Easy Recipe for Bûche de Noël—You Can't Go Wrong!

Log with Figurines

Although meringue mushrooms are classic on a Bûche de Nöel, I admit to skipping that step and simply decorating it with little figurines. Photo by shok via Flickr.

Here’s how to make a simple Büche de Noël, plus easy ways to decorate this classic French Christmas dessert.

I’m a huge fan of Bûche de Noël; in fact, I make it every year at Christmas. However, try as I might, I can’t get my nieces and nephews to call it Bûche de Noël. They won’t even call it a Christmas Yule Log.

Instead, they call it “Aunt Wini’s Giant Ho-Ho Cake.”

Sigh. But they do love it–and I love cooking it for them. It’s nice to have a specialty that they’ll look forward to year after year.

Why not try your hand at one this year? Those at your table will love you for it—and it might even become your own house specialty. I have an easy recipe, below.

But first, the answers to a few FAQs.

Q. What is Bûche de Noël?

This French cake roll is generally decorated to look like a log that’s just been pulled in from the forest. It’s meant to symbolize the warmth of the yule log that traditionally burned throughout the season.

Q. How do I make a Bûche de Noël?

For all its beauty and festive nature, it’s not that difficult to one pull off. Just be sure you keep these key tips in mind.

• Use the Right Pan: Don’t even try to do this in anything but the pan called for (a 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan, what used to be called a jelly-roll pan). If you use a 13×9-inch pan, you’ll be sunk: the cake will be too thick to roll. Really—don’t even try it.

• Grease the Pan Well: Or use parchment paper, lightly greased on the top.

• Roll the Cake While Warm: The minute the cake is done, get it out of the pan and roll it up. Let cool completely, then proceed with filling and decorating.Below is a never-fail recipe, which I’ve adapted from a Better Homes and Gardens book that I worked on a few years back. Yes, you can trust it! They test their recipes to perfection every time. And I’ve made this one dozens of times.
Q. Are there any simple ways to decorate a Bûche de Noël?

Meringue mushrooms are classic; a good recipe for these appear on about.com. However, I’ve discovered a few other ways to decorate a yule log that are much, much easier. A few ideas:

• Strawberry Santa Clauses. Check out the photo. Simply split a strawberry in half, fill with whipped cream, and decorate with little candies for the face. Photo by masatsu via Flickr.

Pretty darn cute! And easy, too. If you don't feel like making a chocolate ganache, just frost the thing with stiffly beaten whipped cream.

Pretty darn cute! And easy, too. If you don’t feel like making a chocolate ganache, just frost the thing with stiffly beaten whipped cream. Photo by masatsu via Flickr.

• Small Ornaments. Simply add a few ornaments to the finished log. (Just be sure the kids at your table don’t try to put them in their mouths!).

This is obviously from a fancy pastry shop, and no, my homemade ganache doesn't look like this. But I still like the macaron idea as stand-ins for the meringue mushrooms.

This is obviously from a fancy pastry shop, and no, my homemade ganache doesn’t look like this. But I still like the macaron idea as stand-ins for the meringue mushrooms. Photo by yuichi.sakuraba via flickr.

 

