A Cake Just for Christmas – Buche de Noel – Yule log

Yule LogThe rich yet delicate bûche de Noël (Yule log) is one of those desserts that make a frequent appearance around Christmas, and it is most popular in France and in places that bear French influence. The bûche de Noël consists of a sponge cake rolled to look like a log and iced with chocolate buttercream or ganache.

Most Yule logs will be presented so that they look like tree limbs that have been chopped off, and some bakers will even cut off a portion of the roll and arrange it to make it look as if the limb has a bit of a branch attached to it. Cake decorators take great pains to create a bark like effect on the log’s icing, and it is not unusual to see the cake garnished with white frosting or powdered sugar to resemble snow.

A Cake with History

In History’s The Delicious History of the Yule Log, Stephanie Butler informs her readers that the bûche de Noël traces its roots back to the Iron Age. She writes: “Back then, Celtic Brits and Gaelic Europeans would gather to welcome the winter solstice at December’s end. People would feast to celebrate the days finally becoming longer, signaling the end of the winter season.

“To cleanse the air of the previous year’s events and to usher in the spring, families would burn logs decorated with holly, pinecones or ivy. Wine and salt were also often used to anoint the logs. Once burned, the log’s ashes were valuable treasures said to have medicinal benefits and to guard against evil. Some groups claimed the ashes would protect the bearer from lightning—an important quality at a time when houses (and most of the contents in them) were made of wood.”

This custom was abandoned when Europe embraced Christianity, but by the 1600s, the bûche de Noël appeared in place of the actual log that the Celts burned. By the 19th century, it had become a very popular cake in Paris, and bakers started to create cakes with the most ornate decorations.

Modern Versions of the Yule Log

In Bûche de Noël  Martha Stewart shares her version of this dessert with her readers, saying, This fanciful “Yule log” is a classic French holiday dessert.” Her recipe calls for chocolate genoise, chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache icing.

A simpler version comes from Betty Crocker in Bûche de Noël with Buttercream Frosting. This requires making a sponge cake with three eggs, a cup of granulated sugar, 1/3 cup of water, ¾ cup all purpose flour, 1.4 teaspoon salt, a teaspoon each of vanilla favoring and baking powder.

To create this version of the Christmas log, you need to make a filling using a cup of whipping cream. Two tablespoons granulated sugar, a teaspoon of instant coffee. Of course, the dessert is not complete without the Chocolate buttercream frosting which uses two cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup each of unsweetened baking cocoa and softened butter, a teaspoon and a half of vanilla, and one or two tablespoons of warm  water.

Once the log is assembled and frosted, this Betty Crocker recipe recommends a few finishing touches. The instruction reads, For tree stump, cut off a 2-inch diagonal slice from one end of cake. Attach stump to one long side using 1 tablespoon frosting. Frost cake with remaining frosting. With tines of fork, make strokes in frosting to look like tree bark. Garnish with nuts.”

Today, fancy versions of this cake are available from bakeries everywhere, and more and more people are buying rather than baking a bûche de Noël in their own oven. You can get really elaborate or simple rolls Yule logs with no more than a sprinkling of nuts as décor. No matter what type of bûche de Noël you serve at your table, each bite of it will be more special knowing it is a cake that truly celebrates the season.

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