Wednesday 21 December 2011

Bûche de Noël

Three things I learnt yesterday about the highly specialized field of sub-zero food photography:

1/ Icing sugar to simulate snow-on-a-log is pretty pointless when you also have actual snow on your yule log.

2/ Forget tables - plant pots with a drift of snow perched on top or sun loungers (oh the irony) make excellent surfaces.

3/ 'Shoot and run'. It's -6 C. No fancy moves, just a bit of exposure tweaking. Or your hands will fall off (gloves get in the way). Wrap up as if you're going skiing or taking the dogs for a walk. Yes, that means thermals (sexy, I know). Food photography is just another activity that has to be adapted to snow (and therefore darkened houses) when it just keeps on falling for days and days on end.

I decided to keep this simple: light chocolate sponge (the one I used to make the chocolate & peanut butter mousse swiss roll), a chestnut-marscarpone filling and whipped dark chocolate ganache swirled over the top. It's a delicious combination. The chestnut gives a smoky depth and graininess to the filling.

Also - I passed basic patisserie! Despite a very stressful and frustrating practical exam my other marks pulled me up to a credit - I was so happy when I opened the envelope at graduation.

Edit: The lovely Felicity Cloake tried out this recipe in her Perfect column in The Guardian! You can still see it online: 'How to cook the perfect yule log'.

Bûche de Noël
(sponge recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert)

For the sponge:
60g plain flour
30g cornflour
20g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
35ml cold water
120g caster sugar

For the chestnut cream:
200g mascarpone
125g sweetened chestnut puree*
1 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the whipped ganache:**
150g dark (70%) chocolate, very finely chopped
150g double cream
2 tsp light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line an oven tray with parchment paper. Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together three times - the mixture should be a uniform pale brown. Place the 3 egg yolks and the water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on high for 1 minute then sprinkle the caster sugar over the frothy mixture. Put back onto high and whisk for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches ribbon stage (i.e. if you lift the whisk, the ribbon coming off it stays on the surface for a few seconds) and is very pale.

In another clean bowl whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Steady the bowl of whipped yolks on a damp cloth and sieve over a 1/5 of the flour mixture. Fold in with a rubber spatula, swirling around the edge of the bowl and flicking into the middle. Repeat with the next 1/5 and so on until you have incorporated all the flour mixture. Fold in 1/3 of the whites to loosen, then fold in the remaining 2/3. Scrape out of the bowl onto the tray then with bold strokes use a palette knife to spread out into a rectangle roughly 20x30cm (this post about another swiss roll has videos on spreading and a slightly different filling/rolling method).

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the sponge springs back when touched in the middle. While it bakes lightly grease two sheets of parchment bigger than the cake. Lay one on a table and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it rest for 1 minute then flip it out onto the parchment. Slowly peel the baking parchment off the top. Trim a small amount off each side with a serrated knife. Lightly score a line about 1cm from the end of one of the shorter sides with the back of a knife. Top with the clean parchment sheet then start rolling up from the scored end, tightly tucking in as you go. Once you get to the end, wrap the whole roll in a tea towel and leave to cool a little.

While it cools, beat the mascarpone until smooth in a bowl. Add the chestnut puree and sugar and beat again, then finally add the vanilla and combine until uniform.

When the wrapped roll is no longer hot to touch but is still warm, carefully unwrap it. Spread the inside with the chestnut mascarpone mix and then roll up again, using the outer parchment but discarding the inner. Place in the fridge to firm up.

Put the chopped chocolate into the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the cream and sugar into a small saucepan and heat until steaming, then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a minute then stir until smooth. Place into the fridge to firm up - you want it to be thick but not solid. When it's ready, fit the bowl into the mixer and whip until fluffy and a bit lighter. Dollop some of the icing onto the chilled roll and spread over the entire roll with a palette knife. Style the icing to your liking - I used an icing comb to create a bark-esque effect on the top, then a serrated knife to create the rings on each end. The roll keeps really well in the fridge - in fact we preferred it after it had chilled for a few hours.

(Makes about 10-12 slices)

*In Switzerland they sell tubes of prepared sweetened chestnut puree - it's 68% chestnuts, which is I think a little more than most pastes (like the Crème de Marrons from Clément Faugier that seems to be most common in the UK) and some of them have vanilla, so I think if I was using a paste like that I'd exclude the extra icing sugar and the vanilla. (updated 15/12/15)

Update 21/12/16 - This year I tried it with unsweetened chestnut paste as that's what was in the supermarket - I added 2 tsp of icing sugar. I think I prefer it with the sweetened paste I normally use, but it's an option.

**I also used less ganache and didn't whip it - didn't cover the ends and used a fork to make waves along the log. I used 50g/50g/1 tsp for the ganache amounts.

Three more Christmas recipes:
Mince Pies
Moulded Gingerbread Cookies
Galette des Rois


  1. I love the proper snow, what a perfect background! Plus I'm super impressed at your motivation, I'm not sure I could drag myself outside in -6 degrees for anything! Fabulous shots and a fabulous dessert :)

  2. Charlotte Bushnell21 December 2011 at 15:46

    Just the recipe i needed. Snowed in just outside Vevey thinking that we would be doing Christmas in Switzerland minus chocolate log. Not only does this solve my worry, i also have something to do now skiing is off the cards! Hope you have a good Xmas x

  3. Wow, you are dedicated, but a great background indeed! PS, any reference to Johnny Cash is OK by me. I love your use of chesnuts in the cream filling. I have ambitions of making a buche, we'll see if it happens before the 25th.

