to those who do not quite know what a buche de noel is, but might hear the words thrown around quite a bit around the holidays, i have been explaining that this is a dessert that has in the past been known to be a home cook’s magnum opus. so far as i am aware, a buche de noel, or yule log, is just as it seems and sounds: a yule log simply made of edibles created by the french to celebrate christmas. traditionally, the cake is chocolate and the filling is made of whipped cream. the top and sides are then decorated with powdered sugar to simulate snow. candies made from almond paste in the shape of woodland objects lay atop and around the buche de noel for visual effect and also to munch on sneakily.
i want to get back to the magnum opus part briefly. in the early days of my baking (like 5 years ago), i imagined this as being something i wouldn’t ponder to tackle. i have not had much interest in christmas cakes in the past, and am of the school that pies are for holidays and cakes are for birthdays. aside from that, this cake has been whispered to cause great grief and frusteration due to its being “complicated” and “labor intensive”. i stress to impress when making desert, so the stress from this cake was not one i tended to desire. this year, i stepped outside of the box. “a buche de noel?” i laughed… “i can do that. and a turkey. yeah, i’ll make BOTH things i have never made before and tend not to care much for”… why did i say that? what was i thinking? 2 years ago, i would have left well enough alone and let the magnum opus pass me by. i guess all of the baking i have been doing since then has been great practice for me and the buche de noel.
now i need a new magnum opus.
this was not as difficult to tackle as i had thought it would be. poor timing on my part? yes. i should have gotten up an hour (or 2) earlier that day to throw it all together. the pieces getting done one day at a time, however, was brilliantly planned.
i made the almond paste acorns and mushrooms on a thursday, i made the sponge on friday, the filling and swiss meringue on saturday, and put it all together that same saturday.
my only wish for this cake was that it wouldn’t be so darned fudgy. it was super tasty, but all too rich. my challenge really lied in a few dietary factors pressed from myself and 2 others. these were the following limitations:
*the cake could in no way contain dairy, which limited my options for a cream or mousse filling.
*the cake could, however, contain eggs.
*the cake had to be vegetarian, limiting my options on gelatin, which would have come in handy for the filling.
*the cake could have no grains.
i chose a chocolate flourless sponge base, peppermint whipped ganache filling, and marshmallow swiss meringue icing. i knew this particular cake would be very candy like. that’s ok. we each ate half a slice or so and called it a meal. it was super tasty, but next time i hope to be a little less limited in what to use as a filling.
i stole the cake recipe from carol at simply gluten free. she is up to some pretty tasty stuff, so be sure to stop by her blog.
though, needless to say, the cake turned out pretty good lookin’, if i may say so myself. i decided, after much (MUCH) deliberation, to fire the meringue. i was a little scared that i would ruin the cake somehow with this final step, but it was what made the cake. -no pun intended. the only thing i can think of that i could have done to make this cake look better would be coating some fresh cranberries in sugar to give a fruity pink sparkle to the display. i recommend making the buche de noel and assembling it as i listed above. a 3 day process. make the candy one day, the sponge base another, then filling and meringue icing. you just have to respect that some things take a few days to put together.
also, i decided to sprinkle coconut around the cake to further simulate an outdoor experience. i think coconut is beautiful.
almond paste mushrooms and acorns
1 roll almond paste
1/4 cup chocolate chips
3 tbsp coconut oil
smallish paint brush
*please note that the more you handle almond paste, the more oils will get extracted from it, making it very dry and crumbly to work with.
working quickly and without handling too much, shape almond paste into desired forest objects. acorns and mushrooms are what i made, but walnuts, buckeyes, and anything else that strikes your fancy works. i made the mushrooms in 2 separate pieces, smooshing them together when i was satisfied with their indivdual shapes. set on a wire rack to stiffen up a little bit before decorating.
using double boiler method or whichever you are most comfortable with, melt chocolate.
to paint the gills of the mushrooms and top hats on the acorns, i simply painted them with half of the melted chocolate and let cool completely on the rack before i painted the rest of the object with the lighter brown.
to make the lighter brown color for the body of the acorns, i threw the coconut oil into the melted chocolate to thin out the color. stir stir stir. gently paint desired areas with this concoction. careful not to touch the previously painted parts, or they will get melty and drippy.
again, set aside to cool, best for a few days while you continue your cake journey.
chocolate cake sponge base:
8 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
preheat oven to 350f. grease a jellyroll pan, mine is 13″x15″, and stick parchment to the bottom.
beat the crap out of the egg whites, until soft peaks form.
separately, beat yolks with sugar until they are pale and pasty. be sure sugar is dissolved before you continue to the next step.
put cocoa powder into yolk and sugar, combine well.
take a big spoon of whites and carefully fold with the yolk mixture until slightly marbled. finish up with the remaining egg whites and yolks until mostly combined, without deflating the whites.
spread onto prepped sheet and bake on middle rack for 20 minutes, or until set.
let cool for a few hours on sheet. once cooled, you may place another piece of parchment over the top of the cake and gently roll it into a log. let it sit like this for a day or so.
for the filling, i recommend using a cream cheese icing recipe and subtracting some of the sugar content from the ingredients, or using a chocolate mousse. as i said, i used a whipped ganache recipe and added a few drops of peppermint extract, but this rendered a fudge like cake.
spread filling over cooled cake and gently roll it back up. slice (on the diagonal) a bit off and stick it up against the side of the cake for a more “log” appearance. time for the topping!
*this recipe makes enough for a big load of meringue cookies as well as icing for the cake. you may halve it if you feel you need to, but little crisp cookies are so fun.
1 cup water
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 egg whites (room temp)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 extra tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
method: combine water and sugar in large pot over medium heat. brush sides of the pot down occasionally as the sugar will bubble up and stick. the mixture will slightly darken and bubble. the temperature must reach 275f at some point, so this may take a little time. meanwhile, prep the egg whites.
beat egg whites, 2 tbsp sugar, and cream of tartar in big mixing bowl. i like to use my kitchen aid bowl and hand mixer for this. beat until soft peaks form.
once heated sugar is at 275, in a slow and steady stream, add to egg whites continuing to beat.
add vanilla and beat for 3 minutes or so more.
frost cake immediately. you will probably only use half the mixture. use spatula to make “bark” with soft strokes. the frosting will stiffen a little bit pretty quickly, so move briskly. (make treats with the rest of the meringue. i like to follow the baking directions given here.)
using kitchen torch, fire the meringue carefully. you want to brown it, not blacken it. use the texture of “bark” you made with spatula. set almond paste candies around cake and serve.