Guest Attempt: Mare's Bûche de Noël (a.k.a. The Yule Log Extravaganza)

I spent this summer in Paris, and ever since, Amelia has been badgering me to do a French attempt. As Christmas drew near, I realized I could not only relive my time in France but also one of my greatest moments of prepubescence: the time in seventh-grade that we had a Buche de Noël contest in French class and my buche WON. (Actually, I may not have won, but I felt like I did.)

So, back at home for the holidays and with the help of my mom, I decided to revisit the infamous Buche de Noël, one of France's most elaborate Christmas traditions. Surely having flashbacks from the first buche she got roped into, Mom kept trying to tempt me with a Bon Appetit "no-bake buche" recipe. But I wasn't in this for me--oh no. This was an Attempt. I knew it was gourmet recipe or nothing. I turned to Saveur whose buche recipe was adapted from one belonging to famed Parisian pastry house Ladurée. It was three pages long, and baking would be the least of it.

Saveur's version:

my version:
Day 1 (yes, this was a two-day affair).
Melt semi-sweet chocolate with butter and cream for the icing. Remove from heat and stir occasionally for four hours. I stirred it a couple of times!That was plenty. I had other, much more complicated things to tackle, such as the filling. I would like to note that this recipe would have been a total failure were I not at Mom's house. Mom really came through with amazing kitchen tools I have yet to/will never acquire such as a candy thermometer, egg separator, sugar duster, and standing mixer.

And despite her pretending to poo-poo complex, multi-day recipes like Saveur's in favor of recipes better suited for the busy woman's lifestyle (like the Bon Appetit no-bake buche), she busted out some extremely advanced kitchen knowledge that proved she's braved these waters before. For example. Several times in the recipe I had to make sugar syrup and heat it to "the softball stage or 236º." I had no idea what softball stage was so I aimed for 236. Suddenly, however, to my great dismay I noted that the temp had shot up to 250. Mom was working hard beating the egg yolks until they were "frothy and pale yellow," at which point I needed to slowly pour in the heated syrup.

Me: "Uh oh, Mom, it's at 250! Should I just wait til it cools off to 236?"
Mom: (freaking out) "250?!?!? Aww DAMMIT, Mare, it might be at hardball stage!!"
Me: (incredulous at Mom's expertise) "Wha?? There's a hardball stage? I'm so confused!"

Actually, she never freaked out or said dammit. But she did throw out "hardball stage." If these baseball-themed syrup stages are as baffling to you as they were to me, this will clear it up for you. Who knew? Moving along to Day 2 and the mushroom meringues that Mom could not believe I was actually going to attempt. Long story short, these shrooms were a HUGE SUCCESS! After going through the harrowing softball stage syrup/perfectly beaten egg white business again, piping the meringue from a ziploc bag (Mom's pastry tips went to Goodwill years ago) into caps and stems was the ultimate in mother/daughter fun. After baking and assembling these little guys, the whole family was beginning to pay attention to the buche operation and getting really impressed with my newly discovered pastry chef skillzz.

Baking the flourless cake was the simplest part: it just had to be thin and moist enough to roll into log formation. After spreading on the filling, the family had gathered around for the climax of the whole ordeal: THE ROLLING OF THE BUCHE. With cameras flashing all around me, I prepared for the step which would make or break the entire attempt. Upper left quadrant: I'm rolling. Upper right quadrant: Still rolling.

High on my apparent culinary mastery (and my family's awe), decorating the log of yuletide joy was sheer bliss. Chopped off the ends of the beautifully rolled cake, glued 'em on top with icing to look like stumps, frosted the whole thing, arranged the mushrooms, and dusted with powdered sugar snow. A scene of winter woodland harmony, as only the French could recreate in pastry form. Oh yeah, and then we ate it. And if you can believe it, it tasted even better than it looked and was worth every second of labor. Thanks for an excellent recipe, Saveur. And thanks for all your help again, Mom!


Amelia Morris said...

Mary Anne! First of all, congrats to you and your mom! You made a French yule log!!

Second, you had me at bûche. I died at Bon Appetit no-bake bûche and again at the freakishly real-looking mushrooms and once more at the hardball/softball convo.

Third, I love this post.

marsha said...

What an delicious attempt! Please know that I am a mom who has never tackled a 2 day baking task, especially one with a softball stage. Congratulations and Happy Holidays.

symphonious sweets said...

this sounds like so much fun... mother and daughter baking side by side! And your Buche de Noel looks fabulous.

Matt said...

Great attempt Mare! A agree with Amerz -- those mushrooms look amazingly real.

Jodi said...

GORGEOUS!! amazing job, M!!!

David Madeira said...

I'd like to comment from my esteemed position as one of the "eaters of the buche." It was absolutely AWESOME. Aside from being awestruck at the chef hanging in there for 2 days and actually pulling off these crazy culinary tasks, none of us could believe how incredible the end result actually tasted. It was a bit difficult to watch such a work of art actually be cut into and consumed, but once we started eating it, little in the world could stop us.

I, who helped ZERO in this attempt, was honored to eat such a delicious dessert.

sarahwl said...

how fantastic! the mushrooms are the icing on the cake! (haha.. not so funny pun there, i apologize)