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A Cool Yule (Log) for the Daring Bakers

Have you ever decided to tackle a complicated and time-consuming project and announced it to family and friends, only to be met with stares of wide-eyed horror and echoed strains of “Are you crazy or something!”? Well, that’s pretty much what happened when I shared my plans to make this month’s Daring Baker Challenge, a Yule Log, or Buche de Noel. After seeing that 18 page treatise, er, I mean recipe, Mr. SGCC rolled his eyes back into his head and pronounced, “No freakin’ way!”. Mini SGCC just got one of those smug, know-it-all, teenaged looks on her face and said “Yeah…..right!”.


I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to tell me that I can’t do something, it only makes me want to prove them wrong. So, while I secretly harbored much of the same doubts and fears about attempting this project, I was determined to at least give it my best shot! I did, and let me tell you, people. It almost killed me. 

This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry [1] and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux [2]. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand [3]. Different from the more common Genoise and Buttercream type of Yule Log you are probably familiar with, this frozen version is reminiscent of an ice cream cake, except that it is made with a frozen mousse of some sort, layered around various layers of different fillings. In France, this type of confection is called an entremets, which is loosely translated in English as a “cream dessert”.

Perfectionist OCD individuals like me should probably resist the urge to dive into projects like this. With six separate components to prepare and somehow manage to assemble into a single, seamless and attractive unit, I literally worked myself into a panicked frenzy requiring medication and quite possibly, intensive therapy! Reading and re-reading the recipe, my brain was swimming in dread, trying to take it all in. I was convinced that I needed a degree in structural engineering to master this thing.

Where do I begin?

My first dilemma was what kind of vessel to use as my mold. I had a couple of nice loaf pans, but they were rectangular and I wanted my buche to be round. I ordered a fancy (read expensive) Buche de Noel pan from Sur la Table [4] and thought I was set. But, when the pan arrived, it was MUCH smaller than I had expected – barely two inches deep! I didn’t see any possible way to get all of the required layers packed into that tiny package. CRAP!

Several of my DB colleagues reported that they had made their own molds using various combinations of PVC pipes, paper towel rolls, foil pans and assorted other things. I decided to go the disposable foil pan route, because I happened to have a few left over from Christmas. I found the biggest wine bottle that I had and molded the foil around it. Then, I trimmed it to fit inside one of my loaf pans. (Using a wine bottle worked out perfectly for me, because by the time I got to this point in the recipe, I already needed a few drinks!) By the way, if you try this yourself, BE CAREFUL! Those %$&*@# cut edges are SHARP!

The first element I prepared was the creme brulee. I decided to keep it simple here and made the vanilla version as written in the recipe. I lined another loaf pan with foil and baked the brulee in that so it would be the proper size and shape to fit into my buche. There was some controversy on the DB boards regarding the correct oven temperature for this. I decided to up the temperature to 260 degrees F. and after one hour, my creme brulee looked set. As directed, I then set it in the freezer until I needed it. I also made a small second brulee to test. After being frozen overnight, it unmolded without incident and tasted really good. (I also plopped a chunk into my morning coffee and ooh la la! It was delicious!)

Next, I made the Praline Feuillete……twice. The praline paste was easy to put together and it came off without a hitch, but the rest? Well, let’s just say something got lost in la traduction. It was lumpy, clumpy and Would. Not. Hold. Together. I think I used too many Rice Krispies. The recipe said 2.1 ounces, but that translated into about 4 cups of cereal. The second time, I used half as much and it turned out fine. The finished feuillete reminded me of a Nestle’s Crunch Bar. I wonder if I could have saved myself the aggravation and just used a few of those? (I mean, who would know?)

After that, I made the mousse, using milk chocolate instead of dark. My family likes milk chocolate better and so do I. I also felt that the lighter color of the milk chocolate would make a prettier contrast with the other elements in the buche.

This particular mousse requires the making of something called a Pate a Bombe. Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes them more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items. Making a Pate a Bombe requires boiling sugar syrup to the soft ball stage, which in turn requires lots of Valium for me, for in spite of my dozens of attempts over the years to boil a sugar syrup to the desired “ball stage”, I have never successfully done it. Not even once. Not even using a candy thermometer.

Without going into the gory details, suffice it to say that I made that @%$*& Pate a Bombe three times before it didn’t bomb – and not before I burned the fingerprints off of my index finger. GRRRR!

