A holiday classic: bûche de Noël.

buche-de-noel

From chestnuts roasting on an open fire to dreaming by the fire in a winter wonderland, the holiday season is filled with references to crackling warm fires and the comfort that they bring to young and old alike. So, how did the traditional (and necessary!) fires of winter come to be represented by a cake? Let’s find out…

Long ago, the winter solstice was celebrated with bonfires honoring the god Thor and reminding the people that the sun and warmth were again on the way, even during the darkest hours of winter. The tradition was carried on in private homes with the burning of the Yule log, often a piece of the family’s Christmas tree. The log was intended to burn all night from December 24th on into the 25th, and the ashes were often saved for the year and used in medicines and poultices.

As the populations in Europe grew and smaller homes were built without fireplaces, the French began to replace the real log with roulades of cake and icing, decorated with “mushrooms” of meringue and “pine cones” of sugar work. You have to love the French. Not many people will look at something as common as a log, and think “I can make that into dessert!”

I first learned of bûche de Noël as a high school sophomore in French class. It was an assignment to make a traditional French dish for the class potluck. Now a buche is basically a sponge cake with a creamy filling, and sponge cakes call for beaten egg whites in the batter.

Back in those days at my mother’s house there was no stand mixer so whipping the egg whites involved standing with a bowl of whites and a hand mixer for at least 10 minutes. The recipe I had then called for a full dozen egg whites and plenty of sugar, plus a pint of heavy cream for the filling. It’s a good thing we only made it once a year; it was a big investment in ingredients for our small household.

Outside of that recipe, I had never seen another bûche de Noël in person. I used to see one in a cheese catalog we got every holiday season, I think it had a chocolate raccoon on it but we never ordered one. The next bûche I saw in person was here at King Arthur in our bakery case. We still make them every year here, lovely chocolate-y logs with marzipan snowmen in their merry red caps. Check out the “army” ready to do their duty this season.  An attack of cuteness!

marz-snowmen-300x225.jpg

Each year, the test kitchen team likes to offer a cake recipe for the holiday. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday in the family, or a birth event in your religion, a cake is always welcome.  Let’s get started on this unique cake, the bûche de Noël.

 

img_0664-2.JPG

Line a half sheet baking pan with parchment and spritz with cooking spray. Be sure to get the edges and corners.

img_0665.JPG

Separate the eggs. Keep the yolks in a small bowl, and place the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
img_0669.JPG

Beat the whites until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually and continue to beat to stiff peaks. Place the whites in a clean bowl, and set aside.

img_0670.JPG

In the same mixing bowl, blend the egg yolks, oil, milk, and sugar until well combined and lightened.

img_0671.JPG

The mixture will be pale yellow, lemony in color. Add the dry ingredients and blend for another minute until well incorporated.

img_0167.JPG

Take about 1/3 of the whipped whites and add to the batter. Don’t worry about folding gently at this point. This first addition of whites is just mixed in to lighten the batter so it accepts the folded whites more easily.

img_0175.JPG
Add another 1/3 of the whites and fold them into the batter gently. A wide spatula is your best tool here. To fold, cut down through the center of the whites to the bottom of the bowl and lift, turning the spatula over as you come back to the surface of the batter. Give the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat until only the barest traces of whites show in the batter.

Add the last of the whites and fold in again.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 325°F for 15-18 minutes.

img_0682.JPG

The cake is done when it is golden brown and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan slightly. Use the parchment paper to help remove the cake from the pan.

img_0684.JPG

Trim the crusts off of the 4 sides of the cake. I served these as “cake snakes” for the test kitchen crew to munch on.

img_0685.JPG

Invert the cake and peel the parchment off gently.

img_0694.JPG

Using a large clean kitchen towel or two, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar and roll the cake up, as if the towels were the filling. Go slowly to avoid cracking the roll. If it does crack, don’t sweat it. You can always fill the cracks with icing!  Cool the cake in the rolled shape about 20-30 minutes.

