What else could I share with you on Christmas Day, than a Buche de Noel?? Nothing, that’s what. I am seasonally obligated to share the most Christmasy of pastries. Noel is in the name for Pete’s sake! This thing has it all; some meaty history, lots of good recipes, and a ton of space to be creative and make a Buche de Noel that’s all your own.
history of the log
A traditional Buche de Noel (Yule log) is a thin sponge cake and filling layered over one another and rolled up. The roll is then frosted and/or glazed. Incidentally this type of pastry is known as a roulade (something that is served rolled up). The shape and added decorative elements like meringue mushrooms and marzipan leaves and branches are meant to resemble an actual Yule log. But what are those??
Yule logs started as a pagan (most likely Celtic or Germanic) tradition, a burning of a massive log during the winter solstice to recognize the turn in the year towards longer days and warmer weather. As the tradition progressed the log became smaller and found its way into the hearth at home. It also became more elaborate and the log was often decorated before being burned. That tradition continues with the edible decorations still applied to a Buche de Noel cake.
The Buche de Noel that we know today was created and popularized sometime in the 19th century in Paris. Some historians link the popularity of the Buche de Noel to an edict by Napoleon (yup, that Napoleon) forcing citizens to close their chimney flues at times during the winter to prevent disease. Without the ability to light a log in the fireplace, the symbolic dessert became the stand in. One way or the other, the Yule log cake we eat today was brought into the mainstream in France a few hundred years ago, but that’s not to say that a similar roulade wasn’t created way before that. The components of a Yule log were all available as early as the 16th century, so it’s definitely possible that a roll of sponge cake with meringue and marzipan (popular decorative elements for a Buche) found its way onto some lucky Nobleman’s table in medieval Europe.
These days a lot of the pastry community has diverted from the original interpretation of the Buche de Noel and instead the modern interpretation is really just an entremet in an elongated shape and decorated with a winter or holiday theme. I usually make a series of modern Buche de Noel for our Christmas brunch at the hotel (although this year I actually didn’t) and it has become one of my favorite creative projects of the year! Check out a few of last year’s creations…
Today we’re making a joconde, a somewhat dry and often thin sponge cake made of whipped eggs and meringue. If I’m being real, joconde by itself isn’t very good. That’s because it’s really meant to be a component in a full dessert, where the sum is greater than its parts. Once you roll joconde up with some frosting, or throw it in an entremet, it’s awesome. One little trick to making joconde is being careful with the foams you create (the whipped eggs and meringue) until the very end of the process, and then giving the batter a little roughing up to deflate it just slightly. Doing this helps to avoid large holes in the baked.
You’ll also want to bake the joconde until 95% finished, letting carry-over cooking take care of the last 5%. Because we’re going to roll this cake up, it’s super important that it has flexibility and any over-baking will ruin that ability.
We’re also making a buttercream frosting for the first time! I was going to say I don’t know how that’s possible but I totally know how – I don’t like buttercream. More often than not buttercream is unreasonably fatty, and I’m left feeling like I chewed on a stick of butter instead of a cupcake. When I do make buttercream, I like making a version that calls for whole eggs, which gives you a different level of richness and texture. The only downside to this recipe is that it has a shorter shelf life and isn’t as stable at room temperature as a straight butter+sugar+egg whites buttercream.
buche de noel
90 pastry flour
90g almond flour
112g powdered sugar
93g whole eggs
60g egg yolks
206g egg whites
22g cocoa powder
Bring the egg whites to room temperature before starting.
Combine the almond flour, powdered sugar, whole eggs and egg yolks and whisk them in a stand mixer with a whip attachment until it thickens and lightens to the ribbon stage.
Whisk the egg whites with half of the sugar in a stand mixer with a whip attachment. Whisk on medium speed until the egg whites completely foam with no clear albumen showing.
Add the second half of the sugar and increase the whisking speed to high, whipping until the meringue is stiff.
Fold the meringue into the whipped egg mixture.
Add the sifted pastry flour and cocoa powder and fold into the batter until incorporated.
Add 600g of batter per half sheet pan, keeping in mind the recipe makes more than that to account for some product loss. I like to bake on a non-stick baking mat but if you want to use parchment paper, just be sure to seal the paper to the sheet pan with pan spray or a thin layer of butter.
Bake the joconde at 375F/190C for 7min.
100g whole eggs
40g egg yolks
10g glucose corn syrup
500g butter unsalted
Bring the butter to room temperature before getting started.
Combine the sugar, water and glucose and bring it to a boil in a saucepot, cooking the syrup to 244F/118C.
While the syrup is cooking, combine and whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks in a stand mixer on medium speed with a whip attachment.
