Among our family’s holiday-making traditions, filling rooms with boughs of evergreen is one of the brightest and best. As we bring armfuls of snowy branches in, there is freshness and chill, that wild citrusy conifer smell, and always, a swell of gratitude for nature’s provision. This celebratory cake, with its cute caps of meringue mushrooms, is a woodland fantasy in just that spirit.
In France, la bûche de Noël harks back to Medieval times and traditions. Then, placing a log on the hearth on Christmas Eve and burning it for three days was believed to bring good luck, and good harvest. Centuries later, cakes have replaced the log, with thousands of versions baked worldwide.
Like those, ours—a chocolate roll cake with vanilla mousse filling, light-chocolate buttercream and dark chocolate “bark”—conjures memories of favorite flavors from childhood. An elevated Hostess Ho-ho perhaps? Or Little Debbie Swiss Roll snack cake. We’ve included a recipe for crispy meringue mushrooms that fit the woodland motif and add a nice crunch when eaten with the cake.
To streamline assembly for when you bake the cake, the mushrooms, mousse, and dark chocolate bark can be made ahead of time. The meringue needs to be made on a dry-weather day—rainy weather won’t work. And for best texture and flavor, you’ll want to refrigerate the finished cake at least an hour, and serve it very cold.
BÛCHE DE NOËL
Serves 8 to 10
FOR THE MERINGUE MUSHROOMS
Note: This makes a LOT of mushrooms. You will use some to decorate the cake, and some to garnish each guest serving plate. If you like, use the extra meringue to bake a few pavlova shells for fresh fruit.
- 1/2 cup fresh egg whites OR substitute pasteurized from the grocery refrigerated section
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 cup pure cane sugar
- 2 tsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 4 oz. melted dark chocolate
FOR THE CHOCOLATE BARK
- 8 to 10 oz. good quality dark chocolate
FOR THE VANILLA MOUSSE
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup instant vanilla pudding mix
FOR THE LIGHT CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes, softened
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or substitute vanilla extract)
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2 Tbsp cream, 1/2 and 1/2, or milk
- 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp dark cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
FOR THE BÛCHE DE NOËL
- 6 large eggs, yolks and white separated into two bowls
- 2 tsp corn syrup
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla paste, divided (or substitute vanilla extract)
- 2 Tbsp tepid water
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil, slightly warmed
FOR SUGARED CRANBERRY AND ROSEMARY GARNISH
- 10 tiny, bright red fresh cranberries
- 1 egg white, whipped
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar. (NOTE: To make superfine sugar from regular sugar, place in coffee grinder and pulse for five seconds.)
- 8 to 10 sprigs fresh rosemary
MAKE MERINGUE MUSHROOMS
Place oven rack at center position. Preheat to 225 degrees. Line a large half-sheet baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites until they softly peak. Continue whipping as you add small amounts of the sugar, whipping between addition until meringue is glossy and holds firm peaks. Fill a round-tipped pastry bag (or, a large heavy plastic bag from which you’ve trimmed a corner) with meringue. To make the mushroom caps: Squeeze out round dollops of meringue in various sizes onto the parchment, carefully pulling the tip to the side as you finish each, to avoid creating a peak on top. For the stems, press out small amounts of meringue, pulling straight up to make a pointed top, like a gnome’s cap.
Dust caps with cocoa powder. Bake for 1 hour in the 225 oven. Near the end of the baking time, melt the chocolate. To assemble: Use a pointed skewer or chopstick to poke a tiny hole in the bottom of each mushroom cap. Paint with a small amount of melted chocolate. Press the pointed end of each stem into each mushroom cap. Refrigerate lightly covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes until chocolate hardens.
MAKE CHOCOLATE BARK
Line a large cookie sheet (half-sheet pan) with parchment paper. Melt chocolate for 1 minute in microwave. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate smoothly all over the parchment paper. Refrigerate at least ó hour until hard set and very cold. Note: the paper and chocolate will curl up slightly as the pan cools—this is fine.
MAKE VANILLA MOUSSE
Whip 2 cups heavy whipping cream just until soft peaks begin to form. Add 1/3 cup instant vanilla pudding mix and whip a few more seconds until firm peaks form. Place in bowl; cover and refrigerate.
MAKE LIGHT CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
In the bowl of a stand mixer, with paddle attachment, whip butter until fluffy. Slowly beat in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla paste. Continue beating and add cream. Mix vegetable oil and cocoa power to a smooth liquid and whip this and salt into frosting until smooth, fluffy, and no streaks remain.
MAKE SUGARED CRANBERRY AND ROSEMARY GARNISH
Wash and dry fresh cranberries. Dip one side of each cranberry in egg white. Dip in superfine sugar. Set aside to dry for 30 minutes. Trim rosemary to make attractive sprigs.
MAKE BÛCHE DE NOËL
Place oven rack at center position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet (half sheet pan) with parchment paper, leaving an edge of paper extending above the rim of the pan, all the way around, and tucking/creasing paper at corners to fit down into the pan. Set aside. Place the metal bowl of a stand mixer in sink and fill with hot water until bowl is warm. Dry bowl. Place warmed bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment and fill bowl with egg yolks, corn syrup, vanilla, water, ó cup of the sugar and salt. Whip mixture on high speed until pale yellow and fluffy. Scrape mixture into a large separate bowl and set aside. Wash mixer bowl and place back in stand mixer. Add egg whites to empty mixer bowl and whip on high speed until soft peaks form. Continue whipping as you slowly add remaining ó cup of sugar until stiff glossy peaks form into a meringue. Add ó of the meringue mixture to the reserved egg yolk mixer and using a gentle over and under motion, fold together until no white streaks remain. In another bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder together. In three parts, slowly add dry ingredients into the yolk/meringue mixture, using the same gentle folding motion with each addition, folding until completely incorporated. Microwave oil a scant 15 seconds until warm to the touch and add to the batter, folding again until incorporated. Stir in the reserved ó portion of meringue and fold again until no streaks remain. You will have a very glossy, light batter. Pour batter into the prepared ó sheet pan. Sharply rap filled pan on tabletop to release trapped air bubbles. Repeat action twice. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Remove cake from oven. Using the parchment overhang, lift cake from pan and rest on clean work surface. Lightly dampen a large kitchen towel. Leaving the paper adhered to the cake, roll the cake from one short end to the other to make a jelly roll shape. Wrap the rolled cake, seam-side down, in dampened kitchen towel and rest until cooled. Gently unroll cake. Spread cake with vanilla mousse, leaving the last two inches unfrosted. (As you roll the cake, some of the mousse will move down to fill this space.) Separating cake from the parchment paper as you go, roll cake from one short end to the other, to make filled roll cake. Gently lift filled cake onto serving platter. Pipe buttercream over cake, using offset spatula to smooth over all. Using a sharp knife, trim each end of the roll cake, to expose the pretty filled cake pattern at each end.
Remove the chilled tray of dark chocolate from refrigerator. Working quickly, begin to break pieces of the chocolate to form strips of chocolate “bark,” placing each strip over the buttercream, until the cake is covered with ridges. If the chocolate begins to soften from the heat of your hands, refrigerate again until firm and continue. Cover cake lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To serve, top cake with meringue mushrooms. For individual servings, add one meringue mushroom, one sprig of rosemary, and sugared cranberry as garnish.