Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it. —Maya Angelou
Last year my sister Juliette manifested a Bûche de Noël. Yep, true story.
We were discussing our bucket lists and Juliette shared that one of the items on her list was putting the famous dessert in her mouth one fine holiday. The classic French dessert, also commonly known as a Yule Log, is a pastry cream filled sponge cake that is fashioned to look like a tree trunk. Her revelation was a bit of a surprise but I've learned not to try to predict what will rock Juliette's world.
It's not very often that one has the opportunity to help a person cross off a milestone goal from a bucket list. And, this gastronomy wish was within my power to fulfill and it didn't require booking a trip to Paris, although that would be lovely.
I suddenly had a new mission in life and that mission was to make the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams. It became my mantra. I annoyingly kept telling people I had to make the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams. Mainly, because I thought it was funny. As these things go, I also roped other team members into the baking project, namely my daughter and her friend.
|The Solstice table with the Bûche de Noël as the centerpiece.|
Making the Bûche de Noël was great theater. We waited until Juliette and her daughters arrived to complete the final assembly and decorating of the Yule log on Solstice. This caused some stress for my daughter who was in charge of these activities while I captured photos for posterity.
In the future, if I am ever crazy enough to make a Bûche de Noël again, I will have the dessert completely finished the day before the party. It will keep well in the refrigerator, provided you have enough room.
|The Solstice fire, our family's annual tradition.|
Thankfully, even though this famous dessert is indeed a pain to make, the flavors are incredibly delicious. The hazelnut pastry cream is a taste sensation. Even if you don't make a Yule Log, the hazelnut pastry cream would be delicious as a filling for any number of cakes, including my favorite Cowtown Chocolate Cake.
|Juliette found the cute little vintage squirrel in a thrift shop.|
Of course she did! I love the squirrel so much that I haven't given it back.
The Bûche de Noël in these photos is massive. This is because I made a double recipe. I wanted multiple branches for a dramatic presentation, because, you know, I was making the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams. The Bûche de Noël is displayed on the largest turkey tray in my collection of overly large platters.
I reviewed bucket loads of Bûche de Noël recipes on line before settling on making Beth Le Manache's magnificent dessert. Where I "branched" off (pun intended) from her recipe was that I made a multi branch cake and then we doused the cake with chocolate ganache.
Now that I have made Bûche de Noël, I would call this a three day process. My future self will make everything but the ganache on the first day. The second day would be full assemblage of the cake including dousing it with the ganache and then letting it firm up overnight in the refrigerator. All that is left on the third day is to decorate with mushroom meringues, fondant pine cones, sugared rosemary and cranberries.
For this recipe you will need parchment paper and a sheet pan with the exterior dimensions of 17.88 x 12.88 x 1.06 inches and the interior dimensions of 16.5 x 11.38 x 1 inches. Also, because the cake is leavened with eggs, it is helpful to have an electric stand mixer to beat the eggs for an extended period of time.
Okay, you crazy person just like me, let's get started.
Stand mixer for making cake and meringues
2 sheet pans
1 cooling rack insert that fits sheet pan
1 medium saucepan
at least 4 large kitchen flour-sack towels, such as 27" x 27" or 28" x 28"
1 medium to large fine-meshed sieve
1 medium to large pastry bag with fitted with a 1/2" (13mm) round tip
large off-set spatula
|Note... the flour-sack dishtowels will look disgusting after receiving the cocoa treatment.|
spray oil; I like to use coconut
5 Tbsps (75ml) unsalted butter, melted and set aside to cool
1/2 cup (60g) of flour
1/2 cup (50g) cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1.25ml) baking soda
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 325°F (162°C)
2. Prep the sheet pan. Cut parchment paper to fit inside the pan. Spray with oil, then flip the paper over and spray again so both sides are coated. Spray sides of pan and set aside.
3. In a medium sized bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat eggs with sugar on high speed until tripled in volume, at least 5 to 7 minutes. Then add vanilla extract and beat until mixed.
5. On low speed, add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with melted butter until just combined.
6. Pour the batter in to the sheet pan and gently smooth top with an offset spatula.
7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
8. Take a damp dishtowel and stretch it out to full size. Dust the damp towel with cocoa powder to create a non-stick surface. Flip cake, top side down, out of the pan and onto the dusted towel to expose the parchment paper. Gently remove and discard the parchment paper.
9. Starting at one end of the towel, roll the cake into a log, until the cake is completely rolled in to the towel. Refrigerate overnight.
|You don't necessarily need a piping bag for the meringues, but it will make your life easier.|
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup of sugar
2 Tbsps of cocoa powder
4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. Preheat oven to 225°F (107°C)
2. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper
3. Whip egg whites, tartar, salt and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Then add sugar slowly until combined.
4. Transfer to a medium to large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" (13mm) round tip. Pipe 1-2 mounds (for the mushroom tops) and 1" (2.5mm) lines for the stems.
