1988 "Buche de Noel is my favorite cake!" Bright eyed and hopeful was the response eagerly given by my French Husband, the newlywed. The flavor was a known fact: Spread chocolate on anything and it was labeled: Yann's.
My mother had made jelly-roll cakes for my brothers and me when we were younger, was that the same thing as Buche de Noel?
18 years ago, before Internet and expatriate membership was a given at every corner in France, anything English was like having a 20/20 in Lycee. Peter Mayle was probably writing, "A Year in Provence," while I was struggling in Paris with only three words of French in my pocket of vocabulary. How was I going to find the recipe? Calling my Mom in California was out of the question given the nine hour time difference and expense.
To make a French Christmas cake, a Buche de Noel, for my husband's 24th birthday in September that was going to be a challenge equal to anything Napoleon had to do! Napoleon is believed to have said, "That the man who never makes mistakes never makes a war." Couldn't Yann have said brownies. With Napoleon in my mind I decided chocolate anything even batter would be a hit.
Down to the metro, direction Rue de Rivoli, destination: Brentano's, the bookshop in Paris (since 1895) with a large English section. Certainly they would have a cookbook in English.
On entering Brentano's there stood an American man the size of a fortress. Soft drink in hand, he was carrying on like his world was coming to an end, demanding the sales-girl, "...Don't you understand, E-N-G-L-I-S-H! I want a map of Paris IN English! A map that says, "Big White Church on top of the Hill," none of this rue crap, you understand? Why, tell me why, can't you folks just print a map that says street instead of rue?!" The petite sales-girl looked bewildered as she tried to explain. I left the bookshop, to embarrassed to request a French cookbook in English.
Up above the markets of Les Halles, battling in our kitchen the size of a nutshell, mustering up memories of my Mother making jelly-roll cakes, gathering allies in chocolate, sugar, eggs and flour I conquered my Waterloo! We had French Husband's favorite birthday cake that evening.
Buche de Noel
Follow the jelly roll recipe for the cake part by Betty Crocker,
Instead of jam I used Chestnut cream (very easy to find in France, so if you want some I can send it too you.) After spreading it on evenly and thick I added shaved chocolate about a cup's worth.
Have ready a thin cotton dishtowel, that is larger than the cake, cover it with powder sugar. When you take the cake out of the oven, turn the cake pan upside down directly on to the sugar powered dish towel. Then sprinkle generously powder sugar all over the cake and roll it us instantly. Also have your warm ganache ready, after a minute or two *unroll the cake and lather the ganache all over it, roll it up, gooey and all, and toothpick it if you must, and put it in the fridge for an hour two or three...
*Unroll the cake with care, but if it should crack do not worry too much, the ganache will cover the mishap. Put the rolled cake in the fridge, adding a toothpick or two to keep it rolled (put the rolled end on the bottom of the plate.)
For the frosting I made a ganache, then with a fork drew in tree trunk designs.