This traditional French Christmas cake is one of my all time favourites, and having made various iterations of it over the last few years, I’ve finally settled on this signature version. And with the benefit and hindsight of subsequently teaching dozens of people how to make this seasonal classic, I have been on a journey of refinement to make the most perfect version!
Although the recipe may look initially daunting, rest assured that it comes together surprisingly simply! The meringue is used to make the mushrooms, and also as a base for the buttercream. And mess is kept to a minimum as we are able to reuse the same bowl over and over again! Truly, this recipe and method have become my magnum opus!
The pale wood-coloured buttercream is naturally tinted using a salted caramel, and the bark-coloured buttercream is crafted with the simple addition of chocolate; everything about this recipe just… makes sense.
The feedback to this recipe so far has been so overwhelmingly positive, I know I’ve done something really special with this one. Enjoy!
Bûche de Noël
- 4 large eggs (separated)
- 2 tbsp tepid water
- 100 g caster sugar
- 50 g plain flour
- 25 g cocoa powder
- a pinch of salt
- 125 g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
- 250 g caster sugar
- 125 g of the prepared meringue
- 150 g caster sugar
- 150 ml double cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp fine salt
- 250 g of the prepared meringue (the remaining meringue)
- 250 g unsalted butter (softened)
- The prepared caramel
- 100 g dark chocolate
- Cocoa powder
- Icing sugar
Optional extra decoration:
- sprigs of rosemary
- redcurrants (or cranberries, or red fondant balls)
- a little caster sugar
- 2 Digestive biscuits (or graham crackers)
- Green food coloring
- Preheat the oven to 200c /180c fan
- Spray a 23x33cm Swiss roll tin with oil, and line with baking parchment. Spray more oil on top of the parchment.
- Add the egg yolks, water, and caster sugar to a mixing bowl, and whisk until pale and voluminous.
- Sift the plain flour and cocoa powder over the top, and whisk in on low speed. Stop as soon as they are combined.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, Whisk the egg white along with a pinch of salt. Once they have reached medium peaks, stop.
- Add half of the egg whites to the batter, and mix in on low speed. Once combined, use a large metal spoon or silicone spatula to fold in the rest of the egg whites.
- Gently scrape the cake mixture into the prepared Swiss roll tin, then tilt and shake the pan to encourage the batter into the corners.
- Bake for 10 minutes, until the cake has some structure but is still a little soft to the touch.
- While the cake is in the oven, sprinkle a tea towel with some icing sugar.
- When the cake comes out of the oven, sprinkle the surface with icing sugar, then invert the pan onto the tea towel.
- Remove the tin and parchment, the sprinkle with yet more icing sugar. This should stop everything sticking.
- Roll up the cake, with the tea towel inside it, then set aside to cool at room temperature.
- Turn the oven off and leave the door wide open to cool it quickly.
- Place the egg whites and sugar into a heatproof bowl, and set over a bain-marie.
- Gently whisk over a medium heat until the sugar has all dissolved.
- Whisk the meringue mixture on high speed for about 7 minutes, until cool and thick.
- Take 125g of the prepared meringue and put into a piping bag.
- Pipe tall blobs and flat blobs of meringue onto a lined baking sheet, to represent the stalks and caps of mushrooms. Use a wet finger to smooth any peaks on the top of the ‘caps’.
- Place the meringue in the oven, and set the temperature to 120c or 100c fan.
- Bake the meringue for 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and wedge the door open with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool slowly in the oven for 15 minutes before removing.
- Add the vanilla extract to the cream and set aside.
- Weigh the sugar into a saucepan, then add just enough water to give it the consistency of wet sand.
- Set over a medium heat, and DO NOT STIR!
- Wash the sides of the pan down with a wet pastry brush to help prevent the caramel from crystallizing. If the caramel does crystalise, it is not a huge problem – just continue to heat and the crystlas should eventually melt.
- When the edges of the caramel start to color, begin to swirl the pan.
- A deep amber, similar to golden syrup, is the ideal color.
- Immediately remove from the heat and add a splash of the double cream.
- Whisk together (avoiding the steam!), and then slowly add the rest of the cream, whisking the whole time. If the caramel has clumped, move back to a low heat until all the lumps have melted. Stir through the salt, and set aside to cool.
- If you are short on time, place the bottom of the saucepan in some cold water to speed up the cooling.
Salted Caramel Buttercream:
- Set the meringue whisking again, then add the butter a little at a time, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Add the cooled caramel and whisk again.
- Carefully unravel the cake, and spread a layer of the salted caramel buttercream all over the surface.
- Roll the cake back up again, then cut the top quarter off the cake at a 45 degree angle.
- Arrange the chocolate roll on your presentation plate, with the smaller piece positioned to look like a branch.
- Use some buttercream to stick the pieces of cake together, and then to cover the exposed end of each log.
- Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave, in short bursts, stirring regularly.
- Allow the chocolate to cool, then add to the remaining buttercream and whisk again. Use the chocolate buttercream to cover the rest of the log, reserving at least a couple of tablespoons to make the meringue mushrooms.
- Smooth the buttercream over with an offset spatula to ensure it is completely covered, then use the back of a fork to create a wood grain effect all up and down the log.
- Wipe the fork clean, and then create circles on the ends of the logs as well. If you are feeling brave, dip the fork in a little of the dark buttercream and create more defined tree rings.
- When the meringues are cool, assemble the mushrooms by using a paring knife to carve out a small hollow in the base of the caps. Snap any droopy meringue off the stalks, and then using some chocolate buttercream, press them together.
- You can make the mushrooms look more realistic by dusting and smearing them with cocoa powder.
Assembly and decoration:
- Place the mushrooms on and around the log in small groups.
- Other decoration options include creating ‘sprigs of holly’ using rosemary and redcurrants rolled in fine sugar. You could also crush up a digestive biscuit/graham cracker with some green food colouring, and sprinkle it around the log to look like moss.
- When you are happy with your decoration, give the whole thing a generous dusting of icing sugar for the finishing touch!