img_0696.JPG

After the cake has cooled, unroll it and brush generously with simple syrup, flavored syrup or even liquor. I used hazelnut flavors throughout this particular cake, but you can use flavors that you like, such as almond, or orange.

img_0690.JPG

For the filling, which you can make while the cake bakes, we’re making ganache. Heat the cream to boiling, and add the chocolate. Stir until well melted. I chose Merckens bittersweet buttons for this ganache, but you can use your favorite dark or milk chocolate. It even works with chocolate chips!
img_0699.JPG

Cool the ganache until it’s lukewarm and slightly thickened. Pour this into the bowl of your stand mixer.

img_0700.JPG

Using the whisk attachment, beat the ganache until it’s light and fluffy, like cake icing.

img_0701.JPG

Spread the whipped ganache on the cooled cake. A large offset spatula is “da bomb” here.

img_0825.JPG

Gently roll the cake back up, filling snuggled inside. This earlier version used about half as much ganache, so if you like a thinner filling, go for it.  Chill the cake for 20-30 minutes to firm up.

img_0882.JPG

To ice the outside of the cake, melt 8 ounces of white chocolate over low and slow heat, preferably in a double boiler, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.

img_0886.JPG

Spread a thin layer of the white chocolate on the cake. It will set quickly on the cooled cake. Let this layer firm completely, then coat the entire cake with a second layer of white chocolate.

img_0890.JPG

As the second layer of chocolate sets up, you can use a butter knife to make wide bark, or a fork’s tines to make thinner bark lines on your bûche.

For the decorative elements on this cake, I’ve used sugared cranberries and sugared fresh bay leaves. Here’s how:

img_0872.JPG

With a fork, lightly beat one egg white in a small bowl.

img_0873.JPG

Add your washed and dried fresh cranberries and coat well with the whites. Pick up a berry and wipe off any excess whites, leaving a thin coating.

img_0876.JPG

Place the berries one at a time into a small bowl of granulated sugar. Toss to coat well, and remove with a fork to avoid squishing the wet sugar. Set aside on parchment paper to dry.

img_0877.JPG

Oooh, pretty! Sparkly!

img_0880.JPG

For the leaves, I found these lovely FRESH bay leaves at a local store. and cheap too! Coat the leaves in the egg whites as you did the berries, wiping off the excess and sprinking with the sugar.

img_0881.JPG

A touch of frost, a sprinkle of sparkle. If you use different leaves, please be sure to check that they’re food-safe. I don’t think anyone is going to eat these bay leaves, but I do at least know they’re food-safe.

buche1_450w1.jpg

Gently transfer the cake to your serving tray. Dust with confectioners’ sugar for a snow-dusted look, or dust with cocoa for a more rustic look, as in the top photo. Arrange your sugared berries and leaves around the bûche. Your Yule log is now ready to grace the buffet table and bring joy to your family, friends and guests.

Joyeux Noël, Mele Kalikimaka, Feliz Navidad, and Happy Holidays!

Please bake and rate our recipe for bûche de Noel.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. kanmuri

    I personally heard a different story for the origin of the bûche. I heard that it was customary for neighbors to celebrate Christmas (or the solstice) together by giving each other a log to warm up their house during the longest night of the year. One family, really poor, had no decent piece of wood to give to its neighbor and decided to bake a cake in the shape of a log instead.

    Regardless of the origins, bûche de noël is my favourite holiday cake!
    What a lovely story about sharing and caring for neighbors. Let’s hope we can all remember this sentiment for the rest of the year. Happy Holidays to you! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. Jeanne

    Thank you for the recipe – its too bad I just bought one of these yesterday! Question for you – when you are rolling up the cake – which side do you roll up from? The long side?

    Love the recipes – thank you!