Then, I had the bright idea of melting the chocolate for the mousse in my little Wilton chocolate melter [5]. I love that thing! I use it all the time and it does a great job – except this time, my chocolate seized and became all grainy and gloppy. A half-pound of Guittard milk chocolate down the drain – literally! SHIT!

The next half-pound went into the double boiler and after forever and a day, it was suitably melted, smooth and glossy.

Thankfully, there were no issues with the preparation of the Dacquoise. I used hazelnuts instead of almonds and was very pleased with the way it turned out.

The ganache recipe used in the buche was quite different from any I’ve made before. This one had a caramel base. (Uh oh! Where’s that burn ointment!) I must finally be getting the knack of caramelizing sugar, because I only had to make this one twice before being rewarded with a lovely, thick and glossy ganache.

Assembling the Buche de Noel was actually not as daunting as I expected it to be. Once all of the different elements were completed, trimmed and ready to go, putting it all together was kind of easy. When I unmolded my buche, I noticed that there were some holes where the mousse didn’t fill in. I did tap down the mold several times while piping it in, but the mousse was pretty thick. I was afraid to tap too much because my loaf pan was made of glass. I could just see myself shattering the pan after all that work! I figured that real logs have plenty of bumps and nicks and that mine would just look more “realistic”.

After reading about how many of the other DBers ran short on the chocolate finishing glaze, I doubled the recipe. It was a good call, because I needed it. I could have even used more. Of course, since I already had some gaps in my buche, a totally smooth and shiny finish was too much to hope for. Again, I opted for “realism” and drizzled some chocolate “grooves” over the top of the log. It covered up quite a few blemishes, which then looked like I had put them there on purpose.


(I know it’s just condensation, but doesn’t the one on the left look like it has snow on top?)

With the leftover bits and pieces of the different elements, I also made a little baby buche. Isn’t it cute? Technically, it isn’t a log, but more like a mini tree trunk, since it stands upright. I just layered the ingredients in a small cake ring. I like the fact that it is a single serving which would be perfect for an elegant dinner party or a buffet. Much easier to serve.

I garnished my buche with white chocolate leaves that I made using real leaves from my Meyer lemon tree. They are quite easy to make. All you do is brush tempered chocolate on the back side of the leaves and chill or freeze until firm. Then, carefully peel the real leaves away and chill or freeze again. The holly berries were made from some leftover holiday sprinkles that I had. I hand painted the leaves with some green luster dust and voila! Christmas holly! Just make sure that you use leaves that are thin and pliable. I tried this with some Kaffir lime leaves and it was a mess. The leaves were too stiff and the chocolate shattered when I tried to peel it off.

Now, for the moment of truth. How do I feel about this challenge after spending two solid days making and re-making caramel, melting pounds of chocolate, stirring, folding, beating, baking, freezing (and cursing) the numerous elements of this Buche de Noel? Well, I guess I’m torn. Am I glad I did it? Yes…..and No. While I am very proud of myself for actually having completed the challenge, I have to say that I don’t think I would ever do it again. Don’t get me wrong – the buche was a showstopper and it tasted absolutely divine. But, all of that work and stress pretty much sapped every last drop of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” right out of me! For me, it was a monumental task in an already frenetic time. Just getting the recipe straight took HOURS! And the MESS (not to mention the injuries)!!! Not only was my entire kitchen covered in chocolate, but I was too. (Not a good look for me.) Frankly, I probably would have enjoyed the experience a lot more if it hadn’t happened smack dab in the middle of the Holiday Season. Cooking and baking are things that I do to relax, because I enjoy them. When they become another source of anxiety in my life, it defeats the purpose. I’m just sayin’.

Next time, I think I’ll just buy my Buche de Noel from Francois Payard [7]. His are magnificent and it would probably be cheaper!

If you’d like to see some more cool Yules from this challenge, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll. [8] You’ll find hundreds of delectable and creative Buches de Noel there.

Appréciez et Joyeux Noël!

The following is the order in which I made the different elements of the Buche de Noel. It worked best for me because the first few elements needed much more time to prepare and set up before being ready to use. I was able to multi-task and begin making the latter elements while the former were baking, chilling, freezing, etc.

1) Creme Brulee
2) Praline Feuillete
3) Mousse
4) Dacquoise
5) Ganache
6) Icing