One of my favorite desserts this time of year is the bûche de Noël, or Yule log. As its name and shape suggest, this iconic French confection represents the European tradition of burning a large log in the hearth to celebrate Christmas and the winter solstice. Today, the name bûche is used, almost exclusively, to refer to the softer, comestible log.
Essentially, a bûche de Noël (pronounced büsh dih noh·ELL, where ü refers to the German ü or the French u sound) is a génoise (or similar sponge cake) roll, filled with buttercream, and frosted to look like tree bark. Ends are often sliced off and fused to the top to resemble stubs of severed branches. Furthermore, meringue mushrooms are typically included as an edible decoration to the log. Many creative pasty chefs even insert diminutive plastic saws and axes to round out the arborcultural motif.
As it has in various Yuletides past, our bûche came from Ceci-Cela this year. Known for its made-from-scratch délices, this NoLita pâtisserie française has long been a favorite of mine. Pastry chef Laurent Dupal, a native of Nancy, France, began his rise when he embarked on his study of baking at the age of 13. Classically trained at the prestigious Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France, Dupal produces masterly pastries of all sorts.
While a chocolate buttercream filling is traditional, I opted for Grand Marnier this time. Irrespective of flavor, two aspects of this dessert are critical to my delectation: restrained sweetness and spongy texture. When the foregoing elements are at their peak, my enjoyment is practically assured. Chef Dupal met both criteria in grand style to yield a bûche that delighted my senses with simple, fresh, and delicate flavors rolled into a beautiful and complex presentation. But why was the Grand Marnier frosting pink?
While my Comestaccomplice enjoyed the Yule log without additional flavoring, I found that a drizzle of Grand Marnier added the perfect finishing touch. Of course, an accompanying glass of the liqueur was de rigueur.
55 Spring Street (near Lafayette Street),
NoLita, Manhattan (map)