Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store.
- Dr. Seuss
Four o’clock in the afternoon and the sky is already darkening towards dusk. Deep into winter, yet Nantes cannot decide what it wants, like a temperamental spoiled woman used to being pampered and coddled. Steely skies and frigid winds morph into a soft breeze and a blaze of sunshine only to flash to rain and glacial, tempestuous winds before you can say “Jack Frost”, before you realize what has happened. Capricious. We are a slave to her moods. We sneak out of the house as the lights outside dim, as the heavens are painted inky black and the streets begin to twinkle and glow in the holiday lights.
Wrapped around each other, we let the cold wind refresh us after staying too long in the warm apartment; wrapped around each other, we bask in the sparkle of the holiday lights and the glow of the holiday spirit, ears straining for the joyous music that seeps out of the shops. Night creeps upon us and we head back home once again to the warmth of inside where we gather together with our sons; the darkness envelops us like a blanket as we sit as a family and debate Christmas. Will we or won’t we? Will the festive, celebratory spirit embrace the household or will Scrooge settle onto the sofa, grab the remote control and grump the holiday away?
And younger son, arms crossed, eyes lowered, harumphs his displeasure. “I thought this was a Jewish home,” he mumbles, obviously not in the Christmas mood. He is a tough nut to crack, hard to pull out of one of his funks, but we are all in a great mood and we know just what to say to get him to crack a smile.
The holiday spirit has won and a menu was settled upon. I dashed to the kitchen and began pulling bags of dried cranberries, chocolate chips, cocoa powder and chestnut cream, flour and eggs from the cupboards and lined them up on the countertop next to my collection of holiday dvds. I was in a festive mood and ready to make cookies, cakes and puddings! Son had offered to bring the apératif, fingerfoods to accompany the chilling bottle of Prosecco in the refrigerator, smoked salmon with herbed crème fraîche on blinis, black olive tapenade on slices of baguette topped with sun-dried tomatoes, wedges of foie gras on dark bread topped with sweet and sour onion compote. Christmas music, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters, rang out from husband’s ipad which he had kindly set up for me, baking and singing, merry, indeed.
And of course, JP prepared his Christmas Eve masterpiece, an extra special luxury cheese fondue, a heady blend of cheeses, Gruyère, Emmenthal, bleu de Gex and a bit of Roquefort, white wine and kirsch and a touch of garlic.
And I was in charge of dessert.
I had been asked specifically to prepare a traditional bûche de noël, a yule log. Clem was adamant, nothing else would do! My most untraditional son was taken over by the holiday spirit and demanded a veritable bûche. Yet, when he heard that his father wanted nothing more than something light and fruity to follow such a heavy, rich meal as a cheese fondue, exhorted that I make nothing fancier than homey Apple Crisps, son became relentless in his campaign for a bûche, popping up on my Facebook page
Are you trying to escape from your bûche assignment??
My favorite Christmas cookie is BÛCHE! And my favorite movie is BACK TO THE BÛCHE!
Well, he was right. I mean…Apple Crisp? For Christmas dinner? Why not a traditional bûche de noël that had been specifically requested and might just very well have been promised? Or a fancy Chocolate Chip Zuccotto or Chocolate Chestnut Charlotte, each dressed to impress? These rich, showy confections veritably scream Christmas… or Noël, as the case may be. What had I been thinking? And so I defied JP’s wishes and logic and I gave into my son’s, the old Christmas Spirit chasing away my nonchalance and practicality. Tis the season for mirth and joy!
Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.
― Charles M. Schulz
A Bûche de Noël.
Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! - Charles Dickens
Follow this link to Plated Stories for our latest posts Frozen, Light and Holiday. All in the seasonal spirit.
AND there are still spaces available at our Plated Stories Workshop being held the last ten days of May in Italy (still time to plan!). The workshop will be dedicated to food writing, food photography and styling, inspiration, ideas and creativity. And there will be fabulous Italian food and visits to many Tuscan cities.
Did you know that I received a wonderful Christmas box from the people at Peeps? Yes, a box full of holiday marshmallow Peeps and I wrote all about it – and how I, after more than 25 years, got a Frenchman with Grinch-like tendencies – to eat and like Peeps! Find it here on Huffington Post!
And in case you missed it, find my story about Rémy Anézo, pigeon breeder extraordinaire, here on Modern Farmer.
Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred,
and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit,
become a child again at Christmas-time.
― Laura Ingalls Wilder
This year's Bûche de Noël
BÛCHE DE NOËL
Please read through the entire recipe – the genoise, the filling and the frosting – so you can best organize and time each step. The genoise will need time to cool rolled up in a cloth and the cream filling needs a bit of time to chill in the refrigerator before assembling the bûche.
For the Rum Sugar Syrup:
Scant half cup (100 ml) water
Scant 3/8 cup (80 g) sugar
2 - 3 Tbs rum
Place the water with the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Let boil for 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Stir in the rum. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Can be made the day before.
