Friday, December 28, 2012



“What?!” my son exclaimed, his voice dripping with disbelief and just a hint of sarcasm. “Christmas? We’re celebrating Christmas? I don’t remember you guys doing anything for Christmas since we were kids and then only once or twice because Grandmère and Grandpère were visiting!” Well, he forgets last year, but this is pretty much true. Yet once in a while my husband feels not so much the pang of nostalgia as the occasional urgent need to reassert himself in a household of Jews. Even before the eighth Hanukkah candle was lit, before the last Hanukkah presents were purchased and exchanged, my husband began talking about Christmas.

Calling my husband a lapsed Catholic does a great disservice to his disconnect, his total repudiation of the religion in which he was raised. Since our sons were born, he has urged me to raise the boys Jewish, delighting, albeit from a respectful yarmulke-less distance, in each Shabbat meal, Passover Seder, the Hanukkah festivities. The glow and shimmer of festive candles, the peaceful warmth radiating throughout our home with each celebration, the scent of freshly baked Challah never fail to bring a smile to his face. Christmas traditions have always been eschewed, overshadowed by Menorahs, dreidls and potato latkes.

Our sons have never felt anything but Jewish even when winter vacations were spent hanging tinsel and shiny baubles from a hand-cut evergreen and placing tiny figurines of (according to our then-six-year-old son) “Joseph, a lady, a baby and some cows” on the mantle at their grandparents’ house. That long-ago surprise visit by le Père Noël himself fooled neither of our sensible – and Jewish – sons. They knew without a doubt that it was Tonton Claude behind that cotton fluff of a white beard. They have never missed Christmas, neither craved nor asked for it, not once wondered why they didn’t celebrate something that all of their friends did.

I can count the number of times we had a Christmas tree. The first was that lone year that we hosted my in-laws, a tree no higher than our younger son. My husband couldn’t have been more excited or taken a greater pleasure in his arts-and-crafts project with his sons, then maybe 4 and 6 years of age, that the advent of Christmas afforded. The three of them tromped out into the misty city to the market where they purchased a sack full of whole walnuts in their shells; their circuitous route then took them to the grocery store where a plastic tube of empty escargot shells was added to the booty, the seductive swirls so elegant and just perfect for the tree. Then home, stopping along the way for a spray can or two of sparkly gold paint. Once back at the apartment, newspaper spread across the marble floor, plate of cookies never far from small hands, they spray painted all the walnuts and shells gold, strung them and wrapped them round and round the tree. We dug out the shoebox containing how many years of handmade ornaments from preschool and we stood back and behold a glorious tree!

The second time was about four or five years ago when older son, then in high school, initiated the Christmas proceedings. Out of the blue he began begging us to put up a tree. Now, as anyone knows, I am a sucker for Christmas trimmings: the lush swags of greenery dotted with red bows, the gay garlands of colored bulbs flashing and glowing, the shimmering tinsel, the ever-so elegant fairy lights. The music, the carols, the sappy old holiday movies. So when he decided that we absolutely had to have a Christmas tree – no explanation was necessary and none given any more than “Why not? We are half Christian and can have a tree if we want!” I pretended to argue, my “absolutely not in my home” may have sounded less than firm while husband, the more dubious of us two, put his foot down, insisting that if Clem brought home a tree then Clem would be the one to drag it right out of the apartment again as soon as the holiday was over. And sure enough if Clem didn’t dash right out and drag one home and prop it up in the living room. Didn’t think he had either the gumption or the energy (mostly the energy...this was an adolescent, after all). We then decorated and enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve meal in front of that damn tree… which was still hanging around a month or so later, son having decided that it was not up to him to remove the now-rotting tree or clean up the pine needles now scattered across the floor. Or if it was, then it was purely up to him to decide when he would be ready to drag it out of the house.

This year, husband asked for a low-key Christmas. No decorations – there is still barely room to move through the apartment and tabletops are still crowded with objects not yet stored – simply a nice meal en famille, some traditional smoked salmon, foie gras, boudin blanc… and small gifts all around. And a bûche. My husband has been asking me to make a bûche for the last few Christmasses. He has hinted, asked outright, cut out recipes and photographs from magazines and tacked them up on the kitchen wall. He has poked and teased and outright begged for that bûche. But to no avail. Until this week. I made that bûche. Aren’t we all full of little surprises?

A selection of my favorite holiday dessert recipes:

Chocolate Chestnut Fondant

Chocolate Chestnut Layer Cake

Chocolate Chestnut Charlotte

Gingerbread Macarons with Chocolate Chestnut Cognac Ganache

Decadent Chocolate Cake with Christmas Spices


For the Genoise:
This is a magnificent genoise for any jellyroll cake any time of the year.

