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 bringing 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!
Hungry for more?
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- Order a classic Buche de Noel or a White Chocolate Buche de Noel for pickup at the Bakehouse
- Or, to make your own Buche, buy a copy of the Zingerman’s Bakehouse cookbook.