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La Bûche de Noël Abby Fitzgerald

Setting the Table

My dish is La Bûche de Noël, which is a cake made to look like a Christmas yule log. This dish is made in France around Christmas time. In medieval times, people would bring a log into their homes and put it in their hearth. They would light this log on fire on Christmas Eve and keep it lit for three days to ensure good luck. The ash from this log supposedly provided lightning protection and the coals were used for medicinal potions. Once hearths were no longer a common household piece people put out decorative logs instead. They did this in remembrance of the Christmas yule logs that the hearths once held. Those decorative logs then turned into cakes that people could eat. Families from France traditionally make this dessert together at Christmas time (Rose, 2018).

To make La Bûche de Noël, I will need to whip cream, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together until it’s thick. Then I will need to refrigerate that mixture. In a different large bowl, I will beat egg yolks and sugar together. Next, I will add in vanilla, cocoa, and salt. In another bowl, I will beat egg whites and sugar together. Once that is complete, I will then fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture and then spread that batter into a jellyroll pan. I will bake it for 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees. While it’s baking I will prepare a dishtowel covered in confectioners’ sugar. When the cake is done baking I will flip it onto the dishtowel and roll the cake up in it. Then once it has cooled for 30 minutes I will unroll the cake and spread the mixture from the fridge onto it. I will roll it back up and refrigerate (Rachele, 2005). Then I can decorate it however I choose. While I’m making La Bûche de Noël, I am concerned with rolling the cake and if it will just crumble rather than roll. I will have to make sure that I don’t bake the cake to the point that it’s too dry in order to avoid this problem and to not let it cool for too long. I am also concerned with how to actually make it look like a log. There are some really impressive photos that I have found of this dish so I am nervous about how my own presentation will look. I am going to try and find some sort of candy that looks like leaves to put on it. I will also add some berries to try and make it look more lifelike. I was attracted to this dish because it is a dessert. I love desserts and many pictures that I found of it looked to have chocolate in it which only added to my excitement.

This dish should be considered of religious significance because it is a reminder of Christmas for many French people. Christians celebrate Christmas in remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to take away people’s sins. Along with making La Bûche de Noël for the Christmas season, in France, people celebrate Christmas by decorating with nativity cribs, attending Christmas markets, having a main Christmas meal called Réveillon, and in some parts by eating 13 different desserts (Cooper, 2000). From medieval times to today, a majority of Christians in France identify as Catholic (AboutFrance.com, 2003). This dish is also made religious by people needing warmth around Christmas time due to it being winter. If people hadn’t needed the logs in their hearth around Christmas time to keep warm, then La Bûche de Noël wouldn’t have even existed. La Bûche de Noël has now become a Christmas tradition in France with its name literally meaning ‘a Christmas log.’

Nutrition Facts

La Bûche de Noël is a dish with a fascinating history. It is a cake made to look like a Christmas yule log. There is some debate as to where the word “yule” originates from. One significant theory is that the word comes from Old Norse’s hjól, meaning wheel. This wheel represents the circle of life. Early Norse pagans placed importance on the circle of life. Norse refers to the word Yule as a winter solstice celebration (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).

The start of the winter solstice celebrations was started by the Romans with Saturnalia, a feast in honor of the temple of the god Saturn. This started in 217 BC on December 17th. The celebration first started as one day and then gradually turned into a week. Roman’s upper class also celebrated the birthday of Mithra around this time. Mithra was a god born of a rock and her birthday was December 25th. The Norse also play a role in winter solstice celebrations, or Yule. The first Yule feast was mentioned in 840. Yule was celebrated from December 21st to January in Scandinavia by the Norse. They are celebrating the Wheel of The Year (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).

Pagans still celebrate Yule as a 12-day holiday. This is where the 12 days of Christmas comes from. It begins on December 21st, “Mothers Night,” and ends January 1st, “Yule Night.” Celtic pagans celebrate the sun god, Lugh, being reborn in human form and reuniting with his wife. Welsh pagans celebrate the Oak King and Holly King battling for power. Both pagans also celebrate surviving winter months and the return of sun during Yule (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009). The Yule log is first referenced around the 17th century. Norse pagan fathers and sons would bring large logs to the center of their town to start on fire. The town would feast until the logs burned out. This typically lasted 12 days (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).

