Bûche de Noël

Every Christmas, I challenge myself to at least one cooking/baking challenge. This year, I chose a Bûche de Noël, otherwise known as a Yule Log. It is a traditional French roulade (or jelly roll cake) filled with fruit and/or cream, covered in chocolate and decorated to look like a log. The most well-known in America is probably that of Julia Child, complete with meringue mushrooms.

After reading through many recipes, including Julia’s, I decided on the vanilla sponge cake and cream cheese filling from Natasha’s Kitchen, with the addition of strawberry jam. As this was my first attempt at a jelly roll, I allowed myself a few shortcuts, namely pre-made strawberry jam and chocolate frosting.

I gathered all my tips – including How to Cook by Julia Child and this helpful video from Sophia at My Great Challenge – and went for it. I used the damp towel trick for rolling the cake and used the fridge to cool it off whenever it got too warm to work with. I skipped the meringue mushrooms, opting instead for fresh cranberries and leaves for a holly decoration on top.

I was pleased enough with the exterior but didn’t know what to expect of the inside until we cut into it after Christmas dinner. Imagine my shock to find an almost-perfect – and rather delicious – spiral. I’m pretty darn proud of this first attempt! I’ll definitely try again next Christmas, only this time, I’ll make the fruit filling and chocolate ganache from scratch.

Bûche de Noël

Sponge cake:
6 large eggs, room temp
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat Oven to 400˚F. Line 15×21″ baking sheet with parchment.
In the bowl of your mixer, beat 6 eggs with whisk attachment on high speed 1 minute. With mixer on, gradually add 2/3 cup sugar and continue beating on high 5 minutes. Mixture will be thick and fluffy (very important since you’re relying on egg volume for the cake to rise).
Sift 1 cup flour in thirds into batter, folding with a spatula between each addition and scraping the bowl to ensure you don’t have pockets of flour hiding at the bottom. Drizzle in 1/2 tsp vanilla and gently mix just until blended (do not over-mix or you will deflate the batter). Spread batter into prepared baking pan and bake right away at 400˚F approximately 12-14 minutes or until top is golden.
Remove from the oven and quickly loosen the edges with a thin spatula. Right away remove it from the baking sheet, flipping the top over onto a damp towel. Remove the parchment paper from the back and gently roll cake into a log with the towel, starting from the narrow end. Leave the cake tightly wrapped in the towel to cool on the counter until room temp.

For the cream cheese filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
8 oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Additional ingredients:
Fruit spread, 4-6 ounces (I used strawberry jam)
Chocolate frosting, 1 can

While the cake is cooling, combine all ingredients to make the cream cheese filling.
When the cake has cooled, unroll and gently spread a thin layer of fruit spread over the entire cake, followed by a layer of cream cheese filling. Re-roll the cake tightly, making sure the seam is on the bottom. Place it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Once cooled, trim the ends of the cake. Frost it with chocolate frosting, using the back of the knife or the tines of a fork to make the cake look like a log. The cake can be kept in the fridge in plastic wrap for up to 4 days, if needed. Before serving, sift powdered cocoa around the bottom to look like dirt, and dust confectioner’s sugar on top to look like snow.


Columbia River Gorge

Hubs and I escaped for a few days this weekend to one of the prettiest parts of our state: the stunning Columbia River Gorge. In the summer months, crowds flock here for hiking, camping, wine tastings, and wind surfing. While our off-season winter escape involved mostly snowy vistas and romantic snuggles by the fireplace, we’re looking forward to returning in warmer weather to hike Beacon Rock or Horsethief Butte, catch a summer concert at Maryhill Winery, and gaze at the stars at the Goldendale Observatory.

For this trip, we stayed at the Skamania Lodge. It’s by far the best spot to stay in the area, and with a spa and s’mores by the outdoor bonfire, we’ll likely be back. We especially enjoyed the excellent food and impressive array of activities. But be warned, walls are surprisingly thin; ear plugs are a necessity for decent sleep.

Snow in Seattle

It snowed in our neck of the woods this week. While we could easily drive less than an hour to some of the most beautiful, snow-covered mountains in the entire country, it’s pretty rare to get accumulation of any kind in the lower metropolitan area. We Seattleites have a tendency to get excited – and mildly put out – whenever the white stuff actually covers our own yards.

Decorating in winter

One of the saddest days of the year is the one in which you pull down all the holiday decor. If your home is anything like mine, it goes from warm and full to looking astoundingly bare in the space of a single day. The cold weather outside doesn’t help the psychological effect, either.

To combat that sense of bummer, I decorate deliberately for the winter season. Shiny silver candlesticks, frosted pine boughs, clean white snow globes, and most importantly, incorporating tiny white lights in many of the places Christmas lights used to be. I find it helps the transition as we all patiently await longer and warmer days ahead.