The Christmas Party Cake called Bûche de Noël

Vegan Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël is the French name for a Christmas cake shaped like a Yule log. Traditionally this is a rolled cake, but I have learned that unless the cake contains an unthinkable amount of fat, a rolled vegan cake will be greasy (and exceptionally unhealthy). Still, I wanted a holiday log complete with mushrooms shaped from marzipan (instead of the merengue ones) and cocoa “dirt”— all dusted with confectioners’ sugar “snow.” I wanted you all to have this recipe now, although this week I’m eating Latkes for Chanukah.

Once I thought differently, this bûche materialized. It is made from a simple sheet cake that is cut into long layers to resemble a log, filled with Chocolate Cranberry Cream and frosted thickly with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze. With a knot on the log made from cake and glaze that’s combed to look like bark, your log will be the talk of the table, if not the town. You will also have the satisfaction of knowing you did not have to tap into your 401(k) to buy one at the tonier pastry shops.

Fran Costigan's Bûche de Noël
Photo by Kate Lewis

Don’t be put off by the long recipe. Everything can be made easily and in advance. See the following suggested game plan for the recipe components in order of how far ahead you can prepare them. Most if not all can be made ahead and frozen. The ‘bark’ on the tree is just ganache. And, while I like the Chocolate Cranberry Filling, any of the fillings in the Master Recipe chapter of Vegan Chocolate will work just fine; the Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Coconut Whipped Cream, to name just two. Finally, if it is a gluten free cake you want, make a double recipe of the Gluten-Free variation of the Chocolate Torte to Live For. I’ll be bringing this log to our holiday celebration in Philadelphia. Please let me know how it goes for you, and send me your photos. I’ve already seen quite a few personalized versions of this great cake. (Fair warning: It’s hard not to eat all the yummy marzipan before you shape the mushrooms!)

Here’s my suggested game plan for the components in order of how far ahead you can prepare them.

  1. Bake and cool the Bittersweet Chocolate Sheet Cake; refrigerate a day ahead or freeze for up to 1 month.
  2. 
Make the Marzipan Mushrooms; refrigerate for up to 1 week.
  3. Make the Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze; allow to thicken at room temperature for about 30 minutes, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. Use at room temperature or warm briefly in a water bath until spreadable.
  4. Make the Chocolate Cranberry Cream Filling; refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day ahead.

che de Noël or Yule Log

Makes one (10-inch / 25-cm) log-shaped cake

 Ingredients

  • 1 recipe (1 3/4 cups / 420 ml) Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 1 recipe Marzipan (recipe follows), plus 1 ounce / 28 grams dark chocolate (any percentage) for gluing caps and stems
  • 1 recipe Chocolate Cranberry Cream Filling (recipe follows)
  • 1 recipe Bittersweet Chocolate Sheet Cake (recipe follows)

 Chocolate Sheet Cake

  • 1 cup / 129 grams organic all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup / 70 grams organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup / 207 grams organic granulated sugar, ground in a blender until superfine
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons / 17.5 grams natural cocoa powder (non-alkalized)
  • 1 teaspoon / 5 grams baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon / 15 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons / 10 ml pure vanilla extract
  • 
1 cup / 240 ml water, at room temperature

Preparation

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F / 190°C. Oil the sides and bottom of a 13 x 9 1/2 x 1-inch / 33 x 24 x 2.5-cm quarter sheet pan and line with parchment paper. Do not oil the paper.
  2. Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, pastry flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt to the strainer and stir with a whisk to sift the ingredients into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the mixture in the bowl.) Whisk to aerate the mixture.
  3. Whisk the oil, vinegar, and vanilla in a separate medium bowl. Add the water slowly and whisk until combined. Immediately pour into the dry mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan to level the batter and tap it lightly on the counter to eliminate air bubbles.
  5. Bake the cake on the center rack for 22 to 23 minutes, or until the top of the cake is set, the sides have started to pull away from the pan, and a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean or with only a few moist crumbs.
  6. Set the cake on a wire rack. After 5 minutes, run a thin spatula around the sides of the cake to release the cake from the pan. Cool the cake in the pan. Refrigerate or freeze until cold before cutting.

 

Marzipan

Super tester James, a vegan baker in Australia, wrote, “WOW!! I made marzipan!” You can, too. You’ve probably seen intricately colored and decorated flowers, fruits, animals, and other items made from marzipan, a soft and pliable almond-based paste. When I needed a substitute for the meringue mushrooms I used to make for the Bûche de Nöel, I knew marzipan was the way to go.

Note: The marzipan may look oily after a few days in the refrigerator. Here’s what to do. Wipe the oil off the marzipan with paper toweling and then dust with confectioners’ sugar and/or cocoa.