Christianity adopted many traditions from pagans, specifically from the Roman Empire winter solstice traditions, known as Yule to some. The exact reasoning for Christians naming December 25th as Jesus’ birthday, Christmas, is unclear. One reason for it being this day is explained by a holiday in the Roman Empire which celebrates the return of the sun. It means that winter is ending and spring and the sun are coming back. This holiday is celebrated as the winter solstice. This symbolization of the rebirth of the sun is used to symbolize the birth of the son, Jesus Christ, to Christians (Hillerbrand, 2019). Christianity adopted many traditions from pagan ways and repurposed them to revolve around the birth of Jesus, Christmas (Tifford, 2016).

In medieval times in France, after pagan Yule traditions were adopted by Christianity to celebrate Christmas, people would bring a log into their homes and put it in their hearth. They would light this log on fire on Christmas Eve and keep it lit for three days to ensure good luck. The ash from this log supposedly provided lightning protection and the coals were used for medicinal potions. Once hearths were no longer a common household piece, people put out decorative logs instead. They did this in remembrance of the Christmas yule logs that the hearths once held. Those decorative logs then turned into cakes that people could eat. In present time, families from France traditionally make this dessert together at Christmas time (Rose, 2018).

Individual well-being, religious freedom, social justice, and environmental justice are all shown in the history of La Bûche de Noël. There are both positives and negatives to each of these factors that go along with this dish. This section will focus on the positive sides of these factors while later on some negative viewpoints will be pointed out in the “Indigestion” section.

A person’s individual well-being is affected by La Bûche de Noël and its history in more than one way. In the past, the winter solstice celebrations impacted individual well-being due to it being a time to celebrate and refresh. The winter months were hard and surviving them was something to celebrate. The return of the sun gave people hope and happiness. This stems towards many people’s feelings of Christmas time as well. The Christmas season also allows people to celebrate and enjoy time with loved ones. This can be especially refreshing on an individual’s well-being. In France in particular, the tradition of making La Bûche de Noël with family could also provide comfort and joy to rejuvenate one’s own well-being.

Religious freedom is shown throughout La Bûche de Noël’s history. This yule log shaped cake for Christmas would not be possible without the pagan Yule traditions. Yule started off as not even a Christmas tradition at all. This shows how traditions can be adopted by different religions. Although La Bûche de Noël is typically made in celebration of Christmas, a Christianity holiday, it could also be made to celebrate the pagan Yule celebration as well.

Social justice is transformed throughout the history of La Bûche de Noël by creating more reasons than one for it to be made which allows more people to be able to make it. La Bûche de Noël can be made to celebrate Yule, Christmas, or winter solstice celebrations. These holidays could mean about the same thing to some people. This dish’s history involves different religions and traditions so there isn’t just one group who has a claim to it. The history of it is accepting to Christians as well as pagans.

Environmental justice is shown in La Bûche de Noël’s history by the transformation of actual Yule logs to cakes. In history, actual logs used to get chopped down and became part of a tradition for Yule and for Christmas. Since the advancements in technology and homes we no longer need to light logs to keep warm or often times do not have a place to light logs on fire. Logs were instead used as decoration. This was eventually transformed into cakes which is where La Bûche de Noël came from.

La Bûche de Noël has now become a Christmas tradition in France with its name literally meaning “a Christmas log.” However, this dish did not originally come from Christianity. This rich dessert comes with a rich history.