    Happy Holidays!
    Hi Jeanne,
    Great question! For this buche, you roll from the short side. The thinner the filling, the more “rounds” you will get. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. Katie

    Wow, this looks incredible! I actually am a high school sophomore taking french! So I may just have to make this! :)

    One question- Does the white chocolate harden to a point where it cracks when you try to cut a slice of the cake? I’ve seen other recipes where regular frosting is used, as opposed to the chocolate, for the exterior coating. Thanks!
    When you are serving this it will crack just a little as you make slices. I hope you do make this-it will be a fun project for you. Joan D@bakershotline

    Reply
  4. LINDA

    Ive been making buche de noel for about 25 years, it’s a tradional in my family for Christmas Eve. I fill mine with a chestnut puree and frost it with a mocha whipped cream. I then dedcorate it with meringue mushrooms. It’s not only pretty to look at but also just as delicious. In fact I’ll make my sponge cake today and will decorate it tomorrow morning. I’ll try to send a picture. Merry Christmas and thanks for a wonderful blog.
    Hi Linda, Thanks for sharing, your version sounds yummy. Please don’t hesitate to send pics, we love to see them.
    Happy Holidays! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Rosa

    So beautiful!

    Happy Holidays and all the best for 2010!

    Cheers,

    Rosa
    We thank you Rosa, and hope we’ll hear lots from you in the New Year. All the best! ~ The KAF crew

    Reply
  6. linda

    popping by to wish all my kaf friends a joyous & wonderful holiday!
    happy holidays to you & those you hold dear!
    All the best for a safe, happy and bakeful New Year! ~ The KAF crew

    Reply
  7. Sue

    Up until yesterday I was still undecided about what to make for Christmas dinner dessert. I was looking at recipes for buche de Noel. I’ve never made it before. Then I remembered how much I wanted that chocolate chunk pecan pie that was blogged about in November, and I settled on that. So, the groceries are purchased chocolate chunk pecan pie it is. Can we skip the entree?! haha!! Merry Christmas to all of the great folks at King Arthur Flour!
    Hi Sue,
    Well, there’s always New Year’s for your first buche. I think it’s a resolution, eh? Happy Holidays to you too ~ The KAF Crew

    Reply
  8. SoupAddict Karen

    I came thiiiiiis close to baking a yule log this year, but backed out. Now I wish I had. (Too late – I don’t even have Christmas dinner planned yet – eeek!) Love the snowmen!
    Now, SoupAddict, you know you’re going to have to make this soon. A big bowl of soup, some crusty bread and this for dessert? Who needs anything more? Happy Holidays! ~ The KAF crew

    Reply
  9. Kae

    Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all at KAF and all the blog readers out there! Love the blog, read it often, and have made many recipes with great success. Keep up the good work!
    Our very best wishes to you and yours as well Kae. Bravo to you for all of your hard work as well. Happy Holidays! ~ The KAF crew

    Reply
  10. JuliaJ

    I’ve always wondered about the “tradition” of rolling sponge cakes with a towel. Why not just use parchment paper (either the one you just peeled off the cake or a fresh sheet if the used one is too sticky)?
    Good question Julia. My best guess would be that bakers used the softest, cleanest thing they could get in their kitchens, and that would have been a tea towel. I have wrapped sponge cakes and roulades with parchment paper, and it works just fine. I grew up with the towel though, so tend to reach for it out of habit. Anyone else have any input? ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. Erie

    About the tea towel could it be that it absorbs steam from the cake while it is cooling. Rather than having it hitting the paper and nowhere to go?
    Good thinkin’, that could be a big part of it too. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. Mary

    Wow these look good. And such a detailed step-by-step recipe, too! Awesome!

    I am, however, wondering about the chocolate used in the ganache. I’ve been recommending a lot of chocolate-related holiday recipes lately while aiding the promotion for Godiva’s “Year of Godiva Giveaway” (the site is definitely worth looking at — sending free virtual gifts to friends could win you and a lucky amigo a year of chocolate) and even though in something like a bûche it probably won’t make a huge difference, the choice between dark and milk is always a crucial one. I’m big into the dark (Godiva has a great dark with raspberries that might add an interesting kick to the bûche), but what’s your go-to for this recipe?

