The challenge: Choose a classic pastry from Paris and using it as inspiration create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home.
The pastry: La Bûche de Noël
This week's challenge is a little different since I haven't tasted one of these—yet! That's because we still have a few days to go before Christmas, and this week's challenge is the French Christmas classic, the Bûche de Noël, often translated into English as the Yule Log. Based on the ancient custom of burning a huge log in one's fireplace from 24 December until 6 January, since the end of the Second World War, the French have recreated the log in cake, which they eat throughout the festive season.
Early Bûches de Noël sought to emulate the look of a log by rolling a sheet of chocolate biscuit covered in cream and then piping chocolate chantilly or ganache over the whole to imitate the bark. This was often decorated with meringue mushrooms to give it the look of the forest.
Nowadays, although traditional ones are still to be found, for the most part the bûche has metamorphosed into an elaborately constructed dessert, with dream-like layers of airy sponge, in bed with velvet smooth creams, slumbering under quilts of fantastical colours and impossible textures. For most pâtissiers, the bûche is an annual exercise in outlandish originality, a kind of baked haute couture with a price tag to match.
I will confess that I don't really like chocolate—I'm anticipating hate mail—so I decided to have a plain white biscuit joconde, ivory crème pâtissière, all rolled around a raspberry, a decadent fruit for the middle of winter. The honey-sweet flavour of muscadet de rivesaltes wine would be used tp pervade the sponge and make it easier to roll. Then I would create a traditional bark covering, in white chocolate crème chantilly, but colored a rather avant-garde raspberry as an homage to the great Parisien pâtissiers. The result is a really easy cake that you can make any time leading up to next Wednesday's festivities, although if you serve it cold after 24 hours in the fridge, well, oh là, là!
You will notice that this recipe combines two of our basic recipes and this is a hallmark of French cuisine in general, where basic recipes are adapted or combined into myriad dishes. A good technique requires the mastery of these basics from which, in time, you can then create your own.
Bûche de Noël
Active time: 45 mins
Total time: 6 hrs
muscadet de rivesaltes
crème pâtissière (double the basic recipe)
125g / 1 cup fresh raspberries
500ml / 2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp red powder food coloring
120g / 2oz white cooking chocolate
icing sugar to decorate
1. Bake the biscuit joconde and let it cool: using a pastry brush, soak the biscuit in the muscadet. Then spread crème pâtissière evenly over the biscuit. Place a row of raspberries along one of the short edges of the biscuit and then roll it up with the raspberries in the middle. Place it on a serving plate and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
2. Add the food coloring to the cream until you have achieved the desired color. Break the white chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Boil the heavy cream and then pour over the white chocolate and leave for 10 minutes. Stir the cream until the chocolate has been dissolved completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
3. Using a stand mixer, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Using a piping bag and a star nozzle, pipe long stripes of cream to cover the cake. Place three rows of raspberries on the top and sprinkle with icing sugar. Voilà!
Notes: Any sweet white wine such as Tokaji Àszu, a sauternes, or a sweet sherry, can be used to replace the muscadet. Strawberries, redcurrants, or even cranberries soaked in sugar syrup, would all provide alternative fruit.