This is it, guys. Our season has finally arrived. The season of over-the-top cookies and showstopper cakes is here, and I couldn’t. be. more. excited.
I’ve been working on my Christmas cookie list for months. My pantry is filled to the brim with flour and sugar and sprinkles and chocolate and sprinkles and nuts and oh, did I mention the sprinkles?
I have desserts planned for every dinner party, playdate, and office celebration.
And this year, I’m officially kicking off my holiday baking with a bûche de noël.
For years, I’ve admired/been intimidated by this traditional French Christmas cake. Let me just say this up front: this cake is INVOLVED.
If you’re looking for a quick, festive dessert for a casual holiday get-together, THIS IS NOT THE CAKE FOR YOU. Maybe go with a dozen peppermint mocha cupcakes or a great pumpkin pie.
But if you want that quintessential Christmas dessert, one that’s festive and unique and shows the ones you love just how special they are to you, this is your cake.
This cake is WORK. It has a million steps, and I promise that you’ll dirty every single bowl in your kitchen. Twice. But that’s also what I love about it. It’s a labor of love.
Ready? Deep breaths. You can do this!
So what exactly is a bûche de noël? It’s a roulade of sponge cake, pastry cream, and buttercream, sculpted to represent a yule log. It’s traditionally decorated with confectioners’ sugar and meringue mushrooms to look like a wintry, woodsy wonderland.
For my bûche de noël, I decided to go with a chocolate genoise sponge cake, a chestnut mousse filling, and a chocolate buttercream frosting. If you’d rather keep it simple, feel free to fill yours with a simple whipped cream and top with a light dusting of powdered sugar. I promise that it will still be beautiful (and delicious!) But if you want to go big, the chestnut mousse is seriously to die for, and the meringue mushrooms are a must.
The meringue mushrooms can be made a couple days in advance (just be sure to store them in an airtight container and away from any moisture (read: not on top of the dishwasher).
If you’re filling your cake with the mousse instead of whipped cream, it can be made in its entirety (filled and frosted) up to 2 days ahead. Just add your mushrooms and powdered sugar right before serving.
I hope you and yours love this cake as much as we do. Maybe it will even become one of your Christmas traditions (just have a loved one on standby to help with the dishes!)
Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)
Recipe courtesy of bon appetit
Start to finish: 3 hours
For the cake
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Powdered sugar (for dusting)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs, room temperature, separated
½ tsp kosher salt
⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Cognac, dark rum, or brandy
For the chestnut mousse
¾ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
6 ounces vacuum-packed or jarred roasted chestnuts
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
For the chocolate buttercream
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature2
3 and 1/2 cups (420g) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (45g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream or milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cake
Preheat oven to 375°.
Coat an 18×13″ rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Line with parchment paper and lightly coat parchment. Place a large kitchen towel (it should be larger than baking sheet) on a flat surface. Whisk equal parts cocoa and powdered sugar in a small bowl and dust towel with cocoa mixture with a fine-mesh sieve.
Sift flour and ¼ cup cocoa powder into a small bowl.
Heat chocolate, oil, and vanilla in a medium microwave-safe bowl in 15-second intervals, stirring occasionally, until melted. Let cool slightly.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat egg whites and salt in a large bowl until foamy. With motor running, gradually add ⅓ cup granulated sugar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Using clean beaters, beat egg yolks and ⅓ cup granulated sugar in another large bowl until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture until no streaks remain, then use a large spatula to fold in meringue, leaving some streaks. Fold in dry ingredients just to combine—be careful not to overmix.
Scrape batter into prepared baking sheet; smooth top (you want to have an even layer). Bake until top of cake is dry and springs back when gently pressed and edges are starting to pull away from sides of baking sheet, 10−12 minutes; let cool slightly.
Run a knife along the edge of baking sheet to loosen and invert cake onto prepared towel. Peel away parchment and roll cake into a log inside towel. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack and let sit until just barely warm, about 20 minutes.
Shake remaining 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar and 2 Tbsp. hot water in a jar until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in Cognac. Unroll cake and brush top with syrup.
For the chestnut mousse
Place 1 Tbsp. cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over; set aside.
Meanwhile, bring chestnuts, milk, salt, and vanilla to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook until chestnuts are falling apart and milk has reduced by half, 12−18 minutes. Add gelatin, stirring to dissolve. Transfer mixture to a food processor and blend until very smooth. Let chestnut cream cool.
Whisk cream in a medium bowl to soft peaks. Using an electric mixer, beat yolks and granulated sugar in another medium bowl until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Beat in cooled chestnut cream, then use a spatula to gently fold in whipped cream.
For the chocolate buttercream
With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, heavy cream, salt, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick.
Spread chestnut mousse over top of cake, leaving a 1″ border. Roll up cake and place, seam side down, on a platter. If you find that your cake isn’t holding its shape well, roll it tightly in plastic wrap, then place on platter. Chill until mousse is set, at least 3 hours.
Using a serrated knife, trim ½” of cake from both ends. Working from one end, gently slice off a 2″ piece of cake, cutting at a 45° angle. Cut another 2″ piece from same end, this time cutting perpendicular to roll to create a squared off end. Dab 1 Tbsp. buttercream on angled sides of each 2″ piece of roll and stick to cake to form branches, positioning 1 on top and 1 on the side. Using and offset spatula or butter knife, spread chocolate buttercream over entire outside of roll, leaving cut ends exposed to reveal spiral). Use spatula to create textured lines in buttercream to look like tree bark.
Dust with powdered sugar and decorate with meringue mushrooms just before serving.