The yule log

From sacred to sweet

La bûche de Noël, or Yule log cake, is the classic French Christmas dessert – the exact equivalent of the English Christmas pudding. It recalls the ancient tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages, of burning a Yule log in the fire on the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Some logs were large enough to burn until Epiphany. The embers were saved, as they were considered sacred and were said to bring good luck.

Contemporary French pâtissiers compete to reinvent the log and create new variations, often less sweet. Nobody really knows who made the first, in the 1870s, only that it was a French pastry chef. From the 1950s it became the French Christmas treat of choice. Homemade recipes also abound.

Sponge secrets

Every dessert “log” starts out as a rectangular sponge cake, covered with buttercream. Whether the cream is flavoured with praline, vanilla, coffee, chestnut, chocolate or fruit, it’s spread in a generous layer over the whole surface. Then the sponge cake is carefully rolled so it takes the shape of a log without collapsing. It’s covered with yet another layer of buttercream, which represents the log’s bark. The Yule logs of the 21st century have become exercises in haute cuisine style. Pastry chefs rival one another in ingenuity. They revisit tradition to reflect current trends and tastes.

Frozen, filled, layered, low in fat and sugar, gluten-free, exotic, eccentric, their logs can also be graphic, stylized, ornate or crafted like ephemeral sculptures. But while the log’s shape and ingredients may change, it remains essential. The proof? On their end-of-year menus, every palace hotel in France makes it a point of honour to create and serve their “exclusive” bûche de Noël.


The log takes shape

It seems that several 19th century pâtissiers pioneered the bûche de Noël, although the name of Parisian pastry chef Antoine Charabot often occurs in this context. One thing’s for sure: the dessert log was clearly an invention of professional pâtissiers, as it’s a technical achievement.

It would not have taken the form of a rolled cake until about 1945. Time has moved on, and these days it bears only a passing resemblance to a log that’s burned in the fire.


A sense of nostalgia


As wood-burning fireplaces have become rare, this delicious dessert stands as a reminder of the past. A good way to provoke memories and combine nostalgia with a sweet indulgence.

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