Christmas in France – the Cognac Buche de Noel cake
The chocolate log cake has been part of my Christmas for always. Having a French mother means I was and still am lucky to taste her cake nearly every year! I love to load on the Grand Marnier or Cognac as I love liqueur in cakes but you CAN opt not to make the liqueur syrup or just skip out the “add Cognac or Grand Marnier” stage and just make traditional clear syrup. This is my mum’s recipe; merci maman!
This rich chocolate cake has a soft, mousse-like texture. It’s rolled around whipped cream or the chocolate ganache, perfumed with Cognac or Grand Marnier if you can find it and is shaped like a yule log, and finished with chocolate ganache.
For the Cake Itself
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (28 grams) granulated white sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
112 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
For the Ganache
12 oz good-quality dark cooking/baking chocolate
1.5 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp softened butter
For the Cognac syrup
200 ml water – 100 g sugar – 100ml Cognac or Grand Marnier (you can add more liqueur, just make sure you taste as you add or it will be too strong and overpower the taste of the cake)
How to make this traditional French Christmas treat?
How to Make the Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 17 x 12 inch (43×30 cm) baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and then butter and flour the parchment paper.
While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover and bring to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and cool.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) place the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about five minutes). (When you slowly raise the beaters, the batter will fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.) Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat only to combine.
In a clean mixing bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold a small amount of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula or whisk. Fold in the remaining whites just until incorporated. Don’t over mix or the batter will deflate. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is puffed, has lost its shine, and springs back when gently pressed, about 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Cover the cake with a clean, slightly damp kitchen towel.
How to make the Cognac syrup
Heat the water and the sugar in a pan over the stove until it becomes thick like honey. Remove from the stove and add the liqueur (to taste, I like a strong Grand Marnier taste personally!). Once the cake has cooled, remove the damp kitchen towel and pour the syrup onto it. Put the kitchen towel back onto the top.
How to Make the Whipped Cream
Beat together all the ingredients until the cream starts to hold firm peaks, but don’t beat so long that it starts to curdle and have a buttery, overwhipped texture.
How to Make the Chocolate Ganache
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a large bowl. Add the butter on top. Put the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until it simmers and bubbles appear along the sides of the pan, but do not bring it to a boil.
Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk it together until the chocolate melts and the mixture is shiny and smooth.
Cover with cling wrap and, ideally, let sit overnight at room temperature to firm up until it is a spoonable consistency, like peanut butter. If you don’t have that much time, place it in the refrigerator and whisk it every 15 minutes until it is the texture of frosting. Do not leave it in the fridge too long, or it will get hard!
AHHHHhhhh…. How to Assemble the Buche de Noel
Once the cake has cooled, spread it with an even layer of the whipped cream or a little chocolate ganache. Gently roll the cake, peeling off the parchment paper as you roll (the cake may crack, so peel off carefully).
Trim one end of the cake at an angle and set it aside. Then place the cake, seam side down, on your serving platter lined with strips of waxed paper. Take the slice of reserved cake and attach it to the top of the cake to resemble a branch growing off the log.
Gently spread the ganache over the outside of the cake. Once it’s completely covered, use a spatula or a fork to create waves and texture in the ganache to resemble tree bark.