• Macarons! This is almost too easy: Simply stick a few purchased macaroons on top of the log for a whimsical way to simulate mushrooms. PS: I’ve found the macaroons at Trader Joe’s to be quite good for the price (Ladurée, please don’t hate me). (PS: See other French finds I love at Trader Joe’s.)
Easy Recipe for Bûche de Noël—You Can't Go Wrong!
Serves: 10 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Whipped Cream Filling (recipe follows)
  • Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
  • Meringue Mushrooms or other decorating ideas (see story, above)
Instructions
  1. Separate the eggs and allow them to come to room temperature (20 minutes). Line a 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan with lightly greased parchment paper or grease and flour the pan extremely well; set aside. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat egg yolks and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed or until thick, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the ⅓ cup granulated sugar, beating on high speed until sugar is almost dissolved.
  3. With thoroughly washed and dried beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the ½ cup granulated sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the egg yolk mixture. Sift the flour mixture over all, folding gently just until combined. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for until cake springs back when lightly touched, 12 to 15 minutes. Immediately loosen edges of cake from pan and turn cake out onto a kitchen towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove the parchment paper. Roll up towel and cake into a spiral, starting from one of the cakes short sides. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. When cake is cool, unroll; remove the towel and spread with Whipped Cream Filling. Re-roll cake; refrigerate up to 1 hour.
  6. About 30 minutes before serving, frost the cake with the Chocolate Glaze; refrigerate 30 minutes to allow glaze to set; if desired, use a serrated bread knife to make patterns in the glaze to resemble a tree log. Decorate with Meringue mushrooms and/or Christmas decorations, if you like.
  7. Whipped Cream Filling: Beat 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl until soft peaks form.
  8. Chocolate Glaze: Melt 2 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate and 1½ tablespoons butter over low heat. Remove from heat; beat in ¾ cup sifted powdered sugar and 1½ tablespoons hot water until smooth. If needed, add additional hot water, teaspoon by teaspoon, to reach drizzling consistency
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25% Discounts on New French Cookbooks by David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, et al.! Amazon's Sale Ends Today!

I was just on Amazon this morning, and I noticed they’re giving 25% off on any one book you order today.* So if you’ve been thinking about purchasing a released-this-year French cookbook for someone on your gift list, now would be a great time.

Here are three I recommend. Thanks for having a look.

2. My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz
I’ve said it before: David Lebovitz is The New York Times of French food blogging. This renowned cookbook author and former pastry chef (with over 3 decades restaurant experience) has lived in Paris for 10+years. This book showcases some of the best recipes he’s discovered and developed during his time there; there are classics, but also plenty of examples of how French cuisine is moving forward.

Still, amazing as the recipes are, what’s particularly striking are the photographs (you’ll be transported), plus the way he unveils all sides of Paris–the the beauty, the quirks, the frustrations—and, above all, the reasons that we love it so.

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, by David Lebovitz

 

 

2. Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

 

If you cook French at all, you probably already own a book or two from Dorie Greenspan. She often snaps up James Beard Awards, and for good reason: She’s obsessive about testing and perfecting recipes, and we all know how important that is when it comes to baking. Looking at this lovely tome, I’d put my money on her snagging the 2015 award as well. I have not yet cooked anything from the book, but I’m inspired especially by her recipe for Cannelés.

PS: They say that Eclairs are the new cupcakes….and I bet her recipe will be the only one you ever need.

Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, by Dorie Greenspan

 

 

 

3. Madeleines: Elegant French Tea Cakes to Bake and Share by Barbara Feldman Morse

Madeleines: Elegant French Tea Cakes to Bake and Share($14.50): It offers tons of creative ways to use that Madeleine mold that go beyond tea cakes. Sure, there are sweet options, like Tahitian Vanilla, Chai Tea, Browned Butter, Almond Macaroon, and of course, amazingly luscious chocolate. But what intrigues me most are the savory Madeleines, which are an inspiring way to beautify a soup or stew supper. These include Gruyère and Rosemary Madeleines, Buttery Cornbread Madeleines, Herbes de Provence Madeleines, and Brie-Stuffed Madeleine Puffs, among others.

It’s a brand-new, just-out-this-season book, and I’m really excited about it. PS: If you are in the market for a Madeline mold, the author of this book recommends nonstick molds. I found a great one on sale at Amazon: Bellemain 12-Cup Nonstick Madeleine Pan. As of this writing, it’s on sale for $8.95 (regular price: $19.95).

 

* Excludes Kindle eBooks and Audible Audiobooks. Restrictions apply. Use promo code BOOKDEAL25 at checkout to get an extra 25% off any book until the end of today, December 14, 2014.

