Bakes the per­fect fes­tive treat

Living France - - À La Maison -

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.

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