Kitchen Time

There are three parts to making Bûche de Noël; the cake, the filling, and the frosting. I started off by making the cake. The cake batter was made of six eggs that were separated, ½ cup of flour, ¼ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and some powdered sugar. This seemed like a lot already and that’s when I knew that I would need some help from my mom to tackle this whole recipe and get the dish made in a decent amount of time. Separating the egg yolks was an interesting start. For most of the eggs I would accidently let the egg yolks drop into the egg white mixture and have to dig them out, but thankfully none of the yolks broke. However, it was still a wet, sticky, and tedious process. I started the combining process by first mixing the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together and setting that mixture aside. It seemed like an odd mixture to me, as it looked brown, dry, and powdery, so I wasn’t sure why I needed to create that mixture separately but I rolled with it. Next, I beat the egg yolks together and then slowly added the sugar and the flour mixture. The concoction was supposed to turn pale after I added the sugar in but it was still egg yolk yellow colored so I was nervous that I had already screwed up somewhere. The mixture was gooey and brown by the time that I had finished mixing in the flour mixture. This was the first point it actually looked like real cake batter!

Continuing on with the cake creation, I needed to beat the egg whites until they formed soft peaks in a separate bowl. I had no clue what this meant or how to do this so I was so thankful for my mom, my mom’s friend, and my sister-in-law all coaching along and helping out by this point. To create the soft peaks, I had to mix for a while and the yellowish liquid slowly turned to a white creamy substance. Then I added sugar and kept beating the mixture until there were stiff peaks. Again, I had no clue what this meant so others had to inform me. This required an even longer amount of mixing and the substance turned into a frothy, light, airy texture. My brother compared this mixture to marshmallow cream. This was the part that my 2 month old nephew loved because the mixer was on the longest. Next, I added the original batter and egg white mixture together and poured it into a pan. When combined, it turned into a very thick light brown colored batter. It didn’t spread to all of the edges of the pan and coated the pan in a thin layer so I was worried that I didn’t have enough batter. My mom had left me by this point to go cuddle with my nephew so I was really starting to stress out over this dish now. I baked the batter at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.

There was no break time involved with the creation of this dish because while the cake was baking I needed to lightly cover a dish towel in powdered sugar. Once the cake was done baking I needed to set it on the dishtowel and carefully roll it up. This was the part that I was most nervous about. I knew that if the cake was too dry then it would break when I tried rolling it. So, I did not want to overbake the cake. When I flipped the cake over onto the towel I had some issues getting the pan up off the counter so my brother swooped in to the rescue to help take an edge to lift it up and then get the wax paper off of the cake. The wax paper stuck onto some of the cake’s edges and some of the cake ripped at this point. It looked and felt like a big, flattened out, warm, brown sponge by this point. The cake rolled up nicely and my biggest fear for making this dish was conquered! I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it went. I let it sit there rolled up for about 30 minutes so it cooled in that position.

While the cake was cooking, I began making the filling. The filling was made out of 1 cup of heavy cream, ½ cup of powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and a pinch of salt. I beat all of the ingredients together until there were stiff peaks. I now knew what stiff peaks were and had some experience with creating them thanks to having made the cake already. The white powdery mixture turned into a creamy, airy mixture. I put this in the refrigerator to chill. Next, I made the frosting. The frosting was made out of one stick of butter, 2 cups of powdered sugar, ¼ cup of cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon of vanilla, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and a pinch of salt. By this point I was absolutely over the whole process due to how much mixing I had done, all of the different measurements of ingredients, and how much time it was taking. I first beat the butter and then added in the remaining ingredients one at a time while continuing to beat. I accidently used the wrong tool to beat with on the mixer so the mixture kept on remaining as a powdery substance. I knew something must be wrong because a powdery substance was not a frosting texture. My mom was back helping me at this point so she caught my mistake and switched out my mixing tools for me. Once this was done, the mixture turned into a creamier, yet thick, frosting texture. I finally taste tested something and this chocolate frosting tasted awesome! It would be something that people wouldn’t like if they didn’t like chocolate or rich tastes though.