Makes about 1⁄2 cup /125 grams

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces / 86 grams blanched almonds
  • 2 tablespoons / 12 grams organic confectioners’ sugar, more for dusting
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons / 30 ml brown rice syrup, warmed in the jar until liquid (see tip in my November 2014 newsletter)
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 3 ⁄8 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preparation

  1.  Grind the almonds in a food processor until the nuts look like flour. Stop grinding before the nuts become oily. Add the sugar and salt and process until incorporated.
  2. Add the rice syrup and vanilla and almond extracts. Process to a smooth paste, about 5 minutes. Squeeze a small piece between your fingers to make sure it holds together. If it does not, process longer or add a tea- spoon more of rice syrup.
  3. Scoop the marzipan onto a piece of plastic wrap. Cover with another piece and press until flattened to about 8 x 6 inches / 20 x 15 cm. If the marzipan is too soft to shape, refrigerate briefly.

Store the marzipan in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Refer to the Note in the introduction.

Shape the Marzipan Mushrooms

    1. Form the caps of your marzipan mushrooms by rolling about three-quarters of the marzipan into dime- to quarter-size balls. Roll and press into a mushroom cap shape and press the bottoms flat. Roll the remaining marzipan into stubby stems, roughly 1/2 inch long x 1/4 inch wide / 12mm long x 6mm wide for your mushrooms. Natural, uneven mushrooms are just fine here. Make a depression in the flat side of each mushroom cap—the flat side of a chopstick is perfect for this task.
    2. Melt the chocolate. Fill each mushroom cap with a little bit and insert a stem. Repeat until all the mushrooms are made. Set the mushroom on their sides in a flat dish and refrigerate until the chocolate hardens. The marzipan should make 8 to 10 (1- to 1 1⁄2 -inch / 2.5 to 4-cm) mushroom caps and stems.
    3. Store the mushrooms in a covered container in the refrigerator. The marzipan will become oily; don’t worry.\

Keeping
Store the marzipan in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Refer to the Note in the introduction.

 

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze

It will take longer to read this recipe than to make it, but its success is all about the quality and taste of the chocolate and following the details in the recipe. As long as you stay within the percentages listed, any premium quality chocolate you enjoy eating is the one to use. The important part is to chop the chocolate very fine and to strain the hot milk. Allowing the chocolate to melt into the milk for the full 4 minutes is not optional. And stir only until the chocolate and milk are emulsified—that is, glossy and smooth. Over-mixing may turn your silken ganache gritty. If the chocolate has not completely melted after the ganache is mixed, bring the water in the saucepan on the stove to a simmer and turn off the heat. Place the bowl of ganache on the saucepan for a few minutes, then stir very gently until the chocolate has melted and the ganache is smooth.

Makes 2 cups / 480 ml

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces / 227 grams dark chocolate (70 to 72%), finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups / 300 ml organic almond milk or soymilk (more as needed to adjust consistency)
  • 2 tablespoons / 18 grams organic granulated sugar
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons / 6.25 ml pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons / 10 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil (optional but recommended for sheen)

Preparation

  1. Add the chocolate to a heatproof bowl and set aside while you heat the milk.
  1. Pour the milk into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking a few times to a low boil.
  2. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Pour the hot milk over the chopped chocolate all at once. Rotate the bowl so the chocolate is completely submerged. Cover the bowl with a plate and let stand undisturbed for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the vanilla and olive oil (if using) and whisk from the center out only until smooth and glossy. (If the chocolate is not completely melted, refer to the Sidebar on page 28 for instructions on using a water bath to melt the chocolate.)
  4. Keep the bowl of ganache at room temperature while you test the final consistency. Dip a teaspoon into the ganache, set the coated spoon on a small plate, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. After chilling, the ganache on the spoon should be smooth and firm, but should still taste creamy. It is unlikely, but if the glaze is too firm, add a tablespoon of room temperature milk, and repeat the test. Add a second tablespoon if needed.
  5. Pass the ganache through a strainer into a bowl. Whisking slowly will speed the process.
  6. Allow the ganache to thicken at room temperature for 15 to 25 minutes, or until it will coat a spoon thickly with minimal dripping, but remain pourable. Stir a few times from the outside into the center before glazing. 

Keeping

The glaze can be refrigerated in a tightly closed container for up to five days and frozen for up to one month. The glaze hardens when it is cold and will need to be reheated. To reheat, spoon the glaze into a heatproof bowl that fits over a saucepan of barely simmering water. When about two-thirds of the glaze is melted, stir gently until it is smooth. Adjust the consistency as needed by stirring warm nondairy milk into the glaze a little at a time.