Purchasing a book through one of my links will help support this site, without any added costs to you. If you’re looking for other great gifts for the food or France lover, check out my Holiday Gift Guide.

Thanks for your consideration.

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The On-Going List of My Top 10 Favorite Easy-to-Find Value Wines

A great sparklng wine for Kir Royals: Cristalino Brut (see #10)

A great sparklng wine for Kir Royals: Cristalino Brut (see #10). If you want to make a great, any-night Kir, go for choice #1.

I have been writing about wine for 10 years, and have tasted thousands of labels. What strikes me again and again is how many truly great wines there are out there in the value-to-moderate category. 

For the first time on this blog, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top-10 favorite wines in the under-$15 category. I’ll update this list periodically, bumping off a few now and then to make way for new finds. Feel free to share your own favorite value wines in the comment section, below.

PS: Rather than just listing the wines with prices and tasting notes, I’ve decided to also offer a bit of context for each. After all, there are plenty of good value wines out there–each of these is good for a very specific reason. Also note that I’ve limited my selection to easy-to-find bottles. Sure, we all have plenty of great finds in super-small US distribution, but what good is it if you can’t find them? These are all in US distribution of at least 5,000 cases (60K bottles).

1. The Best Wine for Making Kirs: Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc (California; $7)

A kir—that quintessential French white wine/crème de cassis concoction—is how I kick off just about every night I dine at home, so let’s start with it here. Although the authentic kir from Burgundy is made with Aligoté wine, there’s no reason to seek out this rarity; in fact, outside of Burgundy, most French people will use an inexpensive local white wine to make this nationally adored apéritif.

Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc is perfect–it’s a bright, fresh style of Sauvignon Blanc that has very little oak influence, allowing the fruity astringency of the Crème de Cassis to really come through. And you can generally find it for around $7 a bottle; for a while this season, my local supermarket was selling it for $5 a bottle. I wish I had bought a couple cases.

PS: I make my kir with a couple teaspoons of Crème de Cassis and about 4 ounces dry white wine. It’s meant to be a small drink; I find it the quintessential French way of shrugging off the cares of the workday, reconnecting with Mr. Sportcoat, and easing into the evening.

2. A Fabulous European Red Table Wine: Centine Rosso (Toscana; $11)

I wrote about Centine Rosso a few years ago in Ultimate Italian magazine.  It remains a great any-night red if you love Italian wine.

I wrote about Centine Rosso a few years ago in Ultimate Italian magazine. It remains a great any-night red if you love Italian wine.

Historically, Toscana (Tuscany) is the land of Chianti—red wines anchored by the Sangiovese grape and produced within the Chianti wine-growing region. However, in recent decades, Tuscan winemakers have turned heads by prominently featuring other grape varieties in their wines.

Some of these newfangled Tuscan wines can soar in price, but this little gem, crafted from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, is a phenomenally good value. I love the way it hovers between old/new world appeal, combining Sangiovese’s hallmark food-friendly brightness with the approachably fruity appeal of Merlot and Cab.

Tormaresca3. Another great European Red Table Wine: Tormaresca Primitivo 2012 (Puglia, Italy; $14):

This Primitivo just launched in the U.S., and the PR materials made much of its fruit-forward “modern” style and Primtivo’s shared heritage with Zinfandel. And yet, I would never mistake this for rich, ripe California red. And that’s just fine with me. Certainly, there’s some cherry-berry fruit going on here, but it’s the unmistakably crisp, brightly acidic finish that makes me want to keep this on the dinner table and serve it with roast meats and pasta.

4. A Shockingly Good Any-Night Merlot: Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2012 (Columbia Valley, Washington; $12)

This fabulously priced red is approachable without being ridiculously fruity (a peril with some inexpensive US Merlots). Yes, in addition to dark fruits you seek in a Merlot, you’ll find zip and structure in this bottle. It’s a great go-to weeknight wine.