    Mary, MaryJane might not be checking these comments at the moment – but as she said in the blog, she used Merckens bittersweet buttons. They’re a medium dark chocolate – not too bitter, not to sweet, a good all-around dark chocolate. PJH

    Thanks PJ, I can’t access this from home right now, but I’m back from my little holiday. :) Mary, PJ is right, the Merckens is a dark chocolate but not too bitter. I’m not a big fan of bitter, and this is just right to offset the sweetness of the cake and white chocolate. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. Margy

    Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Buon Natale to all; may it be joyful. My yule log is the reverse of yours: chocolate genoise, white chocolate whipped cream filling, and chocolate ganache outside. I also slice the ends of my log at an angle and prop them on the sides of the cake like branches before frosting the whole shebang, then use meringue mushrooms for decorating–the mushrooms are actually easy and fun to make.

    Reply
  14. jen

    to katie the high school sophomore:

    i have seen restaurants cut white chocolate covered yule logs using a serrated (bread) knife, dipped in a pitcher of hot water and wiped off with a towel between each slice–it came out perfectly! the hot knife helps to slightly melt the chocolate as it is sliced.

    Reply
  15. Jodi

    I make one of these every year, only I use regular cocoa in the batter so it is a mildly chocolate log and then fill it with mocha whipped cream and then dust the log lightly with powdered sugar. It is light in texture (but unfortunately not in fat grams) I use green and red cherries to decorate, but now I’m going to use the candied cranberries!!! I wondered how to make them, so thanks for showing us.

    Reply
  16. Nel

    I made one of these in high school, too. Not for my French class – forget them! For our family. Yum.

    I’ve never seen a white Buche de Noel before. I always assumed they were chocolate chiffon roll with chocolate cream filling and creamy chocolate icing and cocoa-dusted meringue mushrooms and little extra ‘branches’ from the cut off ends (like Margie’s). Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate… Maybe there’s a reason I never ‘saw’ a white Buche before, do you think?

    This explanation tickled me: “One family, really poor, had no decent piece of wood to give to its neighbor and decided to bake a cake in the shape of a log instead.’

    Gosh, I’d love to live in an economy where it’s more expensive to find a really good tree branch lying in the forest than to make a Buche de Noel with chocolate, chocolate, chocolate… Oh, there I go again.

    Reply
  17. Nel

    PS – I think Erie’s right. My old Betty Crocker cookbook says to roll up jelly rolls in a sugar-dusted tea towel to keep the cake from sticking to itself. I would imagine that rolling it up in something non-absorbent, like parchment or plastic wrap, would trap the steam and create a wet outer layer of cake that would then stick to the parchment.

    I always figure that back of the instructions in a recipe is someone else’s kitchen disaster – especially if pretty much every recipe you read for something says to do it the same way. If it works, I don’t second-guess Grandma’s method.

    Reply
  18. Sunny

    So where are the dancing bakers?

    You didn’t see us at the beginning and end? That’s dancing, test-kitchen style, complete with whisks and pie shields… :) PJH

    Reply
  19. Armida

    Dear friends at KAF:
    I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and a very, very happy New Year!
    Reading your website (and baking your great recipes) has certainly helped to lift up my spirits during a difficult year. It is clear that you all love your work. Thank you and keep being such a wonderful company,
    Armida

    Armida, here’s to a better 2010 for you – best wishes from all of us here. PJH

    Reply
  20. Ioana

    Wow, this looks delicious – I like the one with a lot of filling better. I’m wondering though, can I use Nutella instead of ganache? I realize the consistency is different, would it ooze out?

    Go for it, Ioana – I think it would fine. PJH

    Reply
  21. Tory

    Please keep doing what you do so well! It’s always great to see an email from you when I log-in… a friendly time-out in these ever more hectic days. Whether I pull recipes from the blog or your books, I’m getting better with the whole grains (my goal). Thanks for making it a pleasure along the way!
    Have a warm and wonderful Christmas… and a splendid New Year!

