Category Archives: Bûche de Noël

Assembling a Bûche de Noël

There are all kinds of ways to do a yule log, this is just one of scores of possible directions. So, take the below as a general guide and improvise as you see fit. I’ll try to point out opportunities for variation along the way.

Actually, here’s one right off the bat. There’s a school of thought that holds that buttercream is too rich a filling for a cake as decadent as a bûche, and I can sort of see the point. So if you prefer, leave out the coffee-flavored buttercream and substitute a generous brushing of coffee-flavored cake syrup. If you decide to press on with the buttercream, apply only a thin layer to the unrolled génoise.

…except for right here at the far end where the roll begins. Apply a long mound of filling there, about an inch high, about two inches in from the very edge of the cake sheet. That gives the cake a center to roll around, and keeps the innermost part of the roll from breaking. See here I’m just filling up the little crook in the cake that remained after I unrolled the cooled sheet. Looks messy now, but trust me, it’ll turn out just fine.

Now gently roll it back up.

Lay the cake on a cutting board with the seam to the side, just touching the board.

For the side branch, you really don’t need to cut too much of the cake off. See there on the right? I’m not taking even two inches off that side of the roll. Keep the seam on the long side of the cut, as that will help keep the branch piece from unrolling as you’re working with it.

See what I mean about that cream-filled center? Looks nice.

Figure out about where you want to place the branch. Some people like to put it on the top, sticking up. That’s always seemed a little dangerous for me. I like the side presentation. I should insert here that in some yule log-making traditions, a piece is never removed from the end. Small mounds of buttercream are place here and there along the length, and the ganache “bark” is simply piped around it. It’s a good method, though I avoid piping where I can…

…for obvious reasons. Yuck. Oh well, it came out good enough. I should have applied more pressure to the bag (I wouldn’t have gotten those rough edges). But heck, it’s fine. Use a medium-to-large star tip for this bit, as it creates the impression of wood grain. Doing the ends — or at least two of them — with the pieces upright is helpful. Have someone hold the trunk piece while you pipe (if possible).

Place the cake on a platter or board of your choice. Now’s a good time to brush off a little of that extra flour if you can. Then get out the ganache. You’ll have to fill in that gap where the branch meets the trunk, which isn’t difficult. Room-temperature ganache is very forgiving. You can apply it and re-apply it almost endlessly.

This is the bark effect I like. Lots of folks like to use a fork to make deep lines in the ganache along the length of the log. If that’s you, go nuts! The nice thing is that if you don’t like it, you can just smooth it all out again and start over. To get those little bark “points” that stick out over the edges, just continue your stroke out over the edge of the buttercream. A little of the ganache should come with you.

Now for the mushrooms. I dust mine with a little cocoa powder to give them a textured look. Pastry chef Laura mentioned that you can apply cocoa powder before you even bake the mushroom tops. I’d never heard of that, but it sounds like a great idea. Next year I’ll try it.

Now all you need to do is stick the mushrooms wherever you want. I do mine in clusters, as I mentioned. I like the look, what can I say? Someone recently told me that ground up pistachios make great moss. That’s something else I’ll have to try next year.

Now all that’s left are the marzipan holly leaves. They’re very simple. Just roll out a small piece of marzipan — which you kneaded green food coloring into, obviously — on a board that’s been lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Use a small cutter to nip away bits of the edge and create those spiky leaves. Here I’m using the smallest cutter from my Ateco set.

Arrange them as you wish with a few red red marzipan berries and you’re pretty much good to go! Oh, a little powdered sugar “snow” dusted on top makes a nice finish, but it’s completely your call. Wipe any errant bits of ganache or buttercream off your platter and you’re finshed! A yule log will keep well in the refrigerator, unwrapped, for up to two days.

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Making Meringue Mushrooms

Making meringue mushrooms is fun work. It’s a pity it’s a step that’s so often rushed, because you can really do some fun things. I’m the type of person that likes a lot of mushrooms on a yule log. Call me crazy, I like to array them in bunches on the log since they seem a little more realistic to me that way. But heck, decorate your own log however you will.

