parchemin et enlever l'autre morceau de papier avec délicatesse. Couper les bordures pour faire des côtés droits. Badigeonner le gâteau avec le rhum brun.

[Unmold the cake onto a piece of parchment paper and remove the other piece of parchment paper carefully. Trim the edges to make right angles. Brush the cake with the dark rum.]

Étendre le glaçage chocolat avec une spatule coudée. Couvrir toute la surface.

[Cover the entire surface of the cake with the chocolate cream using an offset spatula.]

Lentement, commencer à rouler le gâteau dans le sens de la longueur. Le papier va vous aider.

[Slowly roll the cake lengthwise. The parchment paper should make this process easier.]

Couvrir la bûche avec la meringue. Pour obtenir l'effet bouleau, adopter un mouvement de côté à côté, et non en longueur.

[Cover the bûche with the meringue icing. To get the birch effect, use a side-to-side motion, instead of applying the icing lengthwise.]

Faire colorer la bûche avec le chalumeau. Commencer tranquillement, sinon ça va faire l'effet d'une bûche dans le foyer! Si vous n'avez pas de chalumeau, saupoudrer de la poudre de cacao (dans un tamis fin) au-dessus de la bûche pour créer une texture.

[Use a torch to give the bûche its brûlé highlights. Start gently, otherwise you might get a burnt log effect instead. If you don't own a torch, you can dust the surface with cacao powder instead to give it some texture and highlights.]

Disposer les feuilles de laurier autour, puis les canneberges.

[Garnish with bay leaves, cranberries, and pine branches according to desire.]

Servir la journée même. Sinon, faire le gâteau et le remplir la veille. Bien emballer et mettre au frigo. Finir avec la meringue le lendemain.

[Serve the cake on the day you make it. If you'd rather make it the day before, make the cake, fill it, and roll it, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated. Ice the cake with the meringue and decorate it the next day.]

Makes one bûche, roughly 18" in length.

Now, once you've made your very own bouleau de noël/yuletide birch, the only thing left to do is to invite some folks over for the log-sawing ceremony. Make a batch of punch or some egg nog, some mulled wine or glögg, and send out invitations to friends and family.

Our AEB ceremony looked like this as things got underway.

bûche-serving ceremony fig. e: sawing log

What you can't see are the 20+ ravenous souls who were standing/sitting/crouching off-camera, just waiting for their own slice. Within an hour or two, there was nothing left of that 3-foot monster bûche but the branches.


p.s. Thanks to all those who helped us burn through our log in record time!

p.s. No time? Holidays got you frazzled? Get your very own ever-so-stylishly deconstructed bûche from Pâtisserie Rhubarbe.

* For one thing, there was no reason it had to look so Smurfy.


andrea said...

Can you tell us about the orange rounds hanging from the Christmas tree? They're so pretty.

michelle said...

They are very thinly sliced citrus fruits (grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime) dried in the oven at a very low temperature until they are dry but not brittle. Hook an ornament hanger through the top and you're done.

andrea murphy said...

Thanks, Michelle. I'll try it!

Best wishes to you and A.J. for 2011.

What We Drank said...

I made my first buche this year after being informed by my son THE NIGHT BEFORE that he was having a holiday party in french class. Not as pretty as your birch, but it was lovely just the same.

This is such a beautiful, peaceful blog, threaded with joy and a sense of content.

I am super-obsessed with Montreal as well.