La Bûche de Noël

A traditional French dessert served after the main Christmas dinner is the Bûche de Noël. The Bûche de Noël (Yule log cake in English) is an elaborate creation consisting of a rolled, filled sponge cake, frosted with chocolate buttercream to look like tree bark and festooned with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly sprigs, spun sugar cobwebs and any other sort of edible decoration.

The origin of the tradition comes from the rather enormous and very dense log that was burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Christmas celebrations. It sometimes consisted of an entire tree trunk with one end burning inside the hearth while the rest of the trunk stuck out into the room.

We don’t know who exactly made the first Yule log cake, but judging from the individual ingredients it could have been as early as the 1600s. Marzipan and meringue decorations, two of the most popular choices for Yule logs, appeared on many a medieval table. Sponge cake, which often constitutes the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today. It dates back to at least 1615.

Parisian bakers popularized the cake in the 19th century, and different bakeries became known for their more elaborate decorations. Nowadays every French home will have its Bûche de Noël in the form of the traditional cake made from a Génoise or sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow pan, then rolled into a cylinder, frosted and decorated. Many variations of this cake are now available including some that are not cakes at all but made of sorbet, ice cream or elaborate confections and come in a multitude of flavor combinations.

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