    And cheers to you, too, Tory – may your whole grains inspire whole grins! PJH

    Reply
  22. Elizabeth

    will a jelly roll pan work?

    Simple syrup – one water to two sugar?

    Merry Christmas… love the vid… so good to see you all…
    A jelly roll pan may take longer to bake. Start checking for doneness at 15 minutes but be prepared to bake it longer. Yes, a simple syrup recipe is 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  23. Katherine Einhorn

    I make a pumpkin roll at Thanksgiving that is made a lot like the Buche de Noel. Since my family dosen’t much care for white chocolate what would you recommend instead? Maybe a cream cheese frosting? Have a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
    Use your favorite frosting in this festive cake! Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  24. Greg

    any chance you guys could post a larger version of that marzipan snow man army? that would make a great desktop wallpaper :D

    Merry Christmas King Arthur Flour and friends!
    I’ll pass it along to the web team, having NO idea how to do this by myself! :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  25. Serge Lescouarnec

    Have not made one of these in a while, will make a Buche with Butter Cream and Chocolate for tomorrow.

    Mentioned your recipe and borrowed your illustration for my Christmas Wishes on Serge the Concierge (it will appear in the wee wee hours on Friday).

    Joyeux Noel

    Serge
    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’

    Thanks, French Guy – love your blog! PJH

    Reply
  26. Phil

    I’ve been making Yule Logs for years(OK I’ve made 3-LOL)…But never with what I’d consider “great” successs…I too use a ligher chocolate filling(I’ve considered Nutella for my next one-thoughts?)and a Ganache for the “bark”…I’ve also aways cut off one end at an angle to create a sawn off branch look(leaving the “wounded” part exposed also to see the “growth rings”)…Never have liked um “critters” as part of the decoration-but that’s me-what I do like are the more(in my mind)traditional merangue(sp?) “mushrooms”…But I’ve never been able to master the Italian merangue, needed to make them-every time I start drizzling the hot simple syrup into the egg whites-they curdle-and I do use a light hand…Any advice?…

    Thanks and Merry Christmas

    Phil

    P.S. Loved the dancing bakers…

    Phil, not sure – but I’ve made this type of meringue with good success. Read our recipe for 7-minute icing – see if it’s similar to yours. And Merry Christmas to you, too – PJH

    HI Phil,
    You may want to look into using meringue powder as the base for your mushrooms. Sooooo much easier, no hot syrup, and they bake up beautifully. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  27. Guy

    I too had the assignment of making a Buche de Noel for French Class
    (many years ago). My mom graciously made one for me from the recipie my teacher provided. Our teacher had one boy and one girl bring a buche to class, each with a bean baked inside, so the boy and girl who got that slice would be the king and queen of the Christmas party. Similar to the King cake at Marty Gras.
    As the buche was resting with it’s filling inside, our dog Hilde managed to stretch up high enough to get her head level with the cake and ate half of it! Needless to say, my mom wasn’t pleased. She did make a second buche, which turned out wonderfully. She even added a knotted branch on one end.
    Oh, yes we have our share of dog vs. cake stories here @ KAF. :). I’ve never heard of the bean in the cake before, but that’s a nice tradition. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  28. Dulce

    Hi everyone, Merry Christmas to all. This was the first cake, if it could be called like that. A friend of my mother tought how to do it. It sure was easy, eventhough sometimes it craks when I sliced. Thanks for this version.

    Reply
  29. Tammy

    Hi everyone,
    In reply to the person who asked about using towels with the cake roll. I have made pumpkin rolls with cream cheese filling for more than twenty years at the holiday season. I started out using powdered sugar dusted towels since the original recipe instructions called for that. However, I have found in the years since, that using a very high quality of paper towel works better for me if I am going to refrigerate the roll for just long enough to cool it and fill it. The cake does not stick to the paper towel as badly as to a cloth towel and I can just throw it away as opposed to having to wash a towel and try to get oil out of it.The paper towel is porous enough to let the heat escape and yet still hold the cake in a roll shape. This works for me!

