Posted by: njbrown | December 5, 2011

Julia’s Bûche de Noël Recipe with Improved Directions


December 5, 2011

Julia’s Bûche de Noël for Christmas

It’s been two years since I last made Julia’s bûche (See Julia’s Bûche de Noël for Christmas – with recipe).  Never having been satisfied with my meringue mushrooms on the last one, a pot-luck this weekend gave me an opportunity to try to do better.  While Julia says the bûche is simple – just a sheet cake with an Italian Meringue icing – I beg to differ with her.  This challenge takes between three and four hours, and involves over forty steps.  In working through the recipe I previously put together from her The Way to Cook, I saw that there were still areas of unclarity, and so I have tried to remedy that in this recipe.  Julia changed her recipe for Bûche de Noël several times over the years.  In her penultimate master book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, she gave a recipe that she said was just like the one she did on the French Chef – except for the cake and the filling and icing.  I laughed when I read that!

NB: If you need a simplier “fool-proof” Buche recipe go to Flourless Chocolate Roulade – (Foolproof Bûche de Noel)

Among the lessons I learned this time is that this dessert does not travel well.  I had put my mushrooms on the bûche and had dusted the log with powdered sugar, but the sugar evaporated quickly, and the mushrooms softened in the few hours the  bûche had been refrigerated prior to leaving for the dinner.  (Julia said to put the mushrooms on just before serving, but we needed to take the picture.)

Julia stressed elsewhere the need for mise en place – assembling your ingredients in advance in their measured quantities.  If you never ever do a mise en place for anything else, I urge you to do it for the bûche.

For those who saw Julia struggling with her bûche in those early days of her show, you know the endeavor seemed jinxed, but finally she managed to pull it all together.  If you have trouble with this, you’re in the very best company.

(On a humorous note, one of the guests at the dinner asked if the mushrooms were real.  On the plus side, it meant I hadn’t done a bad job.  On the minus side, it meant he thought I’d put raw mushrooms on a chocolate-frosted cake.  Oh well…)

Julia’s Bûche de Noël, with Chocolate Italian Meringue Frosting

This recipe is a combination of various Bûche recipes from Julia’s books.  In The Way to Cook, she had left out some of the details that – for me – make the recipe easier to follow.  I did not include her instructions for the “caramel veil” since this doesn’t seem botanically correct, has the potential to make a major mess in the kitchen, and the Bûches I saw in France had none.  I also do not give directions for putting broken branches on the Bûche, as I never have found this an aesthetic addition.  The cake recipe has the orange flavour of her orange almond Bûche, but not the pulverized nuts, so is my combination of two of her recipes.

In response to a request from a reader, I have added a comprehensive list of equipment suggested, and a list of ingredients.

Good luck!

Sponge cake:  Pâté a Biscuit

EQUIPMENT SUGGESTED:

  • 11 by 17-inch jelly-roll pan
  • Wax paper
  • 3-quart mixing bowl; a wire whisk or portable mixer;
  • Clean dry bowl and beater for the egg whites;
  • Large rubber spatula
  • 2 baking sheets
  • Very lightly dampened tea towel
  • Plastic wrap
  • Pastry bag

Ingredients:

  • Butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • 3 eggs (whites and yolks will be used separately)
  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ Tbs sugar
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Juice and grated zest of one orange
  • 2 Pinches of salt
  • 2 Scant ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ cup plain bleached cake flour
  • ½ cup + ¼ cup (12 Tbs total) plain bleached cake flour, scooped and leveled into a sifter set over wax paper
  • 3 Tbs tepid melted butter
  • Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling baked roll
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate melted with 1/3 cup strong coffee
  • 1/3 cup – approximately – sifted unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 – 3 Tbs – sifted unsweetened cocoa in a tea strainer
  • Small amount confectioner’s sugar in a fine-meshed sieve
  • Sprig of artificial holly

Sponge cake:  Pâté a Biscuit

Preliminaries:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack on lower middle level.
  2. Measure out all ingredients.
  3. Butter jelly roll pan, and then cover with wax paper that is two inches longer at each end.
  4. Butter and flour wax paper (using approximately ½ cup flour, and knocking out excess after moving sheet so that all parts have been covered).

Batter Base:

The egg yolks and sugar:

  1. Start beating the egg yolks in the mixing bowl, and gradually beat in the sugar by tablespoon; continue for several minutes, until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and forms the ribbon.
  2. Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Beat in orange juice and grated zest.

