December 5, 2011
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.
Sponge cake: Pâté a Biscuit
- 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
- 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
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack on lower middle level.
- Measure out all ingredients.
- Butter jelly roll pan, and then cover with wax paper that is two inches longer at each end.
- Butter and flour wax paper (using approximately ½ cup flour, and knocking out excess after moving sheet so that all parts have been covered).
The egg yolks and sugar:
- 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.
- Beat in the vanilla.
- Beat in orange juice and grated zest.
Beating the egg whites:
- Beat the egg whites separately, starting at slow speed, until they foam throughout.
- 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:
- At once, stir a quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolks and sugar (1 ½ Tbs) to lighten the mixture.
- Rapidly plop a third of the remaining whites on top, and sift on a quarter of the flour.
- 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.
- Proceed at once to the baking.
Baking the sponge sheet
About 7 – 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover with a sheet of wax paper and a VERY lightly dampened tea towel.
- Turn a tray or baking sheet upside down over the cake, and reverse the two.
- Unmold the cake by holding an end of the wax paper while you lift off the jelly-roll pan.
- Neatly and carefully, peel the wax paper off the cake. I find it easier to pull the paper back almost horizontally.
- 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:
- Beat the egg whites (room temperature) at slow speed until they foam throughout; add the salt and cream of tartar.
- Gradually increase speed to fast, and beat to soft peaks. Turn the machine to slow as you complete the sugar syrup.
The sugar syrup:
- Bring the sugar and 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:
- Beating the egg whites at moderately slow speed, dribble into them the boiling syrup – trying to avoid the wires of the whip.
- Increase speed to moderately fast, and beat until cool and the egg whites form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks. The meringue is now ready.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- 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.
- Use the ⅛ inch tip to squeeze out 8 to 10 conical shapes ¼ inch high, for the stems.
- 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:
- Beat smoothly melted chocolate into the Italian meringue.
- Then fold in whipped cream.
- Remove ⅔ of the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate; this is the frosting.
Filling the cake:
- 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.
- 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.
- Neatly slice a narrow slanting piece from each end of the log.
- Using an offset spatula inserted under one end of the log, transfer it to the serving platter placing it seam side down.
- Slip double sheets of wax paper under the edge of each side and the two ends to catch spills.
Frosting the log:
- 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.)
- 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.
- Remove wax paper. Cake can be refrigerated at this point, covered.
Final decorations – just before serving.
- 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.
- Dust the mushroom tops with cocoa powder tapped from a very fine sieve. Arrange the mushrooms in tasteful clusters on the log.
- Dust the log with a sparse coating of confectioner’s sugar to give a snowy effect.
- Decorate with artificial holly.
Let me know how your bûche turns out (leave a comment below).