Greetings dear reader and friends. I’m happy to report that we’re enjoying an exceptionally lovely December in the south of France. Although the temps have dipped, we’ve been treated to a lot of late-afternoon sunshine, and this is the first year (in my soon-to-be 6 years here) that we’ve been able to take walks along the sea this close to Christmas – magnifique!
Of course this doesn’t make for too “Christmassy” of an ambiance when you spy a few of the locals changing into their swim trunks for a quick dip in the Med (those brave souls!), but those sunny rays sure do a lot to improve our moods…
And something else that seems to really improve my mood these days is chocolate… and a lot of it! We’ve just received our holiday order of Jeff de Bruges chocolates (really lovely and sold all over France) and lately I’ve been on the flourless chocolate cake crazy. Made my second one in the last 2 weeks and somehow they’ve worked their way into my breakfast routine… I can hear those New Year’s resolutions knocking at my door…
But until then, there’s still a lot of good chocolate times ahead of us this holiday season. More specifically, a lot of good chocolate bûche de noël times.
And really, the French yule log is a lot less complicated than it looks. My first Christmas in France I learned what a real “staple” these cakes were during the holiday season – although their different flavor combinations and configurations seemed a bit overwhelming. First, you have your basic rolls, like the little chocolate number I whipped up here, and then you can go from fruity to frozen to even savory.
What about a coconut and mango bûche? Or a frosty ice-cream praline and cream? Or even a smoked salmon, cucumber, and avocado yule log (as seen here on Top Chef France)?
So yes, the French go pretty wild about these little rolls – which, in the end, I can’t blame them. With a tiny bit of extra effort, you’ve got a real show-stopper when it comes to impressing friends and relatives.
The basic cake directions are below, but the real trick to getting the best log possible if making sure you’ve got your roll down. The batter needs to be spread thin enough to be able to roll the cake into a dishtowel when it’s still warm, but thick enough to be able to rise properly in the oven.
Once out of the oven, you need to let the cake cool a bit on the parchment paper so it’s not too hot to the touch when you attempt to remove it. And a few cracks are ok! Those can easily be covered by a big dollop of chocolate ganache and no one will be the wiser.
And spreading on the chocolate is my favorite part of the whole process – the idea is to try to get your “icing” to ressemble the bark of a tree, which makes for a bit of trial and error… and a lot of left-over ganache. A win-win in my book…
Happy holidays and happy baking!
8 oz semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
1 2/3 cups whipping cream
5 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable (or olive) oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur
Sugared cranberries, rosemary sprigs, or other Christmas decor if desired
1 In medium bowl, place chopped chocolate. In 1-quart saucepan, heat 2/3 cup of the whipping cream to simmering over medium heat. Remove from heat; cool 1 minute. Pour hot cream over chocolate; stir until smooth. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until ganache is thickened.
2 Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 15x10x1-inch pan with shortening or butter. Line with waxed paper; grease paper with shortening. In large bowl, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar with electric mixer on high speed until thick and lemon colored. On low speed, beat in oil and vanilla.
3 In medium bowl, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Sift flour, 1/4 cup cocoa and the salt over batter; fold gently until blended. Pour into pan, spreading batter to corners.
4 Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Meanwhile, generously sprinkle clean towel with cocoa. Immediately loosen cake from edges of pan; turn upside down onto towel. Carefully remove waxed paper; trim off edges of cake if necessary. While hot, starting with long side, carefully roll up cake; place on cooling rack. Cool at least 30 minutes.
5 In chilled medium bowl, beat remaining 1 cup whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and liqueur on high speed with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Unroll cake; remove towel. Spread whipped cream over cake. Roll up cake. Cut 2-inch diagonal slice from 1 end of cake roll. Place cake on serving platter; position cut piece against side of cake roll to look like a knot, using about 1 tablespoon ganache to attach to cake. Frost cake with remaining ganache. With tines of fork, make strokes in ganache to look like tree bark. Garnish with sugared cranberries, rosemary sprigs, or other Christmas decor.
*recipe credit, bûche de noël