In France, a proper Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without the traditional Bûche de Nöel. This wooden-log shaped dessert is a distinctly celebrated French tradition – or might I say, an institution!
Proof is, every year in early December, the most renowned French pastry chefs unveil their new signature Bûche de Nöel – in what is the most awaited culinary moment of the year, in France. Chefs compete in showing off their skills with their most imaginative bûche yet, which are for the most part, far (in taste and look) from the classic log-shaped chocolate roll.
Clearly, when it comes to Bûches de Nöel, there are now two main schools in France. The traditional one, that will go for one of the 3 classics: chocolate, praline or frosted chestnut. And the one that plays with new flavour combinations and creative looks.
But whether you opt for a classic or modern take, I think that there is no bigger pride for a Christmas baker than making your own Bûche de Nöel.
I know you may be thrown off by the fanciness of this French classic, and I certainly can’t promise it will be whipped together effortlessly in just a few seconds. But it is actually much easier than what you might think (simply follow the steps, really) and it will surely make an impact when you bring it to the table at dessert.
My take this year, is a delicious French Mocha Bûche de Nöel (which I believe is right crossing between the traditional and modern school). The main components of a classic bûche are here: a cocoa cake layer, rolled around whipped cream and an outter thick ganache. But the addition of coffee notes (I used instant espresso powder) built a delightful mocha flavor, that made this bûche truly unique (and somehow, more “adult” in taste).
Every bite is so flavorful and festive, but a slice is actually pretty light – which makes it totally acceptable to enjoy 2 slices. It is Christmas, after all.
Gluten-Free Genoise Cake
The cake layer of a Bûche de Nöel is traditionnaly called a “genoise”. A classic in French baking, genoise cake relies on air suspended in the batter (whipped egg whites), instead of chemincal leavening, to provide volume.
I have made many Bûche de Nöel in my life, and this genoise layer is by far the easiest one I ever handled and rolled. Plus, it has a delicious, deep cocoa flavour.
In this recipe, the genoise is cocoa-based (no flour), which makes it light-as-air, gluten-free, and most importantly, softer in texture. This is exactly what we want to have – a cake layer that is easy to roll without any cracks.
Speaking of cracks, the trick to preventing cracks in a Bûche de Nöel (or any swiss roll cake) is to roll the genoise right out of the oven, while it’s still warm, in a clean kitchen cloth, dusted with powdered sugar. When the cake layer is cool, gently unroll the cake and immediately spread the filling into it and roll it back up (to not lose any moisture).
The Bûche de Nöel is covered with a generous layer of mocha ganache. Ganache, in French pastry, is a classic glaze or frosting made by heating cream, then pouring it over chopped chocolate of any kind. I added instant espresso powder into the mix to give it a delightful mocha flavour.
The ganache needs some chiling time in the fridge to set. Do not chill it too long (maximum 30 minutes) or it will thicken too much and be hard to spread on the buche.
After covering the bûche entirely, use a knife to create uneven strokes on the ganache to resemble wood bark. The bûche is then dusted with powdered sugar and cocoa, to resemble dirt and snow.
The Bûche de Nöel is traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms and small gnome figures, to match the woodsy theme. I decorated mine with chocolate covered cocoa beans (and some greenery) to match with the mocha theme.
If you try this French Mocha Bûche de Nöel recipe, let me know! Leave a comment or share a photo on Instagram tagging @pardonyourfrench or using #pardonyourfrench. I’d love to see what you come up with.
French Mocha Bûche de NoëlPrint This
6 egg yolks
5 egg whites
½ cup cocoa powder, sifted
Pinch of Salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
1 tsp instant espresso powder
6 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
1.5 tbsp softened unsalted butter
½ tbsp instant espresso powder
2/3 cup heavy cream
Chocolate covered coffee beans
For the Cocoa Genoise Cake:
Preheat oven to 375° F and line a 9-inch by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease the paper.
Step 1. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolk with half of the sugar until pale and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in the salt, vanilla and then the cocoa powder.
Step 2. In another mixing bowl (or simply wash and dry the same bowl), beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the sugar, and keep beating until stiff peaks form.
Step 3. Stir 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the egg yolks. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
Step 4. Pour the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spread it out so it covers the whole sheet and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until the cake layer springs back lightly and is dry to the touch.
Step 5. Take the genoise out of the oven, turn it onto a cloth dusted with powdered sugar (the cake should still be slighty warm, so it is flexible) and roll it into a cylinder. Set aside.
For the mocha ganache:
Step 1. Add chocolate chips, instant coffee powder and butter to a medium bowl.
Step 2. Heat the heavy cream over medium-low heat until hot to the touch (but not simmering yet). Pour it over the chocolate mix and stir with a spoon until completely melted and smooth.
Step 3. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes until it thickens to a ganache/thick frosting consistency.
For the espresso filling:
Step 1. (while the frosting chills) Whip up your heavy cream (high speed) until the folds of the whisk start appearing in the cream.
Step 2. Add in the instant espresso powder and the powdered sugar and continue to whisk on high until the cream is thick like frosting.
To Assemble the Cake:
Step 1. Gently unroll the genoise cake/towel. Gently spread the espresso filling over the top (with a spatula) and roll the cake back into a tight cylinder.
Step 2. Cut off the end pieces of the logs (so you have a clean cut) and gently move the cake to a parchment-lined baking sheet (or a serving platter). Using a spreading knife or spatula, slather the ganache on the whole log (on the ends as well). Be generous with the amount of ganache you spread, and try to reach an uneven look (similar to wood bark texture) rather than a smooth look.
Finish up your buche with dusting of powdered sugar, a dust of cocoa powder and decorate it with chocolate covered cocoa beans and greenery.