In France, it's not Christmas without logs for dessert

Paris pastry chefs are outdoing each other this holiday season in reinventing the most kitsch of all French desserts, the Christmas yule log cake, dressing them in ivy, marshmallows and snowflakes.

More traditional than turkey, more feted than foie gras, the buche—literally “log”—has crowned the French Christmas table since the 19th century, when the rolled sponge cake iced with chocolate buttercream and dotted with meringue mushrooms replaced real-wood decorative centrepieces.

Few modern Parisians, however, can pull off a buche in their doll-sized home kitchens, making this show-stealing cake big business for patissiers.

Neighbourhood pastry shops rarely stray beyond tried-and-true flavours—coffee, chocolate, praline and chestnut. But the bigger names treat the buche as a blank canvas, even going so far as to alter its very shape.

Instead of crying sacrilege, Parisians dutifully queue for their daring creations, paying upwards of â,¬10 for just a portion of the most coveted cakes.

Pierre Herme, who releases seasonal pastry collections at his tiny boutique in Paris’s Saint-Germain district with the fanfare of a fashion designer, sells about 4 000 buches during the Christmas season at â,¬30 to â,¬52 apiece.

“People look down a bit on the traditional buttercream buche,” he says. “It’s admittedly not the most beautiful dessert, but we shouldn’t reject it completely.”

Herme recalls that some pastry chefs started to tinker with buche during his apprenticeship in the 1980s.

“In a bid to create a lighter buche, patissiers started to replace heavy buttercreams with mousses and fruit-based bavaroises,” he remembers.

Herme’s six types of buche are log-shaped versions of individual pastries in his autumn-winter collection.
His “buche Ispahan”, for example, combines rose, raspberry and lychee, while the “buche Azur” cuts through the richness of dark chocolate with the fashionable Japanese citrus fruit yuzu.

In yet another, green-tea cream and passion-fruit compote liven up a traditional chestnut base.

At the famed Paris tearoom Laduree, head pastry chef Philippe Andrieu retains a soft spot for the chocolate-mousse buche of his childhood, even as he toys with the log by giving it a square shape or standing it up on one end.

“I like to create a more modern aesthetic. My favourite this year is a vertical log that combines many different textures and flavours with an almond biscuit base, chocolate wafers and chocolate sabayon mousse.”

Most consumers, however, maintain a taste for tradition: of the 4 000 to 5 000 buches sold in Laduree’s four Paris boutiques, 80% rely on classic flavours.

More adventurous are the buches at Fauchon, whose landmark boutique in Paris’s Place de la Madeleine has modernised its image this year with a pop-art approach to pastry. Strawberry marshmallows adorn the “Rose Connection” buche, while the “Buche Fashion” is a symphony of lemon, lychee, guava and blood orange.

Top Paris chocolate makers have seized the opportunity to create some of the most spectacular edible logs in town.

Most imaginative of Jean-Paul Hevin’s three new buches, for example, is the snowflake-topped Cristal with caramel, allspice, blackcurrant and chocolate mousse.

Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini, meanwhile, has gone for the boldly geometric look with four “Christmas bars” whose finishes evoke steel, copper, lacquer and wood. Inside his austere-looking “copper beam” lurk layers of caramel mousse and coffee cream.

Not to be outdone by high-end culinary designers, the frozen-food shop Picard, with stores throughout France, has come up with a cushiony buche made up of frozen vanilla cream and salted caramel ice cream. At â,¬10 for eight portions, it’s an affordable twist on French Christmas tradition.—Sapa-AFP

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