Beating the egg whites:

  1. Beat the egg whites separately, starting at slow speed, until they foam throughout.
  2. Add the salt and cream of tartar, and continue until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle in the sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

Finishing the batter:

  1. At once, stir a quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolks and sugar (1 ½ Tbs) to lighten the mixture.
  2. Rapidly plop a third of the remaining whites on top, and sift on a quarter of the flour.
  3. Delicately and rapidly fold them together, and when almost blended repeat the sequence with a third of the remaining egg whites and a third of the remaining flour, then half of each, and when you have almost blended the last of each, add and fold in the tepid melted butter – do not over blend or you will deflate the batter.
  4. Proceed at once to the baking.

Baking the sponge sheet

About 7 – 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

  1. Immediately turn the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan spreading with a spatula to get into the corners; bang once firmly but not roughly on your work surface to settle it, and place at once in preheated oven.

When it is done:

It is done when the top just feels springy. It must just hold together; if overcooked and dried out it will crack when you roll it up.

Cooling and unmolding:

  1. Remove from the oven, and slice ¼ inch off the long sides of the sponge sheet – they may be brittle and will crack.

The following maneuvers are to prevent the cake from becoming dry and impossible to roll.

  1. Sprinkle the top with 1/16-inch layer of confectioner’s sugar. One sixteenth is a light dusting of sugar, but be sure to completely cover the surface.
  2. Cover with a sheet of wax paper and a VERY lightly dampened tea towel.
  3. Turn a tray or baking sheet upside down over the cake, and reverse the two.
  4. Unmold the cake by holding an end of the wax paper while you lift off the jelly-roll pan.
  5. Neatly and carefully, peel the wax paper off the cake. I find it easier to pull the paper back almost horizontally.
  6. Sift another 1/16-layer of confectioner’s sugar over the cake and roll it up in the VERY slightly dampened towel, and put on rack to cool – about 30 minutes. (Julia says the roulade may be baked a day or two ahead and refrigerated having been wrapped in plastic wrap. If it is frozen, it needs to thaw an hour or more or it will break.)

Making the Italian meringue

The egg whites:

  1. Beat the egg whites (room temperature) at slow speed until they foam throughout; add the salt and cream of tartar.
  2. Gradually increase speed to fast, and beat to soft peaks. Turn the machine to slow as you complete the sugar syrup.

The sugar syrup:

  1. Bring the 3/4 c. sugar and 1/4 c. water to the simmer, swirl the pan to dissolve the sugar completely, cover gently, and boil to the soft-ball stage (238 degrees).

Sugar syrup into egg whites:

  1. Beating the egg whites at moderately slow speed, dribble into them the boiling syrup – trying to avoid the wires of the whip.
  2. Increase speed to moderately fast, and beat until cool and the egg whites form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks. The meringue is now ready.

Meringue mushrooms:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Scoop a quarter of the plain Italian meringue into a pastry bag and using the ½ inch tip, squeeze out 8 to 10 ½-inch domes onto a buttered and floured baking sheet (having knocked off the excess flour) to serve as caps. I find it very hard not to get points when I lift the piping bag, but the points can be smoothed off with a slightly wet finger.
  3. Use the ⅛ inch tip to squeeze out 8 to 10 conical shapes ¼ inch high, for the stems.
  4. Bake about 1 hour in the middle level of the oven, until the meringues push easily off the pastry sheet. They should remain very light colored. They can be frozen, or stored air-tight until just before serving the Bûche.

Frosting and Filling:

  1. Beat smoothly melted chocolate into the Italian meringue.
  2. Then fold in whipping cream that you have whipped.
  3. Remove ⅔ of the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate; this is the frosting.

Filling the cake:

  1. Gently unroll the cooked cake, and spread the filling over the top. If the filling is too thin, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and test again. A couple tablespoons of cocoa can be beaten into it to make it firmer.
  2. Roll it up from one of the short sides, and you have made a log. You may need to gently release the bottom of the cake from the waxed paper as you are rolling so that it doesn’t stick.
  3. Neatly slice a narrow slanting piece from each end of the log.
  4. Using an offset spatula inserted under one end of the log, transfer it to the serving platter placing it seam side down.
  5. Slip double sheets of wax paper under the edge of each side and the two ends to catch spills.

Frosting the log:

  1. Beat 2 or more spoonfuls of sifted cocoa into the frosting mixture to make it of spreadable consistency. (Reserve 2 tablespoons of frosting for assembling the mushrooms.)
  2. Leaving the two ends unfrosted, frost the cake using a flexible metal spatula, and then use a fork to give it a bark-like look.
  3. Remove wax paper. Cake can be refrigerated at this point, covered.

Final decorations – just before serving.

