...also known as the bûche of Christmas present and maybe future! See, when I was growing up, the bûche de Noël (yule log) was a big event in our family. My Mom made it from scratch year after year. We kids saw it as the pinnacle of the Christmas dinner and awaited it eagerly. For the filling and the frosting, she made "crème au beurre" (butter ganache) which she flavored with strong coffee. She always decorated her bûche the same way, with a plastic Santa hoisting a bulging backpack of presents, a little sled pulled by two reindeers as well as a few elves and a couple of mushrooms, including a gigantic red one with white polka-dots. Pretty tacky stuff but magical to a child!
I inherited the decorations when my Mom stopped making Christmas and used them on our own bûche when our kids were little. But then slowly but surely after decades of loyal and cheerful yearly service, the red faded, the big mushroom cap assumed an awkard angle that no amount of tweaking seemed to fix for long and the reindeers lost their footing. I regret to say that they all had to be retired... At about the same time I stopped making the dessert and my Mom's bûche suddenly morphed into the bûche of Christmas past.
This year, despite the lack of plastic Santas, elves and reindeer, I decided to pick up the tradition where I left it years ago but with a self-imposed twist: no butter and as little egg as possible. Why? Well, I am not a card-carrying member of the nutrition brigade but the fact is that the Man has to watch his cholesterol levels and since his ruling principle is that whatever I make or buy is good for him or I wouldn't make or buy it, I find myself looking for alternatives which I would never consider left to my own devices.
See, I am lucky enough to have inherited my Dad's cholesterol gene. He was the living embodiment of the French paradox, never having met a saucisson (dry cured sausage) or a pâté he didn't like and until his last day, he never let water touch his lips except when brushing his teeth. As for me, I remember going to a new doctor for a check-up back in New York a few years ago. She glanced at my lab levels and did a double-take, then got up from behind her desk and walked to her bookshelves, coming back with a huge medical volume. She thumbed through it for a minute, then her brow cleared: "You are okay, it seems. It's just that I have never seen such a low level of cholesterol in a living person!"
Well, my Mom wasn't so lucky and neither is the Man who pretty much likes everything that's garanteed to stick to his arteries. His take on his health reminds me of a conversation I once had with one of our grand-daughters. We were traveling in the car in a driving rain when she glimpsed beckoning golden arches. She said wistfully: "I love chicken nuggets. It's my favorite food!". Crestfallen, I observed that it was okay to have them once in a while but that they were not really good for one's body. She replied sharply: "Maybe they are not good for your body, but my body loves them!". She had just turned 3.
So even though I think that, barring compelling health reasons, it is okay to eat whatever one likes from time to time, when I resolved to bring the bûche back to our Christmasses, I looked for one that would go where others fear to tread and entirely eschew butter. The one I found on the Eating Well website fit the bill. It used lots of egg whites and only two yolks and the cake itself looked superlight. I decided to go for it.
One roly poly, a meringue mushroom patch and mountains of frothy frosting later, I do declare a winner in the bashful bûche pageant: the cake is light and the taste delicate. I love the combined flavors of roasted hazelnut, chocolate and coffee and best of all, the whole thing is as airy as a cloud, which is a pretty nifty trick for a log.
I followed the recipe to a tee but for this clever log to become the bûche of Christmas future, I would change a few things:
- I would set aside one-and-a-half to two cups of frosting for the filling. The recipe calls for one cup but I had barely enough to cover the cake. Despite my painting the cake with a blend of coffee and hazelnut liqueur before filling it, it turned out drier than it should have;
- I would make the filling more chocolaty. I used Valrhona cocoa which should have be strong enough but it wasn't. I would melt some good dark chocolate, let it cool and gently fold it into the frosting, creating some kind of superlight chocolate mousse;
- Finally I would make the coffee-flavored frosting darker and slightly more assertive by using more concentrated coffee.