It has been 6 years since I last made a bûche de Noël. A collection of my previous yule logs are compiled on this page.
Early this month Melissa Clark (NY Times) made a bûche with Dorie Greenspan, and the duo can be seen in this video. Ms Clark says, "it takes all day, it's incredibly complex, and it's a little bit nerve wracking. But if you do invest the time, it is one of the most spectacular holiday desserts you can make and your guests just die. They just die. They die."
Well, it doesn't have to take all day. I've always thought that this is such a fun project to spread out over two to three days. On day one, make meringue mushrooms (and these are entirely optional). Day two, make the sponge sheet and filling, then roll the cake and pop in the fridge. A day's rest in the fridge actually benefits sponge cakes as the moisture from the filling or any syrup used diffuses and the different flavours meld. On day, three put it all together.
Martha Stewart's website is a treasure trove, and I like the meringue mushrooms by one of her guests, John Iuzzini. Basically, make a Swiss meringue, pipe some discs and "kisses" (like the Hershey's chocolates). The discs become mushroom caps, and the kisses the stems.
I improvised a little by applying some tempered chocolate to the bottom of the meringue caps with an offset spatula, then sticking the peaks of the "kisses" into the bottom of the caps. Tempering is an optional step. It prevents the cocoa butter from coming to the surface of the chocolate and creating what looks like mold on the surface. While this is not mold, and the chocolate remains edible, it may be off-putting for some finicky eaters.
As a tip, small mushrooms are more esthetically pleasing. My very first attempt in 2006 resulted in gigantic mushrooms. The ones I made this year are as dainty as I want them:
Invariably, there will be leftover tempered chocolate and meringue (stems in the picture below) - which I am sure will not go to waste.
Sponge sheet cake and white chocolate mousse
A yule log needs a sheet cake that can be rolled, often a European sponge cake that has a lot less butter and sugar and a lot more eggs by proportion than the American butter sheet cakes. Sponges tend to be dry and need a brushing of simple syrup (one to two tablespoons per egg used in the recipe). However, my favourite sponge is Rose Levy Beranbaum's cocoa souffle roll, which is so moist it needs no syrup and is so pliable it does not crack when rolled. I took her recipe and simplified the mixing technique. My tweaks can be found here.
I filled this roll with Martha Stewart's white chocolate mousse. The linked recipe makes 5 1/2 cups and you only need a little over 2 cups per 13" x 17" sheet (I use a 14" x 14" sheet because I have a very small oven). Since I had a lot of family dinners this year, I just made two sheet cakes to use all the mousse. It also wonderful eaten without any cake.
Here is one of the two chocolate logs filled and ready to be wrapped in parchment before resting in the refrigerator for a day.
Putting it together
Trim the ends. Then cut off two pieces from the ends on an angle. Stick them on the the main trunk to approximate a log:
Make seven-minute frosting. Modify the recipe by reducing to 4 egg whites, one cup of sugar, and 1.5 tablespoon of corn syrup (optional). This will be enough for two logs.
For drama, take a kitchen blow torch and singe the meringue. If you do not have a blow torch and you want browned meringue, cover the entire log with meringue (do not leave the ends exposed) and place under the oven set to broil. Keep your eye on the cake the entire time and pop it out when you have achieved the browning you are after (this happens very quickly). Browned seven-minute meringue tastes like toasted marshmallows!
Finally, stick on the meringue mushrooms and serve:
Before making the chocolate log above, I experimented with an almond paste sponge. It is the same process: make the sheet, fill with mousse or cream (I used the same white chocolate mousse recipe), then ice (I used a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream).
Almond paste is not the same as marzipan. The former has about 50-60% almond content, and the latter 30%, with the remainder made up mostly of sugar. If marzipan is substituted for almond paste, round layer cakes will fall and dip, and jelly rolls will crack because of all that sugar.
To make things more confusing, some bona fide almond paste will be marked "marzipan." Check the ingredient list. First on the list should be almonds, not sugar.
I took James Peterson's recipe in Baking - a masterful tome, but I do wish he gave weights of ingredients - and made some adjustments to the ingredients and techniques:
Preheat oven to 375F. Chop 142 grams of almond paste (not marzipan) and place in a Kitchen Aid bowl with 100 grams of sugar. Run on low to medium until you have ground the paste into very small pebbles. Add 5 whole eggs and 1 yolk, then whisk this mixture over a bain marie for about three minutes until it is hot to touch. Switch to the Kitchen Aid and beat with a whisk attachment on high for 12 minutes. At 8 minutes, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. With a balloon whisk, fold in 87 grams of all purpose flour. Pour into a 13"x17" sheet pan lined with parchment and bake for 17 minutes (12 minutes was sufficient on convection setting) until the top springs back when pressed lightly.
Take out of the oven. Immediately invert onto a piece parchment heavily dusted with confectioner's sugar. Peel off the back parchment. Dust with confectioner's sugar liberally, then roll the cake along with the parchment, using the overhang to help you. Rolling the cake while warm helps it form a pliable cylinder for filling later. Cool rolled:
When cool, unroll and brush the with about half a cup of simple syrup. This makes a dry sponge and needs a good amount of syrup. Dry sponges are great for simply filling with whipped cream. In this case, only about three tablespoons of syrup are needed. As the whipped cream emulsion breaks and the water seeps out, the sponge will soak it all up.
After brushing with syrup, fill with mousse:
Roll again tightly in parchment, then cool in the fridge. Here is the log ready to be iced:
Tuck some waxed paper under the log prior to icing for a clean finish. Keep buttercream strokes rough to simulate tree bark:
Meringue mushrooms and a dusting of confectioner's sugar helps create a wintry appearance:
Next year, I'm going to use this almond paste sheet cake along with the seven minute frosting, and maybe use as milk or semisweet chocolate mousse filling.