Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
A sweet taste of northern European Christmas to grace your table
The name of the classic French holiday cake, Bûche de Noël, means, literally, “Christmas log.” It seems to have its historical roots in the traditions of Celtic Brittany, where trees were used to celebrate the winter solstice. At that time, trees were believed to have magical powers; hauling a large log or tree trunk to the manor of the local lord (a small part of the above-mentioned Subject Story) became a tradition. Later, people of more modest means began bringing a log to their own homes as well, where the wood would be blessed, anointed, and burned ceremonially. When the church banned these old “pagan” rituals, many people found covert ways to continue on apace, by keeping the ceremony private in their homes.
As more people moved to cities in modern times and the Consumer Story came into play, people shifted to buying and eating cakes decorated like logs rather than burning real wood. The earliest written mentions of this kind of cake buying began to show up in the late 19th century, appearing in print in La cuisine anglaise et la pâtisserie, which was published in 1894. (The same year, I’ll note, that the notoriously anti-Semitic Dreyfus trial took place.) Bûche de Noël has long been one of Bakehouse co-managing partner Amy Emberling’s favorite cakes. In the book Zingerman’s Bakehouse she writes,
Making Bûche de Noël at the bakery during December is a joyful sign of the holidays. We start to anticipate and plan in October, start making the decorative mushrooms in November, and have log-rolling parties in December. It wouldn’t be Christmas at the bakery without Bûche de Noël.
This year the Bakehouse is offering two versions of this traditional French holiday dessert. One is a light vanilla cake rolled around a really wonderful, walnut-rum buttercream, then covered in chocolate Swiss buttercream. The “log” is then decorated with hand-crafted edible sugar and fondant “mushrooms,” “holly,” and freshly fallen sugar “snow.” The other is a White Chocolate Bûche de Noël, especially intriguing for anyone looking for an alcohol-free or nut-free version! It features our light vanilla chiffon cake, and it’s filled with chocolate buttercream, frosted with white chocolate Swiss buttercream, decorated with blue and silver snowflakes, a dusting of cocoa powder, and some more of that freshly fallen sugar “snow.”
Like all our cakes, you’ll enjoy the Bûche best when it’s allowed first to come to room temperature (same as cheese, cured ham, salami, etc.). Order now to make sure to get your Bakehouse Bûche de Noël in time for the big day!