Ari’s Pick: Buche de Noel from the Bakehouse

A Sweet Taste of Northern European Christmas to Grace Your Table

whole Buche de Noel cake decorated with edible mushrooms Buche de Noel means “Christmas Log”—it’s a century-old cake that has become a classic of French baking. Like all origin stories, there are any number of versions of where and how it happened to be made. It seems, most likely, to have its historical roots in the traditions of Celtic Brittany, where trees were used to celebrate the winter solstice. Trees were at that time believed to have magical powers (the truth of which is now being confirmed by scientists like Suzanne Simard has done in her marvelous book The Mother Tree). Hauling a large log or tree trunk to the manor of the local lord was part of how peasants paid tribute to landowners. Later, people of more modest means began slice of a Buche de Noel cakebringing a log to their own home as well. The wood was blessed, anointed, and burned ceremonially. When the church banned the old “pagan” ceremonies, many people found covert ways to continue on apace, by keeping the ceremony private in their homes.

As more people moved to cities in modern times, this tradition became harder to make happen. Hence, some suggest, the shift to buying and eating cakes decorated like logs instead of hauling real wood. The earliest written mentions start to show up in the late 19th century La Cuisine Anglaise et la Pâtisserie, which was published in 1894. (In the spirit of ecosystems, where both good and bad things are almost always happening at the same time, this was the very same year that the Dreyfus Trial, one of the most glaring examples of government-sponsored anti-Semitism in modern western Europe before the devastation of the Holocaust happened.)

Buche de Noel has long been one of Amy from the Bakehouse’s favorite cakes. In Zingerman’s Bakehouse she writes,

Making Buche de Noel at the bakery during December is a joyful sign of the holidays. We start to anticipate and plan in October. We start making the decorative mushrooms in November, and have log-rolling parties in December. It wouldn’t be Christmas at the bakery without Buche de Noel.

The Bakehouse Buche de Noel is filled with walnut rum buttercream and covered in chocolate buttercream. It’s beautifully decorated, as has become the tradition over the years, with handmade edible fondant “mushrooms” as well as “holly” and freshly fallen winter “sugar snow.” While it’s made to resemble a log, texturally, Buche de Noel is the exact opposite—the cake is light, luscious, and eminently eatable! Order your Buche ahead so you have one for the big day! Whether you’re celebrating Christmas or just want to go back to the old Celtic tradition of honoring the magic of trees, it’s a wonderful way to finish off any holiday meal!

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Ari Weinzweig
Co-Founding Partner at Zingerman's | + posts

In 1982, Ari Weinzweig, along with his partner Paul Saginaw, founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen with a $20,000 bank loan, a Russian History degree from the University of Michigan, 4 years of experience washing dishes, cooking and managing in restaurant kitchens and chutzpah from his hometown of Chicago. They opened the doors with 2 employees and a small selection of specialty foods and exceptional sandwiches.

Today, Zingerman’s Delicatessen is a nationally renowned food icon and the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has grown to 10 businesses with over 750 employees and over $55 million in annual revenue. Aside from the Delicatessen, these businesses include Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Coffee Company, Creamery, Roadhouse, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Candy Manufactory, Cornman Farms and a Korean restaurant that is scheduled to open in 2016. No two businesses in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses are alike but they all share the same Vision and Guiding Principles and deliver “The Zingerman’s Experience” with passion and commitment.

Besides being the Co-Founding Partner and being actively engaged in some aspect of the day-to-day operations and governance of nearly every business in the Zingerman’s Community, Ari Weinzweig is also a prolific writer. His most recent publications are the first 4 of his 6 book series Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Series: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business (Part 1), Being a Better Leader (Part 2), Managing Ourselves (Part 3) and the newly-released Part 4, The Power of Beliefs in Business. Earlier books include the Zingerman’s Guides to Giving Great Service, Better Bacon, Good Eating, Good Olive Oil, Good Vinegar and Good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Ari regularly travels across the country (and world) on behalf of ZingTrain, teaching organizations and businesses about Zingerman’s approach to business. He is a sought-after Keynote speaker, having delivered keynotes for Inc. 500, Microsoft Expo Spring Conference, Great Game of Business Gathering of Games, Positive Business Conference at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, American Society for Quality (ASQ), and the American Cheese Society. Most recently, Ari and Paul Saginaw were invited to address an audience of 50,000 for the University of Michigan 2015 Spring Commencement.

One of Zingerman’s Guiding Principles is being an active part of the community and in 1988, Zingerman’s was instrumental in the founding of Food Gatherers, a food rescue program that delivers over 5 million pounds of food each year to the hungry residents of Washtenaw county. Every year Zingerman’s donates 10% of its previous years profits to local community organizations and non-profits. Ari has served on the board of The Ark, the longest continuously operating folk music venue in America.

Over the decades, the Zingerman’s founding partners have consistently been the recipients of public recognition from a variety of diverse organizations. In April 1995, Ari and Paul were awarded the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County’s first Humanitarian Award. In 2006, Ari was recognized as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” by the James Beard Foundation. In 2007, Ari and Paul were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetit magazine for their work in the food industry. Ari was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Cheese Society in 2014. And Ari’s book, Building a Great Business was on Inc. magazine’s list of Best Books for Business Leaders.

Notwithstanding the awards, being engaged on a daily basis in the work of 10 businesses and 21 partners, writing books on business and in-depth articles on food for the Zingerman’s newsletter, Ari finds time to be a voracious reader. He acquires and reads more books than he can find room for. Ari might soon find himself the owner of the largest collection of Anarchist books in Ann Arbor outside the Labadie collection at the University of Michigan library!

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