Need a further nudge? Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines have given this inexpensive bottle their hearty thumbs up, listing it in their Best Buy/Best Value categories this season.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling5. The World’s Best $10 Riesling: Chateau Ste. Michelle (Columbia Valley, Washington; $10) 

Nothing tires me more than people who roll their eyes at Riesling and deem it “sweet.” But I have no time for Rieslings that are made into super-dry styles, either—in some cases, you might as well be drinking Sauvignon Blanc.

I’m biased: If it’s Riesling, I want some fruit—and this one’s got fruit in that classy Riesling way: It’s not exactly sweet, but phantomly sweet, with aromas of peach and pear. It’s not exactly dry, but has those refreshing tangy/acidic qualities that are more about fragrant limes than puckery lemons.

Note that while Chateau Ste Michelle makes a “Sweet Riesling” and a “Dry Riesling,” the one I’m recommending here is simply labeled  “Riesling”—at the perfect midpoint between the two and exactly they way I love my Riesling.

6. An Inexpensive Cab You Can Be Proud to Pour: Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Columbia Valley Washington, $14)

Cab lovers who enjoy the quintessential Cab characteristics of firm tannins, cassis flavors, and vague cedar notes will enjoy this casual, weeknight pick. As a bonus (for me, anyway), the alcohol content is listed at 13.5%–that’s just a titch lower than many New World Cabs, but in my experience, it can make all the difference between a gentle lift and a hit-you-over-the-head thud.

I’m looking forward to serving this one all winter long with my favorite braising recipes.

7. The Infinitely Drinkable Red Party Wine: Casillero del Diablo Carmenere Casillero del Diablo Carmenere2012 (Central Valley, Chile; $10) 

I’m almost embarrassed to put this on the list, because it seems kind of passé. After all, 10 years ago everyone discovered Chilean Carmenere, and this particular label became as inevitable on the party table as a bowl of hummus. But after a few years, it fell out of favor and pretty much went away (at least from parties I frequented).

However, I recently tasted the 2012 vintage, and I thought: Yes—I remember why everyone always liked this: It’s fruity and approachable without being boring, thanks to plenty of spice and a little bit of structural oomph. While its head-turning days may be over, it remains a great value.

8. A White with Personality: Snoqualmie Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley, Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.42.35 AMWashington, 2012 ($12)

Sometimes, you want a wine with personality. This one has that, without being a ham about it. I love its lightly fragrant spices, the lychee and the sweet citrus notes, and the plush texture. I’ll admit this wine is not for everyone, but for $12, give it a try. Pour it with a spicy Indian curry or Pad Thai. And then thank me.

9. Simply a Great, All-Purpose, Never-Let-You-Down White: McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio California ($9)

On the other hand, when you seek a wine with a get-along/go-along spirit, here’s a great pick. That’s not to say that this wine is a wallflower, but with its crisp, tangy appeal and long fruit finish (I got pear in the mix), this one’s going to go with a lot of foods. It’s a great party wine that should delight many and offend no one.

PS: It’s also favorite with wine critics—the 2013 vintage took home a gold medal in Los Angeles Wine & Spirits Competition.

Cristalino Brut10. The “You Can Feel Good About Serving This Inexpensive Bubbly” Pick: Cristalino Brut Cava (Spain; $10)

This crisp, dry, and incredibly drinkable cava costs a mere ten-spot. Frankly, it’s not the type of wine you’re going to furrow your brows over while detecting subtle brioche notes, but for the price, its surprisingly chic.  Another thing I used to love about this: The classy label belies its inexpensive origins. Sadly, most of my friends are by now hip to this.

PS: I love making Kir Royals out of this wine.

I showed you mine–now will you show me yours? I’d love to hear about your favorite inexpensive, easy-to-find wines. Comment below, or on my facebook page.

Please note that I often receive samples from wineries free of charge for tasting/review purposes. However, all opinions are my own. See this page for further disclosures.

 

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