For the Genoise:
This is a magnificent genoise for any jellyroll cake any time of the year. Simple to make.
4 large eggs, separated
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp vanilla
4/5 cup (100 g) flour
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar and a sifter or sieve
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a 15 ½ x 10 ½ x ¾ inch (40 x 27 x 2 cm) jellyroll pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment. Have a clean dishtowel larger than the jellyroll pan as well as a clean flat baking sheet ready.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in large mixing bowl and the whites in a very clean medium-sized bowl (I prefer plastic). If you like, add a tiny pinch of salt and 2 drops lemon juice to the whites to help stabilize them. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat with an electric mixer on high until thick, creamy and pale, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
Using very clean beaters, beat the whites until peaks hold and the meringue is thick. Fold the whites into the yolk/sugar mixture gently but firmly using a spatula, a third of the whites at a time, alternating with the flour in two or three additions. Do not over mix/fold but do make sure there are no more clumps of whites visible, no more pockets of flour.
Spread the batter evenly in the parchment-lined jellyroll pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until puffed, golden and the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Remove from the oven. Immediately slide the parchment paper and cake together onto the extra large flat baking sheet. Invert the warm jellyroll pan and place on top of the genoise and, holding both the jellyroll pan and the baking sheet firmly together, flip them over and remove the baking sheet; the top of the genoise is now face down while the parchment paper is up. Peel off the parchment paper. Dust a light layer of powdered sugar all over the genoise and then place the clean dishtowel over the genoise. Once again place the clean baking sheet inverted on the dishtowel-covered cake and, holding the baking sheet and the jellyroll pan firmly together, flip. Remove the jellyroll pan.
You should now have the warm genoise topside up on the clean dishtowel on the clean flat baking sheet. Dust the top of the genoise with a light layer of powder sugar and, starting on a short end of the cake, roll the genoise up – gently but as tightly as possible without crushing or breaking the cake - in the towel (the towel will be rolled up with the cake). Allow to cool completely.
For the Chestnut Mascarpone Cream Filling:
½ cup (125 ml) chilled heavy whipping cream
Scant ½ tsp powdered unflavored gelatin + 2 Tbs cold water
½ cup (125 g) fresh mascarpone cheese
Small can (3.5 oz/100 g) crème de marrons (sweetened chestnut cream) *
* If you do not have crème de marrons, you can simply fold in powdered sugar (not too sweet), chocolate hazelnut spread, a splash of rum or orange liqueur or grated chocolate.
Place the 2 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan; sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water and let sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Place the pan over a very low heat to warm the water and melt the gelatin – you want to heat the water for about 5 minutes without allowing it to come to a boil or to boil away: allow the water to heat then, holding the pan just off of the flame/heat, swirling and whisking constantly, allow the bit of water to stay heated for long enough to allow the gelatin to melt. After the 5 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes or until barely tepid to the touch.
Beat the heavy cream in a chilled bowl until thick and soft peaks hold. Continue beating as you pour the gelatin water into the heavy cream in a slow stream.
Beat in the mascarpone then the chestnut cream.
Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour to allow the gelatin to add body to the filling.
For the Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting:
2.8 oz (80 g) dark chocolate (70%)
Between 3/8 and ½ cups (100 ml) heavy cream
About 3 Tbs leftover Chestnut Mascarpone Filling or Mascarpone Cheese
Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof/Pyrex bowl. Place the cream in a small saucepan and heat just to the boil. Pour the steaming cream over the chocolate, allow to sit for a minute and then stir vigorously with a whisk or spatula until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is homogeanous, smooth and thickening. Mixing/whisking occasionally, allow the chocolate ganache to cool and thicken, placing it in the refrigerator for a bit if needed. Once cooled and thickened (or beginning to thicken – it should not harden) beat it with either leftover filling or mascarpone to lighten, just as much as needed and desired.
Assemble the Bûche:
When the genoise is completely cool, carefully unroll and slide off the dishtowel and onto a clean sheet of parchment paper or work surface. Brush/dab a generous amount of the Rum Syrup all over the genoise, as much or as little as desired – the more one uses, the stronger the rum flavor will be as it infuses the cake and the moister the genoise will become; use at least half of the syrup if not a bit more. Spread the Chestnut Mascarpone Cream Filling evenly over the genoise; I saved about 3 tablespoons to use for the frosting. Starting at the short end of the genoise (the end rolled up first in the towel to cool), roll up the cake as tightly as possible without pressing or rolling so tightly that the cream oozes out (see the photo of my finished cake to see how mine was rolled). When completely rolled, scrape off any filling that has oozed out. Using a sharp or serrated knife, trim off both ends of the bûche to even out the ends. Very carefully, lift the bûche onto the serving platter, placing the seam side down.
At this point, I covered the bûche and the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerated it for an hour or two (the time it took to prepare dinner) to allow the filling to firm up.
Before serving, spread the Chocolate Frosting all over the bûche and decorate as desired.