4 large eggs, separated
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp vanilla
4/5 cup (100 g) flour
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar and a sifter.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a 15 ½ x 10 ½ x ¾ inch (40 x 27 x 2 cm) jellyroll pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment. Have a clean dishtowel larger than the jellyroll pan as well as a clean flat baking sheet ready.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in large mixing bowl and the whites in a very clean medium-sized bowl (I prefer plastic). If you like, add a tiny pinch of salt and 2 drops lemon juice to the whites to help stabilize them. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat with an electric mixer on high until thick, creamy and pale; Beat in the vanilla.

Using very clean beaters, beat the whites until stiff peaks hold and the meringue is very thick. Fold the whites into the yolk/sugar mixture gently but firmly using a spatula, a third of the whites at a time. Do not over mix/fold but do make sure there are no more clumps of whites visible.

Spread the batter evenly in the parchment-lined jellyroll pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until puffed, golden and the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Remove from the oven. Immediately slide the parchment paper and cake together onto the large flat baking sheet. Invert the warm jellyroll pan and place on top of the genoise and, holding both the jellyroll pan and the baking sheet firmly together, flip them over and remove the baking sheet; the top of the genoise is now face down while the parchment paper is up. Peel off the parchment paper. Dust a light layer of powdered sugar all over the genoise and then place the clean dishtowel over the genoise. Once again place the clean baking sheet inverted on the dishtowel-covered cake and, holding the baking sheet and the jellyroll pan firmly together, flip. Remove the jellyroll pan.

You should now have the warm genoise topside up on the clean dishtowel on the flat baking sheet. Dust the top of the genoise with a light layer of powder sugar and, starting on a short end of the cake, roll the genoise up – gently but as tightly as possible without crushing or breaking the cake - in the towel (the towel will be rolled up with the cake). Allow to cool completely.

For the Cointreau Sugar Syrup:

Scant half cup (100 ml) water
Scant 3/8 cup (80 g) sugar
2 Tbs Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Place the water with the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Let boil for 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Stir in the Cointreau. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

For the Chocolate Buttercream and the Chocolate Chestnut Mascarpone Filling:

8 Tbs (120 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
12 oz (350 g) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 oz (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbs boiling water

7 – 8 ½ oz (200 – 250 g) fresh mascarpone cheese
3 ½ oz (100 g) sweetened chestnut cream (crème de marrons)
1 Tbs Cointreau, optional

Place the soft butter with the powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until well blended, light and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder and the hot water and beat until well blended and creamy.

Divide the Chocolate Buttercream evenly in two and reserve one portion to frost the bûche. Place the rest in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the chestnut cream and then beat in the mascarpone little by little until desired consistency and flavor (I added more mascarpone to temper the sweetness). Add a tablespoon of Cointreau if desired.

Assemble the bûche:

When the genoise is completely cool, carefully unroll and slide off the dishtowel and onto a clean sheet of parchment paper. Brush a generous amount of the Cointreau Syrup all over the genoise, as much or as little as desired. Spread the Chocolate Chestnut Mascarpone evenly over the genoise. Starting at the short end of the genoise (the end rolled up in the towel to cool), roll up the cake. When completely rolled, scrape off any chocolate filling that has oozed out. Using a sharp or serrated knife, trim off both ends of the bûche to even out the ends. Very carefully, lift the bûche onto the serving platter, placing the seam side down on the platter.

At this point, I covered the bûche and the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerated it for several hours to allow the filling to firm up.

Before serving, spread the Chocolate Buttercream all over the bûche and decorate as desired.

Serve, slicing with a very sharp or serrated knife.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A lovely bûche! I love the decorations.

I love celebrating Xmas even if I'm not a Christan person, but I keep it very low key too...



Renee Goerger said...

I enjoyed reading your story very much Jamie. I love getting a little glimpse into your family life throughout the years. Your Buche De Noel looks so festive and delicious! However you celebrate and whatever your faith, I hope you and yours are having a wonderful holiday season. I wish you all (Marty too) a happy, healthy New Year!

Renee Goerger said...

I enjoyed reading your story very much Jamie. I love getting a little glimpse into your family life throughout the years. Your Buche De Noel looks so festive and delicious! However you celebrate and whatever your faith, I hope you and yours are having a wonderful holiday season. I wish you all (Marty too) a happy, healthy New Year!

Barbara Bakes said...

Your Christmas Buche is beautiful. Love how you decorated it. Hubs must have been so pleased. Wishing you a wonderful new year in your new home.

Dewi said...

I was disappointed when I couldn't see the picture on facebook, luckily I can view them all here :). Thanks Jamie! This Buche de Noel really temp me. Got to make this, even when Christmas is over.

Have a wonderful and happiest new year!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a creative and lovely bûche. I said to myself when I retired I was finally going to get around to making one. Didn't happen though.

Happy holidays and happy new year to your family. I know you must be looking forward to the new year in your lovely new home.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

It's been years since I've made a Buche de Noel and now wishing I had a slice to enjoy with a cup of coffee.

