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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bûche de Noël: French for "Ridiculous Amount of Work"

I really don't know how people work in Starbucks.

I have schlepped my camera, camera connector, recipe and laptop all the way to Oregon, where I am working today, and I can't hear myself think over the whining of the sullen teenager sitting next to me at the counter, who apparently doesn't wish to sit with his family a few tables away but still wants to communicate from a distance.

As my friend Erika would say, le sigh.  And to think I once thought business travel was glamorous.

This month's Cake Slice Bakers pick was a challenging one:  a traditional French Bûche de Noël, or Yule log, complete with meringue mushrooms and chocolate leaves.  I set out on Saturday thinking that it would be time-consuming, but not complicated.

Boy, was I wrong.

I can't even enumerate all the things that went wrong, because it would just make me cry.  David came into the kitchen on Saturday afternoon to find me in full meltdown mode.  He then asked me to help him bring in his Christmas tree during a particularly delicate place in the French buttercream process. 

I walked away for two minutes--really!--and returned to find that my beautiful cooked meringue was not incorporating the butter and had turned into a curdled mess, which I promptly dumped down the garbage disposal.  A few minutes later, the garbage disposal started belching the mixture back up again.

Neither David nor I are particularly handy people, but he managed to fix the garbage disposal and I decided that using a cream cheese icing would make my life a lot easier at that point, which was more than two hours into the process.

Yes, the final product was pretty.  Yes, it was delicious.  In the end I posted a photo of the final result on my Facebook page and my friend Stacey, an excellent cook, reminded me that I had just spent almost four hours on the fancy version of a Hostess HoHo.

Chocolate-Almond Bûche de Noël
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

For the cake:
2/3 cup cake flour, sifted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

For the almond syrup:
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. amaretto liqueur

For the frosting:
24 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
2 tbsp. soft almond marzipan paste

For the garnish:
Meringue mushrooms (may be purchased here)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a standard rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, and then spray it with nonstick baking spray with flour. 

Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa, 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a separate, larger bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, oil and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture all at once and stir until just combined.

Using a hand mixer and a clean bowl, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar to the soft peak stage, about 5-7 minutes.  Drizzle in the remaining 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.

Fold a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just combined, then gently fold in the remaining whites.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 12 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched lightly.

While the cake is the oven, thoroughly dust a clean dish towel with powdered sugar and lay out on the kitchen counter.  When the cake is done, gently invert it onto the dish towel and remove the parchment paper.

Roll the cake up with the dish towel, starting at a long end.  Place the entire roll seam side down on a cooling rack.

To make the syrup, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  When it boils, add the amaretto, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Start the frosting by melting the bittersweet chocolate in a small saucepan with two tablespoons of water, whisking until the chocolate is completely melted.  Remove the chocolate from the heat and allow it to cool completely.

Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the powdered sugar until well blended, then add the almond extract.  This will not make a terribly sweet frosting, which kept the cake from becoming too one-note in my opinion.  You may add sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting.

Divide the frosting into two bowls.  To one, add the cooled chocolate and beat with a hand mixer until blended.  To the other, add the marzipan and beat until blended.

To assemble the cake, unroll the cake from the dish towel.  Brush the cake thoroughly with the amaretto syrup--there will be some left over.

Using a serrated knife, trim the short ends, creating a three-inch strip and a one-inch strip.  These will be using for the branches coming off the main log.  Spread the almond frosting over these strips and roll up tightly, securing them in aluminum foil.  Place these in the freezer to firm up.

Thickly spread the almond frosting over the remainder of the cake.  Carefully reroll the cake and place it seam side down on the desired serving platter.

When the "branches" are firm enough, place them in the desired position next to the cake roll and attach them using a thin coating of the chocolate frosting.  Using an offset spatula, frost the entire cake with the chocolate frosting, using the spatula to create striations to give the impression of bark.

One of my actors demonstrating how not to eat this cake. 
Do not try this at home.

Arrange the meringue mushrooms around the log, securing the bottoms with a thin layer of chocolate frosting.  Immediate refrigerate the cake, and remove it a half hour before you plan to serve.

Serves approximately 12 people. 


  1. Well done. Those things are really hard to make. It's heartbreaking when things curdle - but yours looks amazing anyway.

  2. Sorry to hear you had problems in the kitchen. It does look good.

  3. Well I guess you can be glad that day is over! There will never be an exact repeat :). At least you ended up with something delicious, I have toiled away sometimes only to feed it to the trash. Have an excellent tomorrow my friend!

  4. Bahaha I love the title of this. So true. I've got some major respect for you; I've always wanted to try making one of these, but I'm way too lazy. Yours looks wonderful. Great job!

  5. Le sigh (I love this comment and will borrow it!)

    But, you persevered. Cudos to you. I have been known to dump the whole thing. I got ambitious last year and made/attempted a Sachertorte for Xmas Eve. Definitely not worth the effort.