The cake was now cooled off and I unrolled it out of the dishtowel. These next steps were the fun steps to me because I had all of the parts of Bûche de Noël already made and I just had to combine them. I had the hard, tedious work all over with. I immediately grabbed the filling mixture from the fridge and spread it on top of the cake. Then I rolled the cake back up with the filling inside and it finally looked sort of like what my end product was supposed to look like! I knew that I was in the final stretch of creating my yule log. Then I added frosting on top of it. At this point, it looked like a giant swiss cake roll and this excited my family because they really enjoy eating those Little Debbie products. I added some powdered sugar on the top as well to make it look like snow on a log. This final product looked comparable to the pictures I had been researching online and I felt super successful I managed to pull this dish off! It at least looked pretty anyways, I had no clue how it actually tasted yet.

Making Bûche de Noël took lots longer than I had anticipated. The total time it took was around 4 hours. I was so glad that I had my whole family home to keep me company in the kitchen and add some entertainment. My nephew, Owen, loved the sound of the mixer so he made some appearances in my video that is attached below. Making this dish all went better than I had anticipated and I didn’t have any major screw ups. I served this cake to my family who was home. This included my two brothers, their significant others, and my parents. They all loved Bûche de Noël! They even ate it for breakfast the next morning. This dessert tasted very rich and chocolatey. My family compared it to a giant Hostess Swiss Cake Roll but richer and more delicious. Bûche de Noël did not last too long in my house before it was devoured. I felt extremely successful and eating this dish was like a celebration for completing all of the steps and time it took to make it. My brothers are both older than me, so growing up with them they were always better than me at everything which led me to try and compete with them but always coming up short. Due to that, having them enjoy eating La Bûche de Noël and saying how delightful it tasted was my most prideful moment out of the entire process. I impressed them at something which doesn’t happen too often. Bûche de Noël is a dish that I don’t have much of a desire to make again soon due to the hard work it involved, but it tasted awesome and is definitely something I would consider creating for special occasions!

Indigestion

La Bûche de Noël is a dish that could potentially cause some conflict and disagreement among people. What ethical or moral problems could come from making a cake like La Bûche de Noël? There may be more answers to that than one might imagine. There are well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom factors regarding the dish that could start these arguments.

One main well-being factor that could create arguments is that La Bûche de Noël is not a healthy dish. As a concrete example, there is lots of sugar in this dish and eating too much of it could cause some serious health problems. This dish has anywhere between 20 and 60 grams of sugar in one serving size. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat six teaspoons of sugar daily while men eat nine. This would convert to 25 grams of sugar and 37 grams of sugar respectively. That means that eating one slice of La Bûche de Noël is equal or even more than the amount of sugar that one should consume in a day. Too much sugar can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, harm one’s liver, increase blood pressure, damage kidneys, harm the brain and memory, and potentially even increase one’s risk for cancer (Mintz, 2014). After tasting this dish, I agree that it could cause harm to a person’s health if they ate it too often. I think it is fine in moderation though. Another well-being factor is that this dish also takes quite a while to make. If someone doesn’t have three to four hours on their hands then they cannot make it. Some might see the creation of this dish as a waste of time and effort. People could spend their time doing something better for themselves rather than waste it making an unhealthy dish. I also agree with this factor. I would only make it for special occasions because it is too time consuming otherwise. Another well-being issue is that it could cause people sadness and loneliness. This dish carries a tradition of making it with family. If family members are not around or no longer living then this dish could create some unhappy emotions in people. I do not necessarily see this issue as being super prevalent, however, I do not carry the tradition of making it with family.

La Bûche de Noël could also carry some negative social justice factors. Some people might not be able to afford the cost of production for this dish. There are many kitchen tools and ingredients needed for the creation of this dish. It also is not a necessary food for someone to eat. It is more of a food of luxury. In my opinion, it is much cheaper to make than other foods and the ingredients are pretty basic so I don’t see it being too much of a concern. It could also cause some social justice issues in regards to the reasoning behind the dish. Christians make it in celebration of the Christmas season while Pagans make it in celebration of Yule. This could create conflict between those two groups of people. Pagans could be upset that Christians adopted this cake making tradition and transformed it into helping celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christians could be trying to silence Pagan voices in regards to the reasoning behind the cake. I think that all people should be able to make it regardless of the reason behind it. La Bûche de Noël should be enjoyed by all.

