Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Bûche de Noël

There are many variations in flavor and presentation for the traditional French Christmas log. I like this one because the chocolate cake and coffee buttercream are not an excessively sweet combination. The marzipan decorations can be prepared well in advance and kept loosely covered until needed.

Makes about 12 servings

1 Chocolate Genoise Sheet (see below), cooled

Coffee Buttercream

4 egg whites

1 cup sugar

28 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons instant espresso

2 tablespoons rum or brandy


8 ounces almond paste

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup

Red and green food coloring

Cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, for finishing

  1. For the buttercream, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk gently over simmering water until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Whip on medium speed until cold. Beat in softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Combine the instant coffee and liquor and beat into the buttercream.
  2. Invert the Genoise and peel away the paper. Invert again onto fresh paper and spread with half the buttercream. Use the paper to roll into a tight cylinder. Reserve the remaining buttercream for the outside. Refrigerate cake and buttercream while you prepare marzipan decorations.
  3. For the marzipan, combine the almond paste and half the sugar in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sugar is almost absorbed. Add the remaining sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add half the corn syrup and continue mixing until some of the marzipan holds together when squeezed. Continue adding the corn syrup, a little at a time, until the marzipan is moistened (it will still appear crumbly). Remove the marzipan from the bowl and knead smooth.
  4. To make marzipan mushrooms, roll 1/3 of the marzipan into a cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths. Roll half the lengths into spheres. Press the cylinders against the spheres to make mushrooms. Smudge with cocoa powder.
  5. To make holly leaves, add green food coloring to 1/3 of the marzipan and roll into a long cylinder. Flatten with the back of a spoon and detach from surface with a spatula. Cut into diamonds to make leaves, or use a cutter.
  6. To make holly berries, add red food coloring to a tiny piece of marzipan. Roll into tiny spheres.
  7. To make pine cones, add cocoa powder to the remaining marzipan and form 2 cone shapes. Slash sides of cones with point of scissors.
  8. Remove the rolled cake from the refrigerator and unwrap.
  9. To assemble, trim cake edges diagonally, cutting 1 edge about 2 inches away from the end. Position the larger cut piece as a branch on the bûche about 2/3 across the top. Cover the Bûche with the remaining buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding branch on the top. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark. Transfer the bûche to a platter and decorate with the marzipan decorations. Sprinkle the platter and bûche sparingly with confectioners’ sugar "snow."

Chocolate Genoise Sheet

Genoise is a wonderfully versatile cake. This can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for several days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

Makes 1 sheet

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks

Pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa

One 10-by-15-inch to 12-by-18-inch jellyroll pan

  1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Lower the water to a simmer.
  3. Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees. (Use your finger to test it.)
  4. Place on mixer with whisk attachment and whip on high, but not highest, speed until the egg mixture is cool (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and has increased greatly in volume.
  5. While the eggs are whipping stir together the flour, cornstarch and cocoa.
  6. Take the bowl off the mixer and sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there. Repeat with the next 1/3 of the flour mixture and finally with the remaining flour mixture.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  8. Bake the genoise in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until well risen and firm. Do not let the cake bake dry.
  9. Use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the side of the pan. Invert the cake to a rack, then immediately re-invert to another rack so that the cake cools on the paper.