5. Dip a spoon in water and flatten down any peaks that are created in meringues. You want a smooth top and stem.
6. Dust with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh sieve or a shaker. Bake for one hour.
7. Allow to sit until meringues are hard and no gummy texture remains.
8. Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, microwave on high in 30 second bursts, stirring between each time increment (to avoid burning), until chocolate has melted.
9. Using a paring knife, core a small hole under the meringue tops (the flat side), smooth on a layer of chocolate on surface and in hole. Insert stem and allow to dry.
10. Keep uncovered at room temperature until ready to use.
Fondant Pine Cones
I searched all over Tucson for fondant and came up empty handed. I finally ordered from Amazon. The little container was packed with another item and I didn't find it until after we made the cake. Sad, but true. I'm sure they would have looked great on the tray.
1 cup (240 ml) Chocolate Fondant
2 cups raw (480 ml) sliced almonds, skins on
1. Break off a small piece of fondant, about the size of a ping pong ball. Form a ball, then place the ball on a work surface. Flatten the bottom and then shape the fondant into a pyramid.
2. Starting at the bottom, insert the large end of the almond into the cone, slightly elevating the almonds upwards.
3. For the next row, begin 1/8 inch from the first row to allow for separation. Place the second row of almonds in the same manner, inserting the large end of the almond into the cone. Work all the way up the cone, tilting the sliced almonds upwards to replicate a pine cone.
4. Transfer pine cones with a metal spatula to a sheet pan.
5. Create a variety of pine cone sizes: 4 large, 2 medium, 2 small.
6. Pine cones can be kept, uncovered at room temperature. They will dry out and set and become less fragile and easier to handle.
6. Use pine cones to decorate the corners of the bûche.
Chocolate Hazelnut Pastry Cream
Pastry cream is made in two steps. The thick custard is made ahead and chilled. Then the custard is lightened with whipped cream. This pastry cream tastes divine.
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped of paste; then chop the bean across in 1/4" slices
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup of chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella or similar brand)
Homemade Whipped Cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsps powdered sugar
1. In a heat safe bowl add the egg yolks and cornstarch, whisk until a smooth paste forms. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan heat milk, sugar, vanilla seed paste and sliced bean until simmering. While whisking continuously, add the warm milk slowly to the egg mixture until well combined.
3. Wash and dry the saucepan. Place a sieve over the saucepan. Strain the egg mixture into the clean pan. Discard the solids.
4. Heat custard on medium until slightly boiling, stirring constantly until the mixture gently boils. Continue stirring, lower heat (if needed) to maintain a gentle boil and continue stirring until thickened. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate hazelnut spread, whisk until smooth.
5. Transfer pastry cream to a shallow glass bowl, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until cold.
6. To make whipped cream, add cold cream, vanilla, powdered sugar to a bowl and whip on high until stiff peaks form.
7. Transfer pastry cream to a larger bowl. Gently fold the whipped cream in to the pastry cream, in thirds, to lighten the mixture.
8. Remove the cake from the fridge. Gently unroll it, out of the towel, then roll it back into a cake log so it will be easier to move.
9. Transfer the the cake roll onto a fresh, dry kitchen towel, that has been generously dusted with cocoa powder. If the cake starts to crack or rip, you will be able to cover any discrepancies with the ganache and other decorations.
10. Spread cream mixture on cake surface leaving at least 2 inches of uncovered cake along the perimeter.
11. Gently roll the cake, away from you, into a log. When you reach the edn, don't do thtat last roll, instead take the end of the towel furthest from you and roll the cake, in the towel, 1 time towards you, and secure in the towel, then continue rolling towards you until the cake is securely rolled up in the towel.
12. Place the cake back in the fridge, overnight to set up. This is a critical step to allow the cake to slice nicely and retain its log shape.
Sugared Rosemary and Cranberries
2 cups plus 2 Tbsps (424g) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup water
8 to 12 rosemary branches
20 to 30 fresh cranberries
1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup (200g) sugar and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool for 10 minutes.
2. Place remaining 1 cup plus 2 Tbps (224g) sugar in a shallow dish.
3. Dip each rosemary branch in simple syrup; roll in sugar. Let dry for 5 minutes, or longer, before using.
4. Dip all the cranberries in the simply syrup; roll in sugar. Let dry for 5 minutes, or longer, before using.
This recipe is from Johnny Iuzzini who was a guest on the Martha Stewart Show. On an episode long, long ago, he walked Martha through step-by-step on how to make his famous Bûche de Noël. I prefer his technique of using ganache instead of frosting.
12-1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 of the cream to the chocolate and stir with a spatula until the chocolate begins to melt. Continue adding the cream, in three batches, stirring after each addition, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Use immediately, or place plastic wrap directly on the surface and keep at room temperature until ready to use.
|The pastry cream is a taste sensation.|