Environmental justice comes into play with La Bûche de Noël as well. This cake is meant to look like a log. So, real items from nature are sometimes used to decorate the cake to make it look more life-like. This could upset people that pieces from nature are used just as decoration. This dish could also create environmental issues if it is not actually eaten. The dish itself might get made just because it is a tradition to make with family and is often times used as decoration at Christmas time. It is a very rich dish and some people might choose to not actually eat it. In this case the ingredients were a waste and they will just be getting thrown out. These two factors wouldn’t be an issue for me. I wouldn’t have the urge to decorate it with real items from nature because I think that’s a little gross. And I would never leave it uneaten. I like desserts too much.

La Bûche de Noël can create some religious freedom issues. One major issue is that this dish is used to celebrate Christmas for Christians and also Yule for Pagans. There could be conflict between the two groups in regards to which religion the dish should actually be used to celebrate. This could also cause conflict for others who are not a part of either of those religions. Can others outside of those religions create this dish as well? Some would argue that people shouldn’t be allowed to make La Bûche de Noël unless it was specifically for Yule or Christmas celebrations. I think that people should be able to make this dish regardless of the holiday or special occasion.

There are many arguments that could stem from La Bûche de Noël in regards to well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom. To some people, this dish might be nothing more than just a cake, while to others, it is a tradition with deep religious significance. It is a dish that could cause conflicts and arguments but could also be used to offer peace and happiness.

Just Desserts

I am extremely into desserts and chocolate, so the dish, La Bûche de Noël, was right up my alley. It looked like something I would enjoy eating which is why I picked this dish in the first place. I also enjoy baking more than cooking. So there was another plus about this dish for me. La Bûche de Noël was a relatively new dish to me. I had never heard of it before, however, my mom did make a dessert for Christmas one year that I remember being pretty similar to it. There is a possibility that she had called it a “Yule Log” but my brother and I referred to it as “Elf Poop” which is all that I can really recall about it. After making and eating La Bûche de Noël I realized that it was very similar other desserts that I normally eat. It looked and tasted like a very rich Hostess Swiss Cake Roll. The process of making it was much more extensive than other desserts that I make though. I found it very interesting that this dish has pagan roots and began from winter solstice celebrations. It was later adopted to Christianity and made for Christmas time. I can definitely see why people would only make this at Christmas time. It is time consuming to make and so it seems fitting to only be made at for a special occasion. It has become a Christmas tradition for some family and so it serves as a reminder to people of the birth of Jesus Christ. It could be viewed as like a birthday cake for Jesus! When my family and I ate this dessert, we prayed before eating the meal that came before it, just as we do with all other meals that we eat. Religion can be found in all sorts of food and food processes and in many different ways for different groups of people.

References

About-France.com. (2003). Religion in France. Retrieved from https://about-france.com/religion.htm#Religion

Cooper, J. (2000). Christmas in France. Retrieved from https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/france.shtml

Hillerbrand, H. (2019). Christmas. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christmas

Lady Spring Wolf. (2009). History of yule: the winter solstice. Retrieved from https://www.paganspath.com/magik/yule-history.htm

Mintz, B. B. (2014). Sugar: Sweet and Tempting... But Hazardous to Your Health. The Exceptional Parent,44(9).

Rachele, T. (2005). Buche de Noel Recipe. Retrieved from https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/17345/buche-de-noel/

Rose, L. (2018). Beyond Brioche: The History and Tradition of La Bûche de Noël. Retrieved from https://frenchly.us/beyond-brioche-la-buche-de-noel/

Rose, L. (2018). Beyond Brioche: The History and Tradition of La Bûche de Noël. Retrieved from https://frenchly.us/beyond-brioche-la-buche-de-noel/

Tilford, J. (2016). What Christmas traditions are actually winter solstice traditions? Retrieved from https://mic.com/articles/162922/what-christmas-traditions-are-actually-winter-solstice-traditions#.DEe0WcowK

Credits:

https://www.monpetitfour.com/buche-de-noel/

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