Bûche de Noël ~ Christmas Yule Log

This is a classic French dessert that is served at Christmas time. Bûche de Noël translates as the “Christmas Log” and is meant to look like the piece of wood you are about to toss into the fireplace. It is a rather odd tradition and yet I find myself making one every year. It always reminds me of the TV station that plays Christmas music and shows nothing but a burning log in a fireplace. I thought those were just memories of my long ago childhood, but I was amazed to see that the burning log still finds its place on YouTube even today.

Despite my unglamorous association there is something quite elegant and beautiful about the Bûche de Noël. According to Larousse Gastronomique the yule log cake tradition started in the 1870s when Parisian pastry chefs decided to replace the less elaborate brioche style fruit loaf with this more festive confection. Although I am quite partial to the Panettone style breads, I can see why pastry chefs created something a little more fussy to work on, that is just how we are!

I created the yule log pictured here for the holiday issue of Better Homes and Gardens. You can find the recipe here and you’ll find a video of me creating one in my instagram video. It is the very first video in my highlights, so you’ll need to scroll all the way to the end. You may find some other videos to watch along the way.

More Bûche de Noël recipes…

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Pomegranate Swirl New York Cheesecake

Pomegranate Swirl New York Cheesecake | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

The first cheesecake I recall eating was from Juniors in Brooklyn. I’d go there with my grandparents and my aunts, Sylvia and Rose, when I was little. There was always a ton of food and loud conversation, but the only thing I remember clearly is the cheesecake. It was tall and smothered in impossibly red strawberries. The last time I ate cheesecake at Juniors was the day I bought my wedding dress at Kleinfeld’s Bridal shop, when it was still in Brooklyn and long before there was a reality TV show about it. All the women in my family piled into the fitting room and the very bossy attendant said, “I have the dress for you!” and left. She came back with a dress, I put it on and everyone started to cry. I did try on a few more, since we’d intended to make a whole day of it, but she nailed it on the first try. We left that fitting room and went to Juniors for lunch. The cheesecake was not as great as I had remembered from when I was a kid, but it was exactly what the day called for, tradition.

Pomegranate Swirl New York Cheesecake | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

This Pomegranate Swirl New York Cheesecake started with a base I found in Bake from Scratch Magazine. The texture is luxurious and smooth, but not as dense and custardy as some of my other go to cheesecake recipes. I love all kinds of cheesecakes and this may be my new favorite NY style. Dare I say, better than Juniors. I added a swirl of pomegranate to the cake, because it has a tartness that pairs so well with the rich creaminess of a cheesecake.  I had been seduced by a case of the ruby colored fruit at Costco, so I needed a way to use them up.  I reduced the juice of fresh pomegranates, which was DELICIOUS, but a true pain in the ass. You can watch me juice the pomegranates and create the swirls in the cheesecake in my instagram video. The flavor is incredible, but you can certainly do this with store bought pomegranate juice or any other tart fruit juice as well (Sour Cherry, Passion fruit, Raspberry, Cranberry). The base is a simple graham cracker, because it is my favorite and I far prefer it to Juniors sponge cake crust. (more…)

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Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

A croquembouche (kroke-em-boosh) is a tower of profiteroles (cream puffs) stuck together with a thin layer of crisp caramel, which gives the dessert its name, “crocque em bouche” or “crunches in the mouth.” This dramatic pile of puffs is typically served at weddings, but I’ve taken liberties and find it a worthy dessert for any big occasion. A Christmas Croquembouche seems like the perfect way to celebrate this holiday season. The puffs are made of choux paste and are filled with mango pastry cream, which isn’t a flavor you might think of for a Christmas dessert, but it is such a wonderful contrast to the sweet of the caramel. When you break into the cream puffs you’ll find the rich, creamy golden filling.  Just to jazz it up and to continue the holiday theme I added snowflake sugar cookies that I made with an olive oil sugar cookie recipe from my friend Sarah Kieffer’s book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. Then I spun some sugar into fine threads and wrapped it around the tower of puffs in a garland.

You can watch me make this Christmas Croquembouche in my Instagram video. (more…)

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Raspberry Paris Brest

Raspberry Paris Brest | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This Raspberry Paris Brest is a beautifully nontraditional take on a very traditional French pastry. The name, Paris Brest, comes from a bicycle race that happens in France between (you guessed it) Paris and the town of Brest. According to Larousse Gastronomique, a pastry-cook, whose shop was along the route of the race, got it in his head to make a pastry shaped like the wheel of a bike from choux paste (the same pastry used for eclairs and profiteroles). He filled it with a butter-rich, praline flavored pastry cream. My take on this classic involves lots of Driscoll’s Raspberries to lighten up the dessert and make it even more beautiful. Instead of stirring praline into the pastry cream, I made an easy raspberry quick jam out of fresh berries and then mixed it in. The result is fresh and light, which will be a welcome end to your holiday dinner. What makes Driscoll’s Organic Raspberries the perfect choice for this is that Driscoll’s has spent years carefully breeding Raspberries, and with thousands of berry varieties they select the top 1% to sell under the Driscoll’s name.

You can watch me make this raspberry pastry in my instagram video.

#BerryTogether GIVEAWAY: For the past few years, Driscoll’s has been championing this belief that life is better spent around the table, over food, with friends and family – #berrytogether, in other words.  Things don’t have to be fussy or complicated to have a good time and to get in the mood for the holidays you can enter to win some sweet prizes from Driscoll’s – (a KitchenAid® Artisan Stand Mixer, a Williams Sonoma Stoneware Pie Dish, Set of 3, and Berries for a Year); see the bottom of the post for details.* (more…)

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Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Bundt Cake

Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Bundt Cake | ZoeBakes by Zoë François

I made this Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Bundt Cake with my friend Andrew Zimmern last year. You can watch us working pumpkin magic in the kitchen together in the video below. I recently made a pumpkin pie and roasted several pumpkins and squash, so I have lots of great gourd puree on hand and this is one of my all time favorite cakes, so I wanted to share it with you. The cake I made with Andrew has a rather thin line of chocolate streusel and I went for a bolder chocolate layer this time. That is reflected in the recipe and directions below. You can roast your own pumpkin or use canned, either is terrific for this easy and tasty cake.

Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Bundt Cake | ZoeBakes by Zoë François (more…)

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Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake

Don’t be fooled by the picture, this is a cheesecake, not a sponge cake. I have seen Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake all over the internet for years, but hadn’t come around to trying it until now. My fellow instagram baker, Silvia Colloca, just sent me her latest cookbook, Love Laugh Bake!, and she has a version of this internet sensation made with mascarpone. The name, cotton soft, refers to the texture of the cake, which is far lighter and almost soufflé-like compared to the New York or custard style cheesecakes in my repertoire. Silvia also used fruit in the batter, so there is a layer of berries that rest along the bottom, creating a base in this otherwise crustless cheesecake. In her book she uses blueberries, but I had raspberries on hand and they worked perfectly. The only other change I made was to use gluten-free flour (there is very little flour in the recipe, so it adapts without compromise), since I was bringing this dessert to a party and the host is gluten-free. It was a big hit and I will be making this cheesecake again and again.

You can watch me make this cheesecake in my instagram video and Silvia has generously shared the recipe below.

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