The bûche de Noël, or Yule log cake, has a history as rich as its buttercream frosting. The Yule log can trace its roots (no pun intended) to Europe’s Iron Age, before the medieval era. To celebrate the winter solstice, Celtic Brits and Gaelic Europeans would burn large logs decorated with holly, pinecones or ivy. This tradition welcomed the return of the sun and was thought to cleanse the air of the previous year’s events and to usher in the spring.
As Christianity spread through Europe, the Yule log tradition continued, albeit on a smaller scale. Families continued to burn logs, but started to do so in smaller hearths. Although small hearths prevented families from burning the massive logs of old, people realized they were perfect for baking cakes. (History Channel)
Parisian bakers popularized the cake in the 19th century, and different bakeries became known for their more elaborate decorations. The first recorded mention of the bûche de Noël appeared in 1898, in Le Memorial Historique et Geographique de la Patisserie, a cookbook by the Parisian pastry chef Pierre Lacam. (Saveur)
Waterford French teacher Veronique Marichal Willardson says the bûche de Noël is still very much a part of the Christmas tradition in France. December brings tantalizing cakes to bakery windows, each carefully decorated with marzipan holly and meringue mushrooms. Many Parisians will eat their bûche de Noël following midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
Upper School Waterford French students were charged with making their own bûches de Noël to celebrate the holiday season, the art of French baking, and the universal love for a little something sweet.
Waterford French classes (taught by Brett Chancelor and Veronique Marichal Willardson) appropriately celebrated the holiday season with a friendly bûche de Noël competition. Students formed teams of two or three and planned their cakes down to the last pine bough.
Students proudly presented their cakes to a panel of guest faculty judges: Tim Stout (Foreign Lanuage), Ingrid Knowles (Science), and Dr. Luana Uluave (English & History). These judges carefully considered the taste and presentation of each cake. In the taste category, judge Uluave said the panel was paying particular attention to the moistness, consistency, depth of chocolate flavor, and complexity of the cake. Judge Knowles, who had never tasted a bûche de Noël prior to the competition, said the presentation category came down to log-like appearance, attention to detail (extra points for wood grain textures), and creativity.
Students worked hard to bake the perfect bûche de Noël. A traditional bûche de Noël is comprised of a sponge cake filled and iced with buttercream and decorated with embellishments such as meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and frosting that’s scored to resemble bark.
Arnaud Delmontel, renowned Parisian pâtissier and owner of Delmontel’s bakeries, says the key to making a great bûche de Noël is mastering the sponge cake, or as it’s called in French, biscuit: “If it’s cooked correctly, the cake is already done.” (Saveur) While mastering the sponge cake may be the key, students unanimously agreed that rolling the sponge cake into a log-like shape was the most challenging part of the process.
Cakes ranged from traditional to thought-provoking. Chocolate cakes dominated the table, but one team dared to bring vanilla sponge cake to the competiton, while another used chocolate mousse instead of buttercream frosting for the filling. See the seven bûche entries below:
The competition was tough. Students milled around the classroom as the judges mulled over the merits of each cake. Finally, a decision was reached.
The Best in Taste Category:
The Best in Presentation Category:
By the end of class, everyone was a winner: we all got to eat cake for breakfast! Happy holidays!