Lifestyle & Culture

The Holly and the Ivy and the Buche de Noel

December 22, 2014

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WE KNOW YOU HAVEN’T enough to do between, let’s say, 6 this morning and, uh, 0:00 hours on Christmas Day. So we have a suggestion. Make a bûche de Noël for the family!

It’s not quite as insane as it sounds, even if you’ve never made the traditional French Yule Log cake before.  Besides, the handsome one in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue,  is sold out.

Years ago, chef Michel Richard shared a simple recipe for this chocolate-robed treat with the Washington Post Food section. His simple method, he explained to food writer Stephanie Sedgwick, corrected what is probably the most vexing element of the confection–the cake itself, which has a tendency to crack as you roll it into the log shape. Less tricky things have driven more seasoned bakers to tears.

Richard turned the cake into a thin, very eggy sponge cake, just this side of rubbery–which won’t matter at all once you have soaked it in warm, sweetened espresso and glided a smooth coat of chocolate mousse over it.

Over the years, I’ve noticed, Richard has introduced different fillings and slightly different techniques. But this is the one I make (and photograph it every year to prove it) Buche2weband take to family and office gatherings. There are a few different operations, but they’re all very simple for anyone with a stand mixer and a few hours. Really.

And whatever goes wrong, cover it up with the chocolate ganache and meringue mushrooms (I’ve added Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe for those after Chef Richard’s recipe), sprinkles, confectioner’s sugar or, hell, eight tiny reindeer. And blame me, not Chef!

–Nancy McKeon

An interpretation of Michel Richard’s Bûche de Noël
12 or more servings

For the chocolate ganache:
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

For the sponge cake:
Nonstick spray
2 whole eggs, plus
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup minus 1 teaspoon cake flour

For the soaking syrup:
1/2 cup warm coffee
1 tablespoon sugar

For the chocolate mousse filling:
1-1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

For the decorations:
Meringue or marzipan mushrooms, marzipan holly leaves and berries

To make the chocolate ganache:
Break or cut the chocolate into small pieces. Bring the cream to a boil and remove from the heat. Add the pieces of chocolate a little at a time and stir with a wooden spoon until they’re melted. Whisk lightly to combine. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and set aside to cool

To make the sponge cake:
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a rimmed 11-by-16-inch baking pan (or something similar) with baking parchment. Spray the paper with nonstick spray oil. Set aside.

Combine the 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks and 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until the mixture is fluffy, light in color and falls in ribbons from the beaters, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

In a clean mixing bowl, whip the 2 egg whites on medium speed until foamy. While running the mixer, start adding the remaining sugar a little at a time, allowing the sugar to be incorporated before adding more. Beat until the mixture is shiny and makes stiff peaks.

Add the cake flour to the egg-yolk mixture all at once. Whisk gently until it is blended, then carefully fold in the egg whites until they are just combined–be careful not to over-combine.

Spread the batter across the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a sharp knife and invert onto a clean tea towel. Allow the cake to cool, then carefully peel the parchment paper from the cake. Transfer the cake again, bottom side up, to a clean sheet of baking parchment. Set aside.

To make the soaking syrup:
Combine the coffee, while hot, and the sugar, dissolving the sugar completely. Set aside.

To make the chocolate-mousse filling:
With a mixer, whip the heavy cream with the confectioner’s sugar for 1 minute. Add 1/2 of the room-temperature chocolate ganache and whip with the cream until the soft-peak stage.

To assemble the cake:
Brush the cake generously with the soaking syrup, then spread a thin layer of chocolate mousse over it. With one of the long sides facing you, roll the cake up away from you, like a jellyroll (or like a long log!). Trim the ends, then wrap the log in the parchment and refrigerate it for 3 to 4 hours or freeze it for 45 minutes.

To decorate the cake:
Slice an inch or two off one end of the log and place it atop the log; when frosted over, it will resemble a lopped-off branch. Mix the remaining ganache (if necessary) and, with a spatula, spread it over the entire log. (If you have refrigerated the ganache, you may have to warm it over a hot-water bath.)

When the ganache covers the log and has set a little, run the tines of a fork lightly over the surface to create a bark-like finish. To give the ends of the log and the “bump” on the log the suggestion of growth rings, dip a fork into leftover chocolate mousse and make light circles on the dark ganache on the ends. After decorating further (remember those meringue mushrooms–see below–and the eight tiny reindeer), you can refrigerate the log to make it easier to transfer it to a presentation platter.

Meringue Mushrooms
Makes 30 1-1/2-inch-diameter mushrooms

This recipe is from “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She suggests dusting the finished mushrooms with cocoa, to simulate dirt. This recipe makes far more meringue than you will need or want just to give your bûche de Noël a woodland feel; when you have enough mushrooms, consider piping the remaining egg-white mixture into rounds to serve separately.

2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil or parchment.

In a mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar and beat at medium speed while gradually adding 1 tablespoon of sugar. When soft peaks form, gradually beat in the remaining sugar until the mixture is very stiff and glossy.

Use a pastry bag, or clip off a tiny corner of one plastic sandwich bag and a slightly bigger corner off another. Fill one, then the other, with meringue mixture.

To form the mushroom caps, use the bag with the larger hole. Holding the bag upright just above the surface, allow the mixture to start forming a circle; raise the bag as the mushroom cap forms, but keep the tip of the bag buried in the meringue. This will ensure a smooth round top.

To form the mushroom stems, use the bag with the smaller hole. Allow the hole to touch the pan. Squeeze to build a 3/2-inch-high cone, pointed at the top and wide enough at the base not to topple over, raising the bag as the cone grows.

Bake the meringues in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until firm enough to lift from the baking sheet. Let them cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully peel them off the pan liner.

With the sharp point of a knife, make a small hole in the underside of each mushroom cap. Touch the hole with a dab of uncooked meringue , then attach the stem by inserting its pointy end into the hole.

Placing the mushrooms cap-side down, return them to the baking sheet and put them in the oven for 20 minutes or until thoroughly dry.

These recipes appeared in The Washington Post Food section on Wednesday, December 16, 1998.

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