Bakes the perfect festive treat
Christmas celebrations differ enormously from country to country and many of these are centered around food. We Brits are all very familiar with the ubiquitous turkey, trimmings and Christmas pud – so what happens in France?
Firstly the main meal is not enjoyed on Christmas Day. In France, it is on the evening of 24 December that families gather to celebrate and eat, and my French friends all say that there is not one single dish that stands alone as being ‘a classic’ French Christmas dish. I suspect this also differs from region to region, as so much of the cuisine does in France.
However, there are a couple of dishes that do spring to mind when thinking about Christmas in France and one of them is the bûche de Noël.
The history of this gâteau is steeped in myth and predates medieval times. In order to welcome in the winter solstice signaling the end of winter and the beginning of spring, people would gather to celebrate by burning logs decorated with holly and
The decorations vary from a simple frosting to chocolate bark and even piped meringue mushrooms and marzipan holly leaves
berries. The ashes were believed to hold medicinal qualities and protect people from evil spirits.
Remarkably the tradition survived through the ages becoming more elaborate and it was eventually transformed into the cake that we know and love today, and that was first noted in France in 1879. At the time, it was certainly considered the Christmas dessert.
There are so many different versions of bûche de Noël. It is a chocolate genoise sponge or roulade filled with cream, which is rolled into a log and covered with chocolate ganache, and decorated in many different ways to resemble the original log.
The chocolate sponge can be filled with flavoured cream and the decorations vary from a simple frosting to chocolate bark and even piped meringue mushrooms and marzipan holly leaves. I like to use chestnut purée in the filling and then a simple chocolate-cream frosting. The ‘bark’ is just melted chocolate allowed to set and cut into strips to look as much like a log as possible. It’s simple but effective and tastes wonderfully indulgent. The perfect Christmas treat!
Louise Pickford is a food writer and stylist with more than 25 cookbooks to her name. She lives in Charente with her food and lifestyle photographer husband Ian Wallace.