The bûche de Noël- seldom baked, often enjoyed. I love cake but there is a level of labor that generally excludes me from making a particular recipe and instead sends me straight to one of my local bakeries.
If there is one thing that I took away from making this cake it’s how glorious homemade marshmallow frosting is. I could swear that I’ve made it before but I can’t quite place my finger on when. It could be that I have it mixed up with some childhood memories. We had some really wonderful neighbors across the street: Steve and Nancy. Steve’s favorite cake was devil’s food with marshmallow frosting. Ever year on Steve’s birthday Nancy would ask to borrow my mother’s double boiler pan and I knew that later on we would all be across the street enjoying some really delicious cake.
Why has marshmallow frosting fallen out of fashion? This stuff is wonderful. Light, pillowy with the most pleasing gooey texture. The version for this cake was flavored with vanilla and mine happens to be made with bourbon which was an extra flavor bonus in this recipe. Buche de Noel’s are quite a project and this recipe can be broken down into four parts: praline, cake, filling and icing.
The praline is pretty spectacular all on it’s own. I made two versions due to some potential nut allergies, one with pecans (per the recipe) and one with almonds.
The trick with the praline is to watch the sugar like a hawk and trust your nose. The second you smell a strong caramel scent pull your pan off the heat. This was fab in the cake and was also great to steal little pieces and eat. I would recommend making this a day ahead since their are so many steps to this cake.
The cake consists of a whipped egg and sugar concoction with some carefully added flour, cornstarch, spices and butter. Simple ingredients but a bit of a complicated process.
My first attempt fell a little flat (although the cake was still useable and tasty). My second was much better after I added one dollop of batter to the butter and mixed and then continued to add a few little dollops and mix until I felt it was pretty airy. This helped immensely and kept my batter light and airy while I mixed in the butter.
One the cake is golden and springy you dump it onto a towel coated in powdered sugar, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and pre-roll the cake and let it cool. Sounds tough but probably the most fun I had with this outside the frosting. Plus the smell of fresh cake is always heavenly.
While the cake cools in it’s dishtowel blanket you can make the filling. A simple combo of cream cheese and butter with spices and then some of the praline that’s been finely chopped. While this was an excellent cake filler I suspect it might also lend itself to make the best bagel ever.
Once the cake is cooled and the filling is pliable it’s time to fill and assemble the cake and get it ready for frosting. The cake will probably crack, mine definitely did, but it doesn’t matter. Keep rolling up till you have your log and pop it in the fridge.
The frosting written for a single cake generously frosted both cakes and left some to spare for snacking. I’m not sure why the recipe was written to generate so much frosting but I’m not really complaining about it either. I used 100% organic boxed egg whites because my chickens don’t produce a lot of eggs this time of year and I knew I couldn’t be bothered to fiddle with recipes for the yolks. I had no trouble with the whites from the carton and wouldn’t hesitate to go that route again.
The recipe uses temperature and the use of a candy thermometer to combine whipped egg whites with boiled sugar, water and cream of tarter. While I utilized this technique you could easily go old-fashioned with this one and use a water test. When your sugar gets to the soft ball stage pull it off the stove, pour it into your stiff egg whites with some vanilla and beat till room temp. As you beat the sugar in you’ll notice the frosting start to gain volume and change texture.
Ridiculously tasty and light don’t be afraid to try this on other cakes. I found myself hankering for a little bit of devil’s food cake to snack with the extra.
To finish this up the frosting is applied and topped with the rest of the praline. While this isn’t simple to make I like the simple look of the final product. Quite elegant and almost regal but still homey and accessible.
While I probably won’t tackle anything this complex in the near future this was fun to make and tasted great. A good balance of rich filling and airy frosting with fragrant spices and crunchy praline makes for a pretty great cake.