When the syrup reaches temperature, pour it over the egg mixture on high speed. Be careful not to pour the syrup over the spinning whip attachment or it will fling the sugar everywhere but the eggs. If your pot has a lip on it, hook it onto the lip of the mixing bowl and pour the hot sugar syrup down the inside of the mixing bowl.
After adding all of the sugar syrup, continue to whisk on high speed for 30 seconds and then reduce the whipping speed to medium.
Let the mixture whip until it cools to just above room temperature and thickens.
Add the butter to the mixture until it is fully incorporated.
210g chocolate 58%
105g chocolate 41%
78g glucose corn syrup
315g heavy cream
112g butter unsalted
Combine the glucose and heavy cream in a sauce pot and bring it to a simmer.
Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolates, giving the holding vessel a little shake to allow the cream to cover the chocolate.
Let sit for 2min. and whisk or hand blend until emulsified.
Add the butter and salt and whisk or hand blend again until emulsified.
As always, my favorite way to quickly cool ganache is to place plastic wrap onto a sheet pan and then pour and spread the ganache over the plastic wrap. Add a second piece of plastic wrap on top of the ganache, touching the surface to keep it from drying out and forming a skin. The increased surface area will allow the ganache to cool quickly in the fridge. It took just 5-8min. in there for me to use the ganache for the Yule log!
161g glucose corn syrup
112g sweetened condensed milk
14g gelatin 160 bloom
94g chocolate 85%
10g cocoa powder
Hydrate the gelatin in cold water and reserve.
Combine the sugar, water, glucose and sweetened condensed milk and bring to a boil.
Cook the syrup to 221F/105C.
Squeeze out excess water from the hydrated gelatin and add it with the chocolate and cocoa powder to the syrup.
Whisk or hand blend until homogenized.
Before getting started you will need a piece of acetate or parchment paper, and an offset spatula. If you have both acetate and a sheet of plexiglass, seal the acetate to the plexiglass using a small amount of water and a dough scraper as a squeegee to create a seal.
Temper your chocolate (here’s a reminder on that process).
Spread a thin, even layer of chocolate over the acetate/parchment.
Let the chocolate start to set up, become thicker in viscosity and using the tip of your offset, create an uneven texture to imitate the texture of bark.
If you’re using acetate/plexiglass, let the chocolate set before using. If you’re using parchment paper or acetate without plexiglass, let the chocolate set until the surface is mat instead of glossy, then place a second piece of parchment paper over the chocolate follow by an even weight. A few flat sheet pans or a large coffee table book works well. This will prevent the chocolate from curling while it sets and contracts. If you’d like the chocolate to curl, don’t do a damn thing, which is precisely what I did.
To make chocolate buttercream, combine the buttercream with the chocolate ganache in a 2:1 ratio of buttercream:ganache. Taste it and tell me that isn’t some tasty-ass chocolate buttercream!
Remove the baked joconde from the non-stick baking mat and clean the edges with a knife. Place the joconde on parchment paper. Make sure the crust of the joconde is either gently rubbed off or facing up, or it will stick to the parchment paper and make rolling difficult.
Spread a thin layer of ganache (I used 150g) over the joconde.
Cover the layer of ganache with a thin layer of chocolate buttercream (200g).
Begin to roll the joconde, making sure the initial curl of the cake is tight. Just like when we made cinnamon rolls! If the cake cracks or rips during this tight roll, don’t worry! It will still taste ah-maz-ing.
Continue to roll the joconde up, keeping the roll nice and tight.
Now roll the plastic wrap around the roll, and tighten by twisting the plastic wrap on either end in opposite directions, like a hard candy wrapper.
Freeze the roll and unwrap.
Cover the roll with buttercream. I like to do this by piping is on in an even layer, which is quick and efficient. Then, I remove the excess buttercream with an offset spatula, either to smooth it or add a texture. Chef’s choice!
Place the frosted log back in the freezer for a minimum of 20min.
Prepare your chocolate glaze by warming it to 84F/29C. Create a glazing rack by covering a sheet pan with plastic wrap and placing a glazing/cooling rack on top.
Place the frozen roll onto the glazing rack and glaze with the chocolate glaze. I pour in a high stream to eliminate air bubbles. Pour the glaze down the center of the log in an even stream and pace from one end to the other in one pass. Don’t be afraid to be generous with the glaze, you’ll catch excess on the plastic wrap to use again if you’d like. Place the set up in the fridge for 10min. to allow the glaze to set.
Trim the ends of the Buche de Noel and transfer it from the glazing rack to a serving platter.
Decorate with chocolate bark and anything else you heart desires to make your Buche de Noel special!