In our continuing coverage of holiday-related cakes and desserts (yum!) we move on to France. As much of a fixture as holiday lights and trees, the arrival of the Bûche de Noël cake in pastry shop windows signals Christmas. Known in the US as a Yule Log, the Bûche de Noël consists of rolled sponge cake, typically with chocolate frosting, that resembles a log (even topped with meringue mushrooms). However, the modern varieties available are almost limitless, including this bitter orange-flower flavored Bûche we saw in a shop window.
As for history, The earliest known recipe of the cake is from 1898, though the tradition of the cake is much older than that. The origins of the Bûche de Noël are with the Yule log traditionally burned by the Celts and other cultures around the Winter Solstice. The form of the Bûche de Noël is then based off of those logs. But when did the cake itself originate? The blog Why’d you Eat That has a pretty awesome explanation – and it includes Napoleon (go figure):
During his reign as Supreme Ruler of the Universe, Napoleon realized there was a lot of disease in Paris. His solution was to mandate that all chimneys must remain closed during the winter months because the cold, drafty air was causing all this inconvenient illness. With chimneys closed, there was no way for the air to get in. Now people were in a pickle. They had no way to burn their traditional Bûche de Noël. So a Parisian baker got creative and invented the cake as a symbolic alternative of the actual piece of wood.
For those intrepid bakers, Saveur has a traditional recipe and Canelle et Vanille has an amazing looking version with lemon creme brulee filling and dark chocolate glaze. According to Serious Eats, Floriole in Chicago has a pretty awesome Bûche de Noël.