Buche de Noel, Revisited

Even though I now own a still-unused candy thermometer, I’ve been content to forever swear off my Christmas fantasy of making Buche de Noel. But when I went to my weekly consulting gig at a mental health agency on December 20, they had an incredible dense chocolate version from Sweet Adeline, the kind of bakery cafe I would want to open if I still harbored fantasies about opening a bakery cafe.

This Buche was a rich swirl of buttercream and chocolate smothered in chocolate ganache. By the time I got there, the staff had pretty much eaten away it’s log-like appearance, which is probably just as well, since its pristine form might have intimidated me.

“How hard could this be?” I asked myself, noting that it was not a delicate spongecake (which doesn’t taste very good anyway). It also had no ridiculous handmade brittle like the recipe that defeated me years before. And since just three weeks before I had made for a friend’s 70th birthday the super easy and delicious Chocolate Amazon Cake with Mocha Buttercream Frosting from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook, I thought, “Why not pour the same batter into a jelly roll pan, then smear it with buttercream, roll it up, pour chocolate glaze on it, and see what happens?”

What happened is pictured above. If I were auditioning for Cook’s Illustrated, I could tell you the science and recount in obsessive detail the five attempts I made to get everything perfect. But I only made one attempt, because it was the holiday season after all, and I had menus to plan and presents to wrap. Besides, I only subscribed to the magazine so I could cut out the pretty cover art and frame it for my daughter’s new kitchen (she didn’t like it, but luckily the subscription was only $5.00 for the year).

“If the Buche is a major fail,” I told my family, “I’ll just cut up the frosted cake chunks and layer it with whipped cream and hot fudge sauce and call it a day.”

Once trimmed horizontally with a serrated knife (it was a little too thick; I should have made cupcakes with some of the batter) and frosted with the mocha buttercream, the cake rolled up quite nicely, thanks to a nifty parchment paper cradle that kept everything properly aligned and tight. My daughter, a devotee of The Great British Baking Show, was impressed that I knew about parchment paper despite having lived my entire life without once watching TGBBS.

Another thing–it is perfectly fine to decorate one’s Buche de Noel with real mushrooms (and pine cones and mossy twigs and holly, as long as one does not ingest these latter items). Pomegranate seeds or cranberries with mint leaves make a nice garnish that won’t actually poison anyone. Plus, my daughter sauteed the mushrooms for her breakfast the next day, which you couldn’t do with the meringue kind.

I don’t yet know if this dessert will become a Christmas tradition, or if I will go back to my longer-standing tradition of dreaming without doing. One thing is certain, however: I will NEVER make good on my fantasy of opening a bakery-cafe!! Although couldn’t you just imagine this picture on Yelp?

Buche de NO-el


Every year I have the intention of making a Buche de Noel for our Christmas Eve feast. And every year I revise my plans as the reality of unwrapped presents, unpolished silver, and undecked halls lays claim to my diminishing time and energy. My daughter tried a few years ago when she was organizing my recipes to curb my hoarding tendencies and delusions by saying, “Get real–when are you ever going to make Buche de Noel with Meringue Mushrooms?” But I stopped her from throwing away the yellowed clipping. A woman can dream, can’t she?

This year, I was determined that my dream would finally become reality. I had more time to prepare, and more help, what with my husband retired and both daughters back in the area. Plus I planned to outsource the meringue mushrooms to the fancy Italian bakery that churns out such delicacies in exchange for a small fortune.

Make that “churned.” Alas, Rulli’s no longer makes meringue mushrooms. No matter. Summoning my inner Martha Stewart, I rummaged through the cupboards for the pastry bags I knew I’d bought long ago, so I could concoct the confections myself.

Except that I had finally donated said pastry bags to the Salvation Army just weeks before (hoarders are correct in thinking that you will come to regret throwing away something you haven’t used in years). I also discovered that, reckless purging of unused household items notwithstanding, I was too late with my culinary dreams for meteorological reasons as well. After four years of drought, the weather forecast promised a week of rain. Too bad every meringue mushroom recipe began, “These should only be made on a dry day.”

But couldn’t I just put real mushrooms on the log? Or just extra “holly” fashioned from mint leaves and cranberries?” So I proceeded undaunted to the Buche proper. That’s when I discovered I would need a candy thermometer. Would a grocery store model suffice, or would I have to fight the crowds at the mall? Reading my ancient clipping and all the online recipes more carefully, I noted the several warnings about not tearing the sponge cake when getting it out of the pan, or rolling it up, or carefully spreading it with buttercream. “A lot of trouble,” wrote more than a few reviewers.

Meanwhile, visions of brownies with orange buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache, Russian teacakes, chocolate crumb bars, and almond filled shortbread danced in my head.

Who was I kidding? Ours was not a sponge cake family anyway, but one with a preference for mainlining dark chocolate and butter.

“We’re not having a Buche de Noel. Not now, not ever,” I announced. “I’m over it.”

Here’s what we had instead:

Liberated from a dream I now know will never be fulfilled, I’m looking ahead to the new year wondering what other fantasies I might jettison—and what other delicious possibilities will take their place.


Have you ever made a Buche de Noel? What dreams have you relinquished for the better?