Rick Rodgers: Chocolate Bûche de Noël

Christmas is about tradition, especially the wonderful dishes that you make only once a year to celebrate the season. I don’t have a drop of French blood, but I did do a stint cooking for a French diplomat’s family, which required that I learned how to make a mean chocolate Bûche de Noël. Shaped like a Yule log, this is the classic French Christmas dessert. The recipe, from my book CHRISTMAS 101 follows.

This recipe is surprisingly easy, which is just one reason why I make it year after year. It can be made two or even three days ahead of time, loosely covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. In this case, just be sure to let the cake stand at room temperature for an hour or so before serving so it can soften and lose its chill. I suggest a high-quality chocolate, but not one with a cacao content of over 62%.  A lot of people confuse the chocolate issue, and believe that the higher the cacao content, the better the chocolate.  Actually, it only means that the chocolate will be more bitter, and especially if kids are eating the dessert, you don’t want it to be too bittersweet.  And, high-cacao chocolates can be tricky to combine with cream to make ganache, and integral part of this recipe.  Happy Holidays, or should I say Joyeux Noël!

Chocolate Bûche de Noël
Makes 8 to 12 servings

Make Ahead: The bûche de Noël can be baked up to 1 day ahead. The chocolate leaves can be made up to 3 days ahead.

Chocolate Roll

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup Dutch- process cocoa powder, such as Droste, sifted, plus 2 tablespoons for finishing the cake
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • Grated zest of ½ orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Ganache

  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur or frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • Sprigs of fresh juniper or pine, for garnish
  • Chocolate Leaves (recipe follows, optional)
  • 10 to 12 store-bought truffles
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder, such as Droste, for garnish

1. To make the chocolate roll, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly butter a 15 ½ × 10 ½ × 1-inch jelly-roll pan. Lightly butter the pan and line with waxed paper.

2. In a greasefree large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to high. Beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1 ⁄4 cup of the granulated sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

3. In another large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 1/3 cup cocoa powder, the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar, and the salt on high speed until the mixture forms a thick ribbon, about 2 minutes. Stir about a quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Scrape into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

4. Bake until the cake springs back when pressed in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Sift the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder over the top of the roll. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil over the cake and place a baking sheet over the pan. Invert the cake onto the foil. Carefully peel off the waxed paper. Cool completely.

5. To make the filling, in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the boiling water. Let stand for 10 minutes to soften the gelatin. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat ¼ cup of the heavy cream until just warm. Add to the gelatin mixture, stir to dissolve the gelatin, and cool for 10 minutes. In a chilled medium bowl, beat together the remaining 1 ¼ cups heavy cream, the confectioners’ sugar, orange zest, and vanilla until just stiff. Beat in the gelatin mixture.

6. Spread the filling over the cake, leaving a 1-inch border. Using the foil as an aid, roll up the cake from a long end into a tight cylinder. Transfer the roll to a long platter, seam side down. Cover tightly and refrigerate until the filling sets, at least 1 hour or overnight.

7. To make the ganache, in a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, corn syrup, and Grand Marnier. Let stand until the chocolate melts, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth and transfer to a medium bowl placed in a larger bowl of ice water. Let stand, stirring often, until chilled and thick, about 5 minutes. Whisk just until soft peaks form—do not overwhisk. Immediately spread the ganache over the roll. Using the tines of a fork, make wavy lines in the ganache to simulate bark. (The roll can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, tented with aluminum foil and refrigerated.)

8. To serve, tuck the juniper under the roll, decorate the cake with the chocolate leaves and truffles, and sift the cocoa powder over all. Serve chilled or at cool room temperature.

Chocolate Leaves: Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place 4 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. Stirring occasionally, heat the chocolate until almost completely but not quite melted. Remove from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and tepid, about 10 minutes. Holding a lemon leaf in the palm of your hand, and using the back of a teaspoon, coat the underside of the leaf evenly with the melted chocolate. Avoid getting the chocolate on the other side of the leaf. Place the coated leaves on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, at least 30 minutes. (The chocolate leaves can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.) Carefully pull the leaves away from the chocolate and discard. Store the chocolate leaves in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Makes about 12 chocolate leaves.

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