    HoHo indeed. Thanks for sharing your ultimate triumph!

  6. LOL... a fancy upscale Hostess Hoho! Okay.. that was a good one. I felt for you when you just couldn't get it to work at first. That is my fear and experience when it comes to fancy, complicated desserts and baking. I for one stick to the easy stuff because I would have needed some professional therapy if I went through what you did. I am glad at the end you had a beautiful dessert because you didn't give up. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of stress free cooking. :)

  7. You're aware, right, that this is at once really tragic and also REALLY REALLY entertaining? I had a similar experience w/ macarons a couple of weeks ago. I've yet to muster my nerves to try it again. No feet, too flat and feet... the list goes on. A, ces francais!

  8. Well, you DID make me laugh! I made one last year...with friends over to watch. NOT a good thing to hurry along. I rolled mine up the wrong way and skipped all the required cooling times. So I feel your pain. Yours did turn out perfect...and glad it was enjoyed. You notice I didn't make another this year :) Merry Christmas, my friend! the name of your post!

  9. "I had just spent almost four hours on the fancy version of a Hostess HoHo." haha! What are friends for?

    I think you did a great job. Be proud!

  10. They are amazing, but also an amazing amount of work! I had a TRUE lol moment when you said you went thru all that for a ho-ho! GREAT READ!

  11. Hi,
    Just to share with you on what technology has done to families - I have seen the whole family dining in a restaurant and none are speaking to each other as all are busy with their own gadget, like blackberry or Iphone including the kids too.

    Thats a nice cake you have made though I have not heard about it before, you know I am really a dessert person, so the two words I know is cakes and cookies and never bruche.

  12. Great job !I love it and now I know what to expect !!

  13. Your finished cake looks delicious. Well done for not giving up. Makes the end result even sweeter. I hate it when things so wrong when you're short of time. Love those meringue mushrooms. Have a wonderful Christmas

  14. Ahahaha! "French for 'Ridiculous Amount of Work'" -- and it's so true!

    I've had to make a lot of these recently, and there are ways to cut corners and cut down the work, but that's hardly relevant after the fact, eh? ;)

    I'm sure the people who enjoyed your cake appreciated all the effort that went into it!

  15. It may have been a frustrating day for you, but you turned it into a great, entertaining article for us to read! Good job for pressing on and getting it done. Now you can say you've done it! A Ho-Ho, maybe, but a yummy one, at least!

  16. Oh dear. See...this is why I don't bake :) I think your log turned out beautifully regardless and by the looks of things, it went down VERY well!

  17. But... it is delicious. I think it's a project for two. Kirsten and I made one last year on Christmas Day. It took a few hours and my piping was not as god as hers - and there was a lot if laughter. But the end result - perfect. My Williams-Sonoma recipe might have been a tad easier. And now - you can say you did it!

    Wishing you and yours a most joyful holiday weekend. May your days be merry and bright!

  18. I don't get the Starbucks workers either! I love the warmth of the place and the smell of the coffee, but it is so darn loud! OH and btw, that cake looks outstanding!

  19. Ah, yes. This should be called buche de melt down, don't ya think. It came out perfectly :) I would eat the entire thing!

  20. Hey everyone, thanks for the comments! I really was in full meltdown on Saturday, but by the time I served it on Saturday night I was prepared to think of it as a funny story.

    @Grubarazzi, "buche de melt down," hee hee. Love it.

    @Claudia, you may be right--this might be a two-person job, but I think David got scared off after the buttercream debacle.

    @Sofie, this is exactly why I haven't made macarons yet despite the fact that I adore them.

    @Eliotseats, definitely borrow "le sigh." It's a very useful saying.

  21. Icing a yule log definitely takes time. I did it on my own birthday but it is not worth sharing.Your looks great and cheer up I have something to share with you. Come by @ and see the details.

  22. you are so creative! this is awesome... have a wonderful and blessed holiday and thank you for your friendship.

  23. Wow! You did great! The title of your post describes it best! Merry Christmas! xx

  24. I am not sure whether you will be on blogging as Christmas is just around the corner. Merry Christmas to you and David and God Bless.

  25. Ahhh- I know the meltdown mode all too well. It turned out goregous though!

  26. I had one of those days today. Nothing went right. Yours turned out great in the end though!

  27. Simply delicious! It looks so good!!

  28. I wish I can make bouche de noel - it's always nice to see homemade version! I can imagine mine goes wrong...with my baking skills, so I won't see mine homemade for a long time. Great job making this and glad it went well at the end! Happy Holidays!!!

  29. I have never attempted this - but I admire you for trying. It looks great and your mushrooms look so realistic. Well done.

  30. That stinks about the buttercream! But, in the end, this turned out great!!

  31. I loove buche de noel because I grew up with it homemade by my French "second mom". Soooo good! It looks like everyone loved it anayways :)

  32. My complements on completing this very difficult dessert recipe. It looks delicious.