 

Chocolate Cranberry Cream Filling

Dried cranberries are easy to find year round, but for a summer version of the cream, use dried pitted cherries instead. Note: Plan to make the cream at least four hours ahead, to allow it to thicken. It can be made up to a day in advance.

Makes 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups  / 360 tp 400 ml 
6 ounces / 170 grams (about 1/2 box)

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces / 170 grams (about 1/2 box) firm or extra-firm silken tofu, drained
  • 1/2 cup / 111 grams organic granulated sugar, ground in a blender until fine
  • 1 tablespoon / 15 ml coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon guar gum
  • 3 tablespoons / 45 ml seedless raspberry jam
  • 
3 ounces / 85 grams dark chocolate (66 to 70%)
  • 1/3 cup / 38 grams dried cranberries

Preparation

  1. Purée the tofu, sugar, oil, sea salt, and guar gum in a food processor for 1 minute until the mixture is creamy and no traces of tofu are visible.
  2. Clean the sides of the processor and add the jam. Process until combined. Add the chocolate and pulse the machine on and off a few times. Process until incorporated.
  3. Spoon the cream into a container, and cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight to allow the flavor to develop. The cream will become firmer as it chills.
  4. Bring the cream to room temperature. Stir hard with a silicone spatula and then stir in the cranberries. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before using.

Keeping

The cream can be made one day in advance and refrigerated in a covered container.

 

Shape And Assemble The Cake

  1. Cut the frozen or refrigerated cake lengthwise into 3 strips as follows: 1 piece just under 3 inches / 7.5 cm wide, a second piece about 2 3/4 inches / 7cm wide, and a third piece about 2 1/2 inches / 6 cm wide.
  2. Place the 3-inch-wide strip of cake on a serving platter and spread with 1/2 cup / 120 ml of the Chocolate Cranberry Cream Filling.
  3. Place the next widest piece on top and press down lightly. Spread with another 1/2 cup of the cranberry filling.
  1. Place the last piece of cake on top and press down lightly. The cake should now resemble a log that is widest at the bottom and tapers slightly toward the top, mimicking the curve of a rolled cake. Refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes before proceeding.
  2. Spread the top and sides of the cake with about 2/3 cup / 160 ml of the ganache glaze. Use a fork to make wavy lines to simulate bark. Refrigerate the cake to set the glaze. Repeat with another 2/3 cup / 160ml of glaze and refrigerate for about 10 minutes until set.
  3. Cut a small diagonal slice off one end of the cake. This will be the knot. Freeze the piece before glazing. Glaze the knot with enough ganache to cover and affix it to the top of the cake off-center to resemble a knot on a tree. The glaze will be the glue. Use more if needed. Keep the cake refrigerated until ready to serve.

To Finish The Cake

Up to 30 minutes before serving, dry the marzipan mushrooms with paper towels and dust with confectioners’ sugar or cocoa. Arrange the mushrooms on the cake log, pushing them lightly onto the frosting.

Serving

A long skinny wooden cake board shows off the cake wonderfully, but any platter will be fine.

Before serving, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar “snow” and cocoa “dirt.” Slice and serve.

Keeping

The cake can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 2 days, lightly covered with parchment. Do not add the mushrooms until ready to serve.

 

 

Recipes from Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts, © 2013 by Fran Costigan. Photo © Kate Lewis 2013

Comments
  • I can’t wait to try this approachable and beautiful recipe soon. One question—is the chocolate for the chocolate cranberry cream filling meant to be melted before adding to the food processor?

  • Could the cake be baked in a “log pan”, and sliced into layers? I received a Yule Log cake pan as a gift and I am looking for a plant based recipe. I’m still having no luck finding Brown Rice Syrup. Hopefully before Christmas. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks.

    • Hi Teresa,
      I have not baked the cake in a log pan. You should be able to however, as long as you do not fill the pan more than 1/2 full. Freeze the baked cake before slicing it.

      Good luck and please let us know how it works out.

      Fran

  • Excited to give this cake a try, but I’m curious as to why is the cake cooled in the pan? Shouldn’t it be removed from the pan to remove the parchment and fully cool?

    • Thanks, Helena, for your thoughtful question. You know your cakes! Typically, as in always, I turn cakes out of the pan to cool completely on the cooling rack. Here, as I recall, my testers complained that they did not have multiples of the larger rectangular cooling racks and we discovered that the cake did fine cooled this way. It’ll be faster to get a cool layer if you do turn the cake out of the pan.
      Great questions!
      Happy holidays to you!
      Fran

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