Posted on December 27 2011

Tartine Baking Project: #27 Bûche de Noël

I was completely excited to see this recipe in the cookbook when I started plotting what I wanted to make for special occasions.  Clearly, the bûche de Noël is a classic Christmas cake in France, which meant my mom wasn’t going to get a grocery-store bought birthday cake in the shape of Santa’s face or a fluorescent green Christmas tree.  The Christmas birthday girl was going to have a very fancy cake!  The first time I’d heard of such a cake was in high school french class, as I mentioned when I first shared the recipe on the blog.  For the longest time, I thought that it translated in English to mean something like “Christmas in your mouth.”  But, ‘bouche’ (not bûche!) is the French word for mouth.  Oh well.

This cake requires many components, and to ensure that I was not frantically spending 48 hours of the Christmas weekend in the kitchen, I prepared some of the components ahead of time.  Here comes the wrench in my plans – I forgot all the prepped components at our house.  We were literally pulling into my parents’ driveway as I screamed, “I forgot the cake stuff!”  It must have been exactly how Kevin’s parents felt when they were on the plane to France and realized they’d left him home alone.  Such a bummer.

So, I spent the great majority of Christmas Eve in the kitchen, insisting I was not stressed out.  Of course, I’d put off some shopping and had not wrapped a single present yet, so me telling everyone I wasn’t stressed was a means to convince myself.  After a day at the Henry Ford Museum with friends, we drove back home and all crashed.

The buttercream involved heating up egg whites and using a shot of espresso.  I’ve never had buttercream frosting like this.  The fluffiest, creamiest, most delectable cake filling I’ve ever encountered.  I will never make buttercream any other way.  I am excited to experiment with variations involving vanilla beans. 

The buttercream involved heating up egg whites and using a shot of espresso.  I’ve never had buttercream frosting like this.  The fluffiest, creamiest, most delectable cake filling I’ve ever encountered.  I will never make buttercream any other way.  I am excited to experiment with variations involving vanilla beans.

I’m going to sound like a bit of a broken record, but I’ve never made such a cake as this chiffon cake.  It’s an incredibly light cake, with egg whites folded into it.  I wasn’t concerned about spreading the cake perfectly even, as I thought it would sort of spread out when it was baking.  It wasn’t terribly askew, but when rolled up you can see that it’s not an even thickness.  And, I think my jelly roll pan was slightly too large…

The last time I baked meringue, it was for the almond rocher recipe.  We piped a lot of mushrooms, many of which were deformed, but we had a lot of meringue to work with.  I was having a rough time trying to pipe the stems for the mushrooms.  As any great mother would, my mom encouraged me with, “Piping this meringue stuff probably takes years of practice.”  Right then, Dan casually asked to have a try, and whipped up many perfect stems.  He insisted it was due to his Bachelor’s degree in ceramics.

I got Dan this pour-over coffee pot for Christmas.  Needing some strongly brewed coffee for the syrup that gets brushed on the cake, he jumped at the chance to use his new coffee toy.

The makings of the chocolate almond ganache, which makes the most realistic looking tree bark for our petit bûche.

Any realistic log needs a little moss. 


Once the cake was rolled up, it needed to set up in the fridge.  I let it spend some time in the frigid sun room, looking at real trees.  I liken it to sending Pinocchio off to watch the real boys play.  

Now that I’ve done this once, I’m completely confident that I could do this in half the time next year.  (And, I know what problems to fix – the buttercream/cake/coffee syrup ratio is a bit off.)  It’s a good thing my mom liked it, because I would hate to push this on her every year if she didn’t like it.  She loved it so much, she was excited to take the rest of it to share with her bowling league pals.  Success!

Putting this together at my parents’ house I was able to compile a list of things I am going to get my parents: a new sifter, a rectangular serving tray, and a rubber spatula. 

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