Set your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your French meringue and scoop some of it into a pastry bag. You can use a proper bag with a large plain tip, or you can just use a small disposable bag without a tip, as I’m doing here. For the caps, place the tip about half an inch above the surface of a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, then squeeze. Don’t move the tip up, just let the meringue spread outward, then lift. If you’re really good you won’t get those little points. I do of course, but I plan doing something about those later (you’ll see).

For the stems, try to achieve as much height has you reasonably can. I get a little extra altitude by gently “dabbing” meringue a few times on the same spot. Something about the subtle up-and-down piling action allows me to make the drops taller. The stems get little bulges in them, but who’s going to notice those? I’ll tell you who: nobody. Don’t worry if a few flop over. Just make a lot.

Bake them with the handle of a wooden spoon jammed in the oven door for 25 minutes or so, then check for color. If they’re browning and you prefer them white, turn the oven down to 200. If you want the color, keep on truckin’ for the next half hour. Some people like their caps very, very brown, and it’s a neat effect, evocative of these sorts of fungi, especially if the stems are baked only lightly and remain mostly white.

I didn’t push the heat to that extreme, just to a light tan. Some cracking is inevitable. It’s why you make plenty.

Cool your shrooms completely, then apply the stems to the caps. For glue, use a simple paste of powdered sugar and water, which will make a firm seal. Whatever you do, don’t use buttercream or ganache. Your mushrooms will just fall apart on you.

Eat what you don’t use. I sent little Jo off to school with a baggie full this week for show and tell. Her fellow first graders we amazed.

UPDATE: Here are some of pastry chef Laura’s meringue mushrooms, baked with cocoa powder already applied. Ingeniously, she’s used chocolate underneath the caps, both to color the underside and to affix the stem. Crikey, that’s good work. I’m jealous.

And reader Taina gets a very cool effect with flat pieces of meringue, like this:

Nice work all the way around!

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Bûche de Noël Recipe

There won’t be a need to put much in the way of recipes up this week, since the main components of the cake are already on the blog. You’ll need:

- One recipe génoise, prepared jelly roll style (but no jelly)
- About half a recipe of Swiss meringe buttercream, flavored with a shot of espresso
- 16 ounces ganache (8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 8 ounces heavy cream)
- Meringue mushrooms
- A few ounces marzipan

The nice thing about this ingredient list is that all of it can be made in advance, and most of it should be. If you’re a normal working person, you’ll want to start on the components of your bûche well in advance of your event. A week ahead or more isn’t too early for the marzipan since it will keep for months, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. Kept in an airtight container, the meringue mushrooms will keep for several days. Likewise with the buttercream (though maybe you have half a recipe or so of plain buttercream hanging around the freezer already…maybe?). The ganache must be made the day before, since it needs to sit on the counter all night. As for the génoise, it will keep overnight wrapped up in a towel if you wish.

The main thing to avoid is trying to prepare all the components for a multi-component pastry like this on the same day. The vast majority of home-made yule logs fail because the baker was trying to do too much at once, got tired or rushed and then got sloppy. I mean let’s face it, how many home-made yule logs have you seen that were consistently good from the cake to the filling to the garnishes? Probably very few, if any. That’s because time pressure forces a home baker to cut corners. Maybe the cake is good, but the ganache is runny. Or the mushrooms are perfect but the shape of the roll is poor. Start a week ahead and you’ll have plenty of time to get everything right.

A bûche de Noël is a pretty mundane thing, ultimately. Spongecake, chocolate and buttercream, no big deal. It’s the presentation that sets this pastry apart. So give yourself the time. You need not do a perfect job on everything (God knows, I don’t). However if you do an adequate job on all the pieces, they’ll add up to a truly sparkling bûche.

Filed under:  Bûche de Noël, Pastry | 10 Comments