There are few invariables in food, but for a Frenchman, Christmas without a Bûche de Noël is as unthinkable as an American Thanksgiving without a turkey. During the holiday season, we used to sell a thousand Christmas logs every year in Los Angeles — which is a lot for a bakery item — but at Leôtre, we could sell as many as twenty thousand.
My version looks like the time-honored one, but instead of making a sponge cake roll, I make my cake with eggs, cocoa powder, and sugar. I know how tricky it is to make a cake roll and not have it break. That's why I bake mine for only four minutes in a hot oven, rather than drying it out for fifteen minutes in a low oven. You will also find that my mousse is lighter. And instead of a rum and sugar soaking syrup, I get more depth of flavor with brown sugar, dark rum, and orange juice. There's no way that they will be overwhelmed by chocolate.
Chocolate Whipped Cream Filling:
Chocolate Icing (Ganache):
2. Start by making the cake roll: Separate 4 of the eggs and place the yolks, along with the remaining whole egg, in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Set the egg whites aside.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar to the mixer and beat on high for 5 minutes, until the mixture is creamy and light yellow. Transfer it to another bowl. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk.
4. Place the reserved egg whites into the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high for about 1 minute, until the whites are foamy. Add the remaining sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the cocoa powder and the egg yolks to the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, fold everything together gently to keep the cocoa powder from puffing out of the bowl. Fold until all ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Line a 13-by-18-inch sheet pan with parchment paper and pour the cake batter onto it. Using an offset spatula, smooth out the batter, bringing it all the way to the edges of the pan. Bake for 4 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched and starts to separate from the sides of the pan. Immediately transfer the cake roll, parchment paper side down, onto a work space. Wet a clean kitchen towel, squeeze out the excess water, lay it on top of the cake, and let the cake cool.
6. Meanwhile, make the soaking syrup. Combine the orange juice, rum, and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stir, and remove it from the heat. Using a spoon, drizzle the syrup onto the surface of the cake; use all the syrup, making sure to soak the cake all the way to the edges.
7. To make the chocolate whipped cream, place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until it is melted and warm (not hot) when you touch it. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream just until soft peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the whipped cream into the cooled, but not yet set, chocolate. When the ingredients are well blended, fold in the remainder of the cream.
8. Pour the filling onto the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Bring it just to the edge of the cake, as it will spread slightly when it is rolled. Orient the filling-covered cake so that a long end is facing you, carefully separate about 1 inch of the cake from the parchment paper, and start rolling it into a log shape, gently peeling the parchment away from the cake as you go. When you have finished rolling, wrap the log snugly in the parchment paper. Refrigerate it until the filling is set, about 2 hours.
9. To make the icing, in a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove it immediately from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it is completely melted. Allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally as it thickens. This makes it easier to spread on the log.
10. To assemble the log, cut two long strips of parchment paper that are just a bit wider and longer than the log. Place these two strips, overlapping them slightly, on your serving dish (to keep it clean). Unwrap the cold log. Center it on top of the parchment paper strips. Spoon the icing onto the log until it is completely covered. Using the tines of a fork, gently score the icing from the top to the bottom of the log, making lines to create the illusion of tree bark. Repeat until the log is covered with the tine marks. Once you are satisfied with the look, slip the pieces of parchment paper out from under the log.
11. If you do not need the cake right away, refrigerate it, but allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving it.
From Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts by Michel Richard with Peter Kaminsky (Ecco, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010). Copyright Â© 2010 by Michel Richard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the publisher.
Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appetit magazine and the website www.bonappetit.com, knows his way around a grill. He has edited an entire book on the subject: The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit.