How-To Make The Best Bûche de Noël Ever!

/ Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I made my first bûche in the seventh grade for our French class Christmas party. It was a disaster—cake wouldn't roll, burnt the meringue mushrooms, frosting melted. Ever since, the whole process has been super intimidating to me. That is until I found Martha's genoise recipe and manned the heck up! 

So I'd love to share my new formula for putting together a mighty-fine bûche de noël. It's important to use genoise, an egg-raised cake, because it bends and rolls much easier than soda or powder raised cakes. This one is my favorite by far. Here's how you do it and how to make uber-cute meringue mushrooms for decorating...

MAKE THE MERINGUE MUSHROOMS: Beat 2 room temperature egg whites with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until foamy. Beat in a pinch of cream of tartar. Slowly beat in 1/2 cup sugar, continue beating until very shiny and stiff. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag or pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe circular mounds, about 1-inch apart, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Pipe "stems," about 1-inch apart, onto another parchment-lined baking sheet (but save about 1/4 cup meringue for gluing later). Make sure the bases are slightly wider than the tops, so you can stand them up! Bake the meringues in a 200˚ oven for 1 hour.

Scrape out a small hole from the bottom of each mushroom cap using the tip of a pairing knife.

Pipe reserved meringue into the hole, then press 1 stem into the hole (using the meringue to secure it). Wipe away any excess wet meringue. Repeat with the remaining caps. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 25 more minutes or until set. Let cool. Dust with cocoa powder.

And for the main event...

SERVES: 10 to 12

adapted from Martha Stewart Living '93

Cooking spray (preferably baking)
2/3 cup cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for dusting
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,  plus more for dusting
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons butter, softened
Meringue mushrooms, chocolate-covered raisins and/or greens, for decorating.

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 to 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons strong brewed coffee, cooled 
4 to 5 cups confectioners' sugar

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350˚. Spray a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan or a 9-by-13-inch cake pan (that's what I used) with cooking spray and line with parchment paper; spray the parchment with cooking spray, dust with cake flour and tap out the excess. 
2. Sift the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. 
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in the bowl of a stand-mixer or in another large heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and whisk until the mixture is warm and the sugar dissolves. Beat with the paddled attachment on high speed until the mixture cools, triples in volumes and is pale yellow. Reduce the mixer speed to medium; add the vanilla and beat 2 to 3 minutes. 
4. In three additions, sift the flour mixture over the egg mixture and fold together gently. When you add the last addition, drizzle the melted butter over the batter, as well, and fold all together until combined. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake until the center springs back and gently pressed, 15 to 20 minutes (don't over-bake or the cake will crack when you roll it). Transfer to a wire rack until the cake is cool enough to handle but still very warm.
5. Dust the surface of the cake with cocoa powder. Cover the pan with a damp dish towel, then invert the cake onto it on a work surface. Peel off the parchment paper and dust the exposed side with more cocoa powder. Starting at one short end, tightly roll up the cake around the dish towel. Transfer to the refrigerator or freezer, tightly wrapped, until the cake is completely cool. 
6. Meanwhile, make the frosting: Beat the butter with a mixer until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and beat until combined. Alternating adding the coffee and confectioners' sugar until you reach your desired flavor and consistency. 
7. Unroll the cooled cake and spread with one-third of the frosting; tightly re-roll and transfer to a serving plate. Frost the whole cake with the remaining frosting, using the tip of an offset spatula to draw lines in the frosting to look like bark (see below). Garnish with meringue mushrooms, chocolate covered raisins and greens.

What's on your baking agenda for the holidays? I'd love to know!


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