Funny but the comparative differences in your two faith practices aren't as far apart as what I dealt with when I was married and we were both Christian! Well, according to most that is. My inlaws were fundamentalists and all I can say is they knew how to ruin a holiday. :)

Nothing and I mean NOTHING fun was shared or participated in without the constant admonition of sin. Sin sin sin. Always made me need a cocktail and a cigarette. Both big sins. :)

I love having a tree and decorating for the holidays but it's the food traditions that matter the most...and I love that you made this for yours.

Carolyn Jung said...

That is one beautiful and very sweet ''surprise.'' Your hubby gets points, too, for being so persistent. ;)

Lisa said...

LOL@ “Joseph, a lady, a baby and some cows”

What a great story about your holiday traditions. Your family stories always make me feel warm and gushy all over. For some reason, I always thought the holidays tilted more on the Christmas side of your holiday festivity scale. No idea why. Love the photo of you, in all of your hippy-chick glory, decorating a tree as a tween!

Having said all that I LOVE your Buche! I just sounded like a dirty Frenchman, didn't I? Anyway..your Buche is so gorgeous, it rivals some of those made by top French Pastry Chefs, like Francois Payard. I used to make a chocolate chestnut buche with meringue mushrooms every holiday. I think I need to pull that tradition out of the musty trunk and bring it back, You made me want to! xo

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I think you made someone a very happy man! So will this become a new tradition?

Amanda said...

As parents, even severely lapsed Catholic ones, we have always warmly embraced Christmas and taken much joy in the happiness on the faces of our children. Now, those same shining faces scowl with cynical disapproval and I find myself a lone voice, trying to drum up some - any - Christmas cheer.
I suppose I will have to wait for my lot to mature and outgrow their teenaged/young adult disaffected pretensions, or produce grandchildren - although they certainly have no qualms about embracing the whole gift-giving aspect of the season.

Your buche is brilliant - I'm sure your husband would think it was worth the wait.

Rossella said...

I wouldn't define myself Catholic, maybe Christian yes. That because I grew up going for at least 5 years each day to church after school. It was "dottrina". My family wasn't so religious, it was just a way to meet friends and play. It was fun. Apart fun, dottrina meant listen everyday to priest words. So I can't deny that unconsciously I "learnt" something. So at lest Christian I'm.

At the same time, I'm a big Xmas fan. I love its atmosphere and habits to think to other people needs and tastes. Presents for me are just a symbol of that special human ability to care about other people.
As I get old, I appreciate to stay in contact with far away friends and my family.

Your bouche makes really special every Xmas, low key or not.

Helene Dsouza said...

Such a wonderful, pretty, creative buche. I love what you did Jamie with the chocolate on top.

no wonder your son reacted that way. lol maybe in time your husband is turning a bit nostalgic. I don't particularly enjoy Christmas but since I have been living in a different country, I found a value for the festivity. Maybe he is feeling something similar after so many years.

I hope you had a wonderful time with your family and I wish you a Happy New Year!

A Canadian Foodie said...

Lovely memories and lovely treat! I sometimes make these as gifts for my gal friends - it was not that kind of year! Traditions are so important to us, and change as we do - but there is nothing like those strands that never change.
Happy 2013!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Jamie this is elegant and belongs on a cake catwalk! What a lovely story too-as always :D

orangemonk3y said...

Oooh. That is so yummy-looking!

Rambling Tart said...

I have joined a man who has no Christmas affiliation either. :-) This was startling to me since I grew up in a home where Christmas was EVERYTHING. The house was decorated and music played from October to January. At first this change was difficult for me, but now I embrace and love it. :-) It's so nice to have a low-key, happy, simple, cozy celebration without the stress of doing it all. Your buche de Noel is beautiful. :-) Definitely worth the wait. :-)

Sue said...

Your Buche De Noel is gorgeous! Happy New Year!

Claudia said...

And it's a beauty. My daughter and I made one 2 years ago to prop us up during a hard holiday and really - I am wondering why it is not at my table this year. So many different tastes and textures. All scrumptious. Happy New Year!

Nancy Baggett said...

So creative and totally unique! Would have never occurred to me to do a buche that way, but I just LOVE it. Best wishes for a wonderful new year, Jamie.

Judit @WineDineDaily said...

Hi Jamie, your Christmas Bûche looks absoluetly amazing!
Happy New Year!

Deeba PAB said...

I am so glad you made this. It is STUNNING! What a sweet story, nostalgic and beautiful! A wonderful wonderful 2013 to you my sweetest sistah! You are the best!! {Oooh and happy birthday to your Mom too}

Jeanne said...

I could say something smartass about "nice bouche"... ;o) Seriously though, I love the chocolate "bark" - If I were JP I'd also be begging for this!


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