    Terrific tip, thanks for sharing. I’ll have to give it a try soon. I keep the “best” paper towels for my studio, and use “good” paper towels in the kitchen. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  30. Susan W

    I have made buche de noel for years . . . but mine was generally chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate frosting. Once or twice, I may have made a yellow cake with chocolate filling.

    I always rolled in a tea towel and, most years, the cake cracked when I unrolled it.

    This year, I considered making the cake with chestnut flour, filling with chestnut cream and frosting with chocolate but I invented a pear and ginger cheesecake and had a longing for using Belle de Brillet (a pear infused cognac from France) in the cake as well as serving it on the side.

    The chocolate and whipped cream recipe was the first I had seen and probably reminded me of the cakes made by Sanders Bakery, Detroit, MI: chocolate layers, filled and frosted with chocolate but with ‘fingers’ of whipped cream on top.

    My mother always made chocolate pecan pie for Christmas. She made it only once a year because it was expensive to make . . . hers was filled with lots of pecans.

    Reply
  31. Kattrinka

    Regarding cooling in the tea towel, Nick Malgieri “How to Bake” recommends cooling the cake flat, which I did and it was fine. It did crack, however, though the frosting will cover it anyway. I made white chocolate ganache frosting which was superb! I wish I could post a picture, it was very beautiful…..w/the meringue mushrooms!

    Reply
  32. Kattrinka

    MaryJane….how would I go about posting a picture? and in regards to which way to roll this Buche….it’s along the LONG end….that way you have enough to cut off and adhere for a ‘branch’…..PHIL: I also put a layer of nutella on under the layer of chocolate ganache, the flavor was negligible tho, the chocolate overpowered it. Next year I may try just the nutella…..it will not ooze. Also the meringue ‘mushrooms’ were simple; as per Madeleine Kamman ‘The Making of a Cook’ on a buttered/floured sheet; pipe buttons and columns made with: 1+1/3C 10X, 2 large egg whites, pinch salt, 1/2TB vanilla: put ingredients into a stainless or copper bowl, beat until the sugar begins to dissolve. Put over simmering water and continue beating to a stiff peak. Bake @ 100 deg for 2-3 hours. With a sharp knife carve a small hole in caps,use frosting or butter to adhere the stem.

    To add a photo, after you log in you’ll see the “Quick Add” section on the left margin. Us the “Add Photo” link from there. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  33. chinchillalover

    I wanna make the gluten free yule log cake for my celiac brother,but i don’t have a jelly roll pan.

    If you have a 9 x 13-inch pan, you can get close; line it with parchment paper and clip it to the edges of the pan; use 1/2 cup less of the batter than the recipe makes (you can make a quick cupcake), or use all of the batter and have a thicker layer. Susan

    Reply
  34. natetowne

    I’m very interested in making this cake, but am concerned it might not be moist enough. I made a pumpkin spice roulade for Thanksgiving using a Chobani recipe and it came out wonderfully moist and was super easy to roll w/out cracking it inspired me to give the Buche de Noel a try. Your cake looks a tad bit dry, but I have high hopes!

    Reply
  35. Sam

    I have to make one of these for french class and i was wondering how many servings does this recipie make.

    Fond classroom memories can be created with a sample or nibble of cake (maybe cutting the cake into slices, then cut the slices in half so more people can sample the holiday treat rather than pig out on a big slab of cake). The magic of this cake is the presentation in a log shape that uses “genoise” as the cake. It’s a rich cake, and we’re sure your classmates will enjoy this holiday treat. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  36. LittleLenny

    Can this cake be frozen with the Ganache filling? and if so for how long. Going to add a flavoring of Swiss mocha.
    Yes, it sure may. Just be sure to wrap it very well with saran wrap and then placed into a zip lock freezer bag. You may freeze for up to 4 weeks. Elisabeth

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *