What is Buche de Noel?
Buche de Noel brings joy and delight to your holiday table, along with deliciousness — there’s pleasure in its playful, witty design and in every luscious bite. This classic edible decoration consists of an old-timey jelly roll cake, which is transformed by seasonal magic and icing into a festive yuletide hunk of tree.
Where does Buche de Noel originate?
Buche de Noel in French, and Yule log in the British Isles, and possibly other names in other places. Not something from my Southern childhood — Christmas celebrations here centered on fruitcake, coconut cake, and all the cookies and candies one could dream of and cook up to share. But once I saw this creation, longed to make one, and a few years ago, that is what I did.
What is a jelly roll?
I use a jelly roll recipe, which is a sponge cake made with all of seven ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, sugar, water, and vanilla, plus a cloud of confectioners’ sugar to keep the hot cake rectangle from sticking to the kitchen towel in which you roll it up to shape it while it’s hot. Very simple cake recipe, small proportions of ingredients — one essential special requirement is a particular pan. You need a jelly roll pan, also known as, mysteriously, both a quarter-sheet pan and a half-sheet pan. 13 x 8 is a pretty standard size. It’s also a cookie sheet with sides — a very shallow flat pan with low sides to keep the batter contained for all of 10 minutes, during which it goes from foamy goo to airy delicate cake.
Why a Jelly Roll here?
It’s not about flavor here — for that we in the American South use butter. This cake has no fat at all, and the texture makes it ethereal rather than substantial, more like meringue than egg custard, more like a cloud than like an earthbound substance. This delicate airy cake is easy to roll up into a spiral for filling, just like a log!
Prep matters here, so set it up beforehand!
It comes together quickly, so before you make the simple batter, set up your landing area, which is a cotton kitchen towel spread generously with confectioners’ sugar. This is where the hot cake will go when you flip it out, pull off the waxed paper or parchment (I used foil this time since I was uncharacteristically out of BOTH those essential items).
I turned the cake out onto the sugar suface and gently but firmly rolled it into a tight spiral, moving the long side over into a curl.
While it cooled off and took to its new shape, I cooked up a chocolate icing for the outside. This mixture of cocoa, sugar, salt, butter, evaporated milk, and vanilla cooks into a thick syrupy state and then cools down. That cooling spell gave me time to go back to the cake roll. Instead of jelly, which would work just fine, or any icing, or Nutella, or very thick flavored whipped cream, I used a vanilla icing flavored with instant coffee and cocoa, since I wanted a little contrast between the dark chocolate “bark” fudgy outside, and the ‘rings’ inside the log.
Here’s my jelly roll below, cooled down and ready to be unrolled, filled and rolled back up.
Here it is unfurled and dusted with a little bit of the confectioner’s sugar.
Here below is my creamy delicately flavored mocha frosting, which I spread out to within about an inch of the outside edges. Go for an even thickness all across the cake.
Below is my filled/iced-inside jelly roll, all cool and ready for the final steps.
Dealing with the filled “log”:
This is one end, adorable, but soon to be chopped up. You want the ends cut on the bias, diagonally sliced so that people can see the goodness inside and get the sense of a just chopped down tree in the forest, albeit an edible and wonderful one. I sliced both ends to give a diagonal log ambience. One of those sliced ends becomes a branch which I attached to the top of the cake using icing as glue. Then I iced the entire cake with as much loggy woody barky vibe as I could manage. The remaining chunks of cake which got lopped off became a reward for the cook and her wonderful husband who did many dishes in the wake of this endeavor.
Platter or Tray? Think about display…
I put it on this wonderful platter which my dear friends Bob and Vada gave me when she celebrated a big birthday with a family gathering. How about that? Vada’s birthday and I got a gorgeous platter which has held turkeys and other grand meaty items, and this time provided some forest notes to my cake. I got non-edible decor from the trees in our yard — holly would be nice but that would mean an expedition.
Here’s my recipe for the jelly roll and the outside frosting. For the inside frosting, I recommend any soft frosting you like, or jelly, jam, whipped cream, lemon curd, or Nutella.
A Yule Log with Mocha Filling and Chocolate Icing
Nancie’s Jelly Roll/Yule Log Cake
Make this when you have a little time and are ready for a bit of mess and fuss. It’s not difficult but it isn’t your usual 1-2-3-4 cake or cookies either. It is a perfectly delightful project to do with kid-helpers, and the possibilities for decorating it are endless. To serve, just get in there and slice it up into nice woodsy pieces! I used sliced almonds as the forest floor.
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectionersÌ sugar for dusting the cloth (optional)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blackberry or raspberry jam, currant jelly, Lemon Curd (page 00) or whipped cream and jam
Heat the oven to 400 F and generously grease an 11-by-15-inch jelly roll pan. Line the pan with waxed paper or kitchen parchment and grease it as well.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Place a fresh kitchen towel on the countertop with its long side toward you, and sprinkle it generously and evenly with the confectionersÌ sugar. Or use a sheet of waxed paper instead.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs at high speed with a mixer until bright yellow and thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar gradually, beating as you go, and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes, until pale yellow, velvety, and thick. Add the water and vanilla to the bowl, and beat for 1 minute to mix them in well. Set the mixer aside and finish the cake by hand.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the batter, and then mix it in gently with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out to form one smooth layer.
Bake at 400 F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cake is browned at the edges and springs back when touched lightly at the center. Remove from the oven and quickly turn out the cake onto the prepared kitchen towel. Peel away the waxed paper, and then carefully roll up the cake, lifting and rolling the long side nearest you, and folding in the towel with the cake.
Let the rolled up cake cool for about 15 minutes, and then carefully unroll. Spread the inside with the 1 cup of jam or jelly, extending it almost to each edge, but not quite. Roll the cake back up tightly, and place it on the towel seam side down, to cool and set.
Just before serving, sprinkle the cake with a little powdered sugar if you like. Then transfer it to its serving plate. Or wrap tightly and refrigerate if not serving within 2 hours. Set out in advance of serving so that your jelly roll has time to return to room temperature.
Nancie’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Frosting
Ideally, this will set up into a thick wonderful icing as written. But sometimes, as in when I was making this cake, it did not. I had not cooked it quite long enough, I imagine. So I added confectioners’ sugar/powdered sugar, about a cup I think, until it was spreading consistency. So I’ve listed that as an optional ingredient. It made the frosting especially bark-ish, with fudgy thickness which was fun to work with in going for that woodsy-lived-in look.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk or half and half
(Optional: Powdered sugar/confectioners sugar for thickening frosting if needed to help it set)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa, and salt, and stir or whisk to mix everything well. Add the butter and place over medium heat, stirring to melt the butter and mix everything together into a smooth, brown sauce.
Add the milk, stir well, and bring the frosting to a lively boil, stirring often. Adjust the heat to maintain an active but gentle boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. When the frosting begins to thicken, remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and set it aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
Beat the icing just until it thickens and looks shiny, and then spread it over the cake or the layers you want to ice.
Enough frosting for two 9-inch layers, or one 13-by-9-inch inch cake
These recipe comes from “Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations” by Nancie McDermott. Chronicle Books, 2007. All rights reserved.