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Today: Welcome in the holiday season with this traditional French cake.
There are just about a million ways to make the traditional log-shaped Christmas cake, a Bûche de Nöel, but they all have three main components: cake, filling, and frosting. (They actually have four components, if you count all of the fun bits and bobs you can use for decoration.)
This version utilizes a flourless chocolate cake -- which makes it gluten-free! -- from famed pastry chef Dominique Ansel (yes, the cronut guy is actually a fantastic pastry chef). He used to make mini Bûches de Nöel for all of the diners at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant around the holidays.
Inside, you’ll find a simple coffee and mascarpone cream flecked with vanilla beans and finally, the whole thing is coated with rich chocolate ganache “bark,” both inspired by Cook’s Illustrated.
To decorate the serving platter and make this dessert ultra-festive, I also made Merill’s meringue mushrooms and sugared cranberries and rosemary sprigs which are strictly optional, but highly recommended since you can make both in advance.
Serves 10 to 12
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
5 egg whites
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Coffee Mascarpone Filling
12 ounces mascarpone
6 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso
1 vanilla bean
To Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 375° F and line a 9-inch by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease the paper. Lightly dust a clean kitchen cloth with cocoa powder.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the yolks with half of the sugar on high until the mixture is pale and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla, then the cocoa powder.
Wash and dry the bowl and whisk, then beat the egg whites on medium high until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Stir 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the egg yolks to lighten everything up. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet and bake until the cake springs back and is dry to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes (the cake will deflate a bit). Then turn it out onto the cocoa-dusted kitchen cloth. Gently roll the cake, towel and all, into a long cylinder. Let the cake cool completely in the towel while you prepare the ganache and filling.
To Prepare the Ganache: Add the chocolate, butter, and salt to a bowl. Heat the heavy cream to a bare simmer, then add it to the chocolate. Stir until smooth and let sit at room temperature until it cools to a spreadable consistency.
To Prepare the Filling: Heat the cream to a bare simmer and turn off the heat. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla bean, and instant coffee. Stir and let steep for 20 minutes. Add to the room temperature mascarpone and stir to combine.
To Assemble the Cake: Gently unroll the cake/towel. Spread the mascarpone mixture over the top and use the towel to help roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
Cut a 2- to 3-inch piece off of one end at a diagonal to use as a stump. Gently move the cake to a parchment-lined baking sheet (or a serving platter, if you’d prefer to only move the cake once). Use the cooled ganache to attach the stump to the log. Next, you’ll want to go ahead and slather that ganache on the rest of the cake.
Be generous with the amount you use and drag your spatula or knife over the surface to give it a “barky” look.
Photos by Yossy Arefi