Bûche de Noëls (or is it bûches de Noël?) are stunning, versatile holiday desserts, and I happen to be obsessed with them this year. This out-of-the-blue desire to craft and eat bûche de Noëls would not be suppressed: Every food magazine I opened stoked that desire. Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated (Holiday 2009) features a simple roulade, Bon Appetit (December 2009) offers a super quick and easy no-bake Yule log, Martha Stewart Holiday has roulades ranging from pistachio to cranberry to peppermint, and Food & Wine (December 2009) exhibits what I consider the most impressive: the stump de Noël.
So being the ambitious baker I am, I started at the top with the stump de Noël featured in Food & Wine. The recipe comes from the owners of Baked (a Brooklyn bakery), who make the stump for an annual holiday potluck for staff who have to work during the holidays.
Their version, which is on Food & Wine's Web site, calls for malt powder and crushed malt balls, but because I couldn't find malt powder, I improvised and made chocolate buttercream for both the filling and the frosting.
Chocolate Stump de Noël (adapted from Baked and Food & Wine, December 2009)
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Chocolate buttercream (recipe below)
Meringue mushrooms (recipe below)
Sugared cranberries and rosemary sprigs (recipe below)
Chocolate splinters (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.
In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.
Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer.
Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans.
Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely.
Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.
Spread the chocolate buttercream over the cakes, reserving about 1 1/2 cups for frosting.
Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake.
Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up.
Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining chocolate buttercream.
Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours.
Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.
The chocolate stump cake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Let the cake stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter. Whisk in the melted chocolate.
The chocolate buttercream can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Let the frosting return to room temperature before using.
Meringue Mushrooms (adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes)
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature 1 cup sugar 1 pinch cream of tartar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces, white chocolate, chopped finely
Combine egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of electric mixer, and set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Test by rubbing between your fingers.
Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whip, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
Place meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip (#6). Pipe domes, 1/2 inch to 2 inches in diameter, onto prepared baking sheets, and flatten the tips with a damp forefinger. Pipe stems onto baking sheets, releasing pressure halfway and pulling up to form a peak, making one to go with each "cap."
Bake the meringue shapes for 1 hour, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Reduce oven temperature to 175 degrees. Continue baking until completely dry to the touch but not browned, 45 to 60 minutes.
Melt white chocolate in a small bowl (in microwave or use double boiler). Using a paring knife, make a small hole in center of each cap. Dip one end of each stem in white chocolate, and insert into a hole; let set.
Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place up to 1 week. When ready to use, sprinkle with cocoa powder, if desired.
Sugared Cranberries And Rosemary (adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup (or more) cranberries
5-12 rosemary sprigs
In a small saucepan, bring water and 1 cup sugar to a boil over medium-high heat, and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour simple syrup into a bowl.
Pour remaining 1/4 cup sugar into another bowl.
Drop a handful of cranberries into the simple syrup. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon, letting excess simple syrup drain off. Drop cranberries into bowl of sugar, and toss with a fork. Place sugared cranberries on parchment. Repeat until all cranberries are sugared.
Dip rosemary sprigs in simple syrup and then in sugar. Place on parchment to dry.
Chocolate Splinters (adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday)
Melt 4 ounces of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in small bowl in microwave. Spread the melted chocolate 1/8-inch thick over parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill 10 to 15 minutes. Cut hardened chocolate into splinters.
And now for my notes on the whole process...
I didn't have any 12-by-17-inch baking sheets. I'd never seen a recipe call for that size pan before and thought they might be difficult to find, but Macy's carries Calphalon and Martha Stewart brand ones, so that problem was easily remedied.
We didn't think to match up the edges of the cake, so there were ends and middles together and the top looked a little sloppy. We just sliced horizontally through the cake removing the top inch. This is also a great way to get to taste the cake since you can't really cut into it before serving it to people.
For the meringue mushrooms, I used the recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes, which was almost the same as the one in the Martha Stewart Holiday magazine except it called for 1/2 teaspoon more of vanilla and said the mushrooms could be stored longer. So much for consistency, Martha. I did not spread chocolate under the mushroom caps to make them look more like real mushrooms as the recipe instructed -- I was already spending a ton of time on this dessert. When piping the mushrooms, do not worry about making the stems dainty. Many of my mushrooms did not stand up because I didn't pipe the stems thickly enough.
For the sugared cranberries, Martha Stewart says to put one cranberry at a time on a toothpick, dip it in simple syrup, roll it in sugar, remove it from the toothpick, and then move on to the next cranberry. If I didn't work 56 hours a week, maintain a blog, and attempt to maintain a life, perhaps I would have tried to do it that way. I think you'll find the method I've given you above to be much more efficient! (By the way -- these are delicious!)
For timing purposes, I made the meringue mushrooms on Wednesday night and the buttercream on Thursday night and stored it in the fridge. I baked and assembled the cake (with a lot of help from my boyfriend) on Friday night -- I took the buttercream out of the fridge before starting the cake so it could soften. Finally, I made the sugared cranberries and rosemary on Saturday night while my boyfriend chopped chocolate shards for me, and then we decorated the stump and plate.
I happen to be pretty clumsy and cut my finger while chopping some scallions for dinner the night I planned to assemble the cake. I wasn't doing much better later that evening when it was time to roll the cake into a stump. Luckily, my boyfriend swooped in, finished making dinner, and helped me roll and frost the stump de Noël. I would probably still be sitting in a pile of broken cake, tears streaming down my face, if he hadn't been there to help.
All in all, I was incredibly happy with the way the stump turned out. I loved making all the garnishes, trying my hand at the different decorations. Besides that I thought the cake was a smidge too dry (I'm a very touch critic when it comes to my own baked goods), it was delicious. I brought it to a friend's holiday party. She cut tall, thin slivers of cake for everyone. I wish I had an inside picture to show you -- the slices had a sort of wood grain to them that was really cool.
If you're looking for a great dessert to bring to an upcoming holiday party and you have a little time on your hands, I think this one is incredibly festive and perfect for such an ocassion.
Have you ever made a bûche de Noël?