The mushrooms:

  1. With a small knife, piece a hole in the bottom of each meringue mushroom cap, insert a bit of the frosting (or softened butter) into the hole, and then the pointed end of the meringue stem.
  2. Dust the mushroom tops with cocoa powder tapped from a very fine sieve. Arrange the mushrooms in tasteful clusters on the log.
  3. Dust the log with a sparse coating of confectioner’s sugar to give a snowy effect.
  4. Decorate with artificial holly.

Let me know how your bûche turns out (leave a comment below).

Nancy

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Responses

  1. So does one whip the whipping cream? The recipe says chilled whipping cream, apparently not whipped, but in directions it says to fold whipped cream in. Thanks. Chelsea

    • Hi Chelsea –

      Yes, you take the chilled whipping cream and whip it and then fold it in.

      Good question!

      Nancy

  2. Your list of ingredients and instructions are confusing. I want to find out the proportion of sugar to water for the syrup and it is indecipherable to me.

    • Ramon, you’re right – they are confusing. I went back to my original post and found these ingredient amounts for the sugar syrup: ¾ cup sugar, a pinch of salt, ¼ tsp cream of tartar, and ¼ cup water boiled to the soft-ball stage – 238 degree F.

      Hope this helps!

      Nancy

  3. I followed your recipe and the Buche de Noel turned out great. My husband is French and I wanted to surprise him with a traditional French meal and dessert. He loved it and thought it was just like home. Thank you for sharing this online, otherwise I never would have been able to make it!

    • Nicole, you have made my day! That is exactly why I did the post , and I am so glad all went well.

      Many thanks,

      Nancy

  4. […] morning’. I was looking for a real challenge, so we settled on one of Julia Child’s Bûche de Noël recipes. My mom and Bailey were less enthused by this choice than Debbie and I, so we were hoping […]

    • I’m sorry, but your comment was cut off after “hoping.” What happened?!

      Best wishes,

      Nancy

      • Just went to your post and saw the successful outcome. Great work!

        Nancy

  5. sure would be nice if you put all ingredients at the top. how this is laid out is confusing and you have to sift through all the instructions to figure out what to buy. e.g the top talks about egg whites but doesn’t mention the whipped cream so i’m not sure what is needed + no mention of chocolate until way down. i’m a very experienced cook and would love to try it, but spending 20 min trying to figure out what to purchase is a pain!

    • Thanks, Lee –

      We will work on it. I copied Julia’s instructions from her final book, feeling these would be best.

      Merry Christmas,

      Nancy

      • Thanks and a very Merry Christmas to you as well!

    • Hi again, Lee –

      Comprehensive ingredient list is now at beginning of instructions.

      Best wishes!

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Wanted to let you know that in Julia’s recipe that I am still looking for, she used just egg whites and cream of tarter for the mushrooms, that you baked at a low oven for hours! In that recipe she also said to poke the hole in the bottom of the mushroom where you are going to add the stem and paint the entire bottom of the mushroom with chocolate and then poke the stem into the hole. Painting the entire bottom of the mushroom made them look so real, along with a very light dusting of cocoa for the top!
    Still looking for the recipe in a magazine from the 1980’s thru 1990! Someday I will find it and make it again! I am not giving up!
    Merry Christmas!

    • The egg whites and cream of tartar make a traditional meringue that bakes in a low over for a long time. Joy of Baking.com has a recipe for meringue mushroom that sounds like what you describe.

      Julia did several recipes over the years, so keep looking!

      Merry Christmas,

      Nancy

  7. That would be 12 Tbsp flour since 1/8 C is 2 Tbsp.

    • Can you tell me, please, to what you are referring in the recipe?

      Best wishes,

      Nancy

      • I think I see where you have found an error. Your calculations looks absolutely right. Hopefully, people have just used the 1/2 and 1/4 cup measurements.

        Thank you so much!

        Merry Christmas!

        Nancy

  8. […] in advance, so this year the most viable thing to do appears to be a buche de Noel. But oh wow how complicated can it get? I am shocked to say the least. At the same time, after gotten so into […]

    • Unfortunately, it is complicated. You can do the cake ahead and freeze it (although I’ve never done it). The easy way is to make the foolproof version.

      Good luck!

      Nancy

  9. I would LOVE to have Julia’s recipe that was on the October or November cover of either BonApetit or Gourmet in the late 1990’s that I bought in Fort Myers FL. It has 2 sauces that she painted on the sponge cake. I made it for Gourmet Club and want to make it again now that I am retired! Can you help me find the actual recipe? I would be forever grateful! It took me 2 evenings and 1 Sat to pull it off! It was beautiful! My husband doesn’t like chocolate and this had only a tiny bit of chocolate in the cream on the inside of the cake! I painted the egg white on the outside and he went to the garage and brought in his big blow torch (I didn’t have the small one then) and we darkened the log! It was beautiful!
    Thanking you in advance!