  4. mmmm chestnut cream! i love that. happy holidays!

  5. Too gorgeous Emma! Dedication to the cause shooting in the snow, but how perfect! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Ren xx

  6. Your photos are absolutely beautiful! And the snow is simply stunning as a backdrop for your little log. I love the sound of the chestnut cream too - and the idea of mixing with mascarpone rather than cream.

  7. Congratulations on your certificate. Are you continuing next term? Happy Christmas!

  8. You have definately passed by the looks of your cake! How delicious! And the pics in the snow....from tropical North Queensland, Australia...well, I'm hopping on the next plane!

  9. Now that dedication, taking photos of food in -6 degrees!!! Your buche de noel looks amazing though. I would so love to experience a white Christmas just once, but each year hear in Australia it's hot, well in Queensland anyway, because Christmas day always seems to be 40 degree heat!

    Marry Christmas to you and your family!

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  11. Congratulations, Emma, on passing your exams! Merry Christmas!

    Do you think almond paste would work as well as chestnut puree? Here in Minnesota, USA, I've seen my share of -6 Fahrenheit, but not so much chestnut puree.


  12. Wow that's great!!! Congrats with the good news!! The photos are perfect and I love the snow! :)

  13. 1. Congratulations on your passing basic patisserie (though I don't see why you wouldn't!).
    2. Love your simple unadorned yule log, absolutely jealous of the snow. (I can only sigh...)
    3. Merry Christmas!

  14. Congratulations to you!!!!

    That yule log is perfect - impressive!

  15. congrats for your certififcate ! buche de noel looks fabulous & extremely tempting.....happy holidays !

  16. london bakes - Hehe well it was a fun adventure too! Glad you like it.

    Charlotte Bushnell - Good to know I've come in useful! Hope you have a great Christmas and skiing is back on the cards soon x

    Sara - Hope you get to make a buche too! Glad you enjoyed the Johnny Cash reference :)

    Steph - I love chestnuts, they're so versatile. Happy Holidays to you too!

    Fabulicious Food - Thanks Ren, I'm glad you like it! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas too :)

    thelittleloaf - I adore marscarpone, it's so thick and creamy and delicious. I was planning to lighten it with whipped cream but it was so yummy as it was (and stable for rolling!) I didn't in the end. Glad you like the snow!

    Amy - I am continuing yes :) Happy Christmas to you too!

    Marcellina - Well I'm quit jealous of the idea of a nice hot summer day too! Hope you have a fabulous Christmas :)

    Nic - Glad you like it!

    Elizabeth - Thank you :)

    Jennifer - Hehe well I don't know about all this dedication, I had a jolly time :) I'd like to experience a hot sunny Christmas one day too, maybe we should swap :P Merry Christmas!

    ladybellringerm - Thank you & Merry Christmas to you too! I don't think almond paste would work in the same way really - the chestnut is quite distinctive and gives a lot of flavour. Do you get chestnuts to roast there? You cold make your own puree? If not I'd go for another flavour like espresso or more chocolate :)

    Daisy@Nevertoosweet - I'm glad you like it :) Happy Holidays!

    pickyin - 1. Thank you! 2. I like things simple! The snow is lovely. 3. Merry Christmas to you too!

    Jolene - Thank you! Glad you like the yule log.

    A Spoonful of Yumm - Happy holiday to you too - glad you like the post :)

  17. Hi I found your link on Yummy Supper's blog. I love your version of the Yule log and lucky for you having the natural icing sugar.

  18. Congratulations!! I bet you're excited for what's to come :)

    I have never shot food outside in the snow, but I totally appreciate that you did it for this recipe!

  19. Dear Emma,
    Congratulations on your Pastry Certificate! I did a Cordon Bleu Grand Diplome at the age of fifty, so I know of what you speak. Those practical exams are stressful; in fact we had a pastry chef who kept reminding us that "desserts" is "stressed" spelled backwards. You have such talent and creativity. It was young students like you that kept me inspired as I toiled through my program. All the best in the New Year.

  20. Julie - I love Erin's blog! Glad you found your way here :)

    whisk-kid - Hehe well sometimes you have to do something silly in the name of food blogging!

    Donna - How wonderful - the grand diplome looks so stressful, good on you for doing it! Thank you for your kind words, I hope you have a wonderful new year too :)

  21. Emma, big congrats on passing your exam. (I knew you would). Love the snow shots - well done.

  22. This yule log is so gorgeous set amongst the real snow. There is nothing quite like it, so magical. Beautiful photos!

  23. Hi Emma, I'm planning to try this out for Christmas Day this year. I know you said it keeps well in the fridge but was wondering how far in advance I could get away with making it as am working Christmas Eve (boo). Is 48 hours in advance just too much?

    1. Hi Nina - that sounds like a lovely idea. I'm afraid I can't clearly remember how many days it took us to eat it, so I can't really think of how it was after 48 hours. I'm guessing it'd still be fine - the ganache will sort of seal it and the filling isn't too liquid so I don't think it'd be too soggy. I might make another one when I go home - if it's early enough that I can check how it is after 48 I'll comment again!


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