Bûche de Noël !
As you take a break from the duties of teaching and school to spend time with your family this holiday season, consider bringing a little bit of France into your home for the holidays OR share with your students before the holiday break!
Some say the tradition of the Bûche de Noël started in pagan times to celebrate the winter solstice by burning a wooden log in the hearth which eventually lead to using a special log for preparing the Christmas Eve supper as winter solstice transitioned to Christmas.
When did the tradition change from an actual log to a dessert you ask? Rumor has it, it started when Napoleon I ordered all chimneys be closed through the winter to prevent disease, so families had to turn to more creative ways to continue their holiday traditions.
This Yule Log or Bûche de Noël is a unique way to carry on the tradition of celebrating Christmas and the winter solstice by burning a wooden log in the hearth. It was an innovative French pastry chef (in the late 1800s) who came up with the idea of replacing the real ‘yule’ log with a cake that was log shaped. While there are many recipes for this Christmas dessert, I like to use this deliciously light and moist flourless chocolate sponge cake, that is filled with chocolate whipped cream, rolled into a cylinder, and dusted with powdered sugar (to simulate snow). I also like to pile lots of sweet homemade meringue mushrooms on top and around the Yule Log for everyone to nibble on.
Now, this Chocolate Sponge Cake is a little different from most in that it does not contain flour. It is a very light and moist cake, that seems to just melt in your mouth. It is baked in a sheet pan, so you do not have to worry about it deflating and also don’t worry if the sponge cracks when you roll the cake around the filling as this is normal. The chocolate flavor in this cake comes from melted semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate which goes very nicely with the light textured chocolate whipped cream filling. While not necessary, everyone seems to enjoy the homemade meringue mushrooms which, happily, can be made several weeks in advance of Christmas.
Yule Log Ingredients:
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (28 grams) granulated white sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces (112 grams)bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Chocolate Whipped Cream:
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream(contains 35-40% butterfat)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon (40 grams) granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder(regular or Dutch-processed)
Yule Log Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 17 x 12 inch (43×30 cm) baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and then butter and flour the parchment paper.
While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover and bring to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and cool.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) place the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about five minutes). (When you slowly raise the beaters, the batter will fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.) Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat only to combine.
In a clean mixing bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold a small amount of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula or whisk. Fold in the remaining whites just until incorporated. Don’t over mix or the batter will deflate. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is puffed, has lost its shine, and springs back when gently pressed, about 15 – 17 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Cover the cake with a clean, slightly damp towel.
Chocolate Whipped Cream: In a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, sugar, and cocoa powder and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and place the bowl and wire whisk in the refrigerator for one hour. Then beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Once the cake has cooled, spread with the cream (set 2 tablespoons aside) and then gently roll the cake, peeling off the parchment paper as you roll (the cake may crack). Trim one end of the cake at an angle and set it aside. Then place the cake, seam side down, on your serving platter. Take the slice of reserved cake and, using the reserved whipped cream, attach it to the side of the cake. Cover and chill until serving time. Just before serving remove cake from fridge, dust with confectioners sugar and decorate with mushrooms.
Bon appétit !
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