    • Hi Sandra –

      The closest thing I could find was Julia’s Holiday Roulade from her book, “The Way to Cook.” It uses the orange-almond cake from her buche recipe and has a meringue-based filling and a meringue frosting that perhaps you browned. There is no chocolate. It is painted (or sprinkled) with a rum syrup before being filled. I couldn’t fine it anywhere free on the Web, and it would take me a long time to copy it, but “The Way to Cook” is a wonderful book to have in your kitchen library.

      Good luck!

      Nancy

  10. Hi Nancy –

    Thank you so much for the improved instructions. I’m tackling this Saturday and I was losing my nerve after wading through The Way to Cook. One question: is there a reason you omitted the almonds from the sponge?

    Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for writing, Gretchen. I think I omitted the almonds because my husband hates nuts in any form. I think the recipe Julia first demonstrated in the 60s on TV included nuts, and I tried to make it back then, but didn’t realize how little the sponge needed to bake to avoid cracking.

      Either way, you’ll be fine.

      Good luck!

      Nancy

  11. I made my first log two weeks ago for my daughter’s 8th grade French class. It came out amazing. Much like M. Lam, I’m working without a Kitchen Aid and had to whip my meringue by hand, so the peaks didn’t stay quite as stiff as I would have liked. The caps of the mushrooms had no problems holding, but the stems wouldn’t stand up straight. I improvised and just piped the meringue into ribbons. It worked out fine because I attached the mushrooms to the sides of the log, so the more two-dimensional quality didn’t pose a problem. Actually in case where I made mushroom “clusters” it actually helped. I also used a mint leaf and some whole cranberries I candied to make the “holly” and then tossed the cranberries and some fresh raspberries around the base. All in all, it came out quite well for my first attempt and it received many compliments, so I felt the time was well worth it. Thank you for the straightforward (easy doesn’t seem the right adjective) directions which allowed me to keep a promise I made to my child when she started taking French class!

    • Congratulations! Actually, this year, I used another meringue recipe a few days before to make the mushrooms, thinking if I couldn’t achieve the mushrooms, I wouldn’t be able to do the buche. A baking site says to make extra stems because they tend to fall over – perhaps that’s why Julia says to only make them a quarter of an inch tall. I applaud your ability to make “live” holly. Bravo – you are a really good mother!

      Best wishes,

      Nancy

  12. Thank you for such terrific, detailed instructions! I was searching for a buche de noel recipe and happened upon your blog. Followed it to the letter today and everything turned out beautifully! It was enough for me to cut off a piece of the cake to frost and decorate for dessert this evening and then give a “log” as a gift. My mushrooms turned out perfectly, much to my surprise. Unfortunately, living in Florida, the humidity, even though it was a beautiful day today, is just too much for meringue, so my mushrooms did not stay light and crispy for long. But, they looked great! I hope you are well again soon. I have enjoyed my brief visit to your blog. Merry Christmas and thanks again.

    • I am delighted the instructions worked for you. You certainly did better than I did the first time around! My goal was to make Julia’s recipe accessible for anyone who wanted to try it.

      Best wishes,

      Nancy

  13. Hello Nancy,

    I just finished making these. I made a total of 3 logs since we are expecting company. The first log was the best by far. I did a bit of research and i doubled your recipe and also added baking powder (1 1/2 tablespoon). I think the folding technique may be the reason why the 3rd log was a bit skinny and off. It may also be bc i was really tired at this point. My mushroom was petite – i had a hard time with the stalk- it was small and the taller ones fell over. I also used a hand beater bc i’m at my parent’s house and they do not have a Kitchen Aid. To other user, you really do need a Kitchen – your baking venture will be much much messy. Overall, i’m very happy with the result. Thanks for sharing and happy holiday

    • Thank you so much for letting me know how you did. I’ve wondered if people would be able to follow the directions. If you did this well on your first try in a kitchen without all the equipment, you’re amazing!

      Best wishes,

      Nancy

  14. Wow – what a process! A great way to celebrate – this looks wonderful.

  15. Looks so festive! Cudos to you for having the patience to perform all those steps, I wouldn’t have the endurance!
    I enjoy your blog, you are not afraid of a challenge. Keep up the hard work!

    • Thank you, Jane. You are such an encouragement!

  16. This looks fantastic! Congratulations for all your hard work!


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