Tutorial: Bûche de Noël

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I am so proud of myself! It is customary every Christmas with the fam for me to destroy the kitchen with my annual pudding experiment. What is extremely fitting is that last year I played with chocolate tempering for the perfect chocolate truffles. Now, after my lucky time spent training with a team of chocolatier apprentices in France (as you do) I can finally put the lessons to practice. I became possessed. I sat for days comparing recipes, visualising and calculating. I am such a child, I was in my element – I even bought a sugar thermometer.

Now I wouldn’t advise you to wing it with proportions. I did this and it led to many complications. I combined aspects of several recipes and recommendations. Below I’ve listed the main components with a handy diagram.

Buche de noel diagramDacquoise. This is a crispy hazelnut meringue base
Praline Feuillete. A layer of chocolate, gianduja and crispy goodness. I just added rice crispies and nutella to melted chocolate. Seriously.
Chocolate mousse. Whilst there are many recipes out there make sure it contains gelatine – sheets not powder – for a good set. I also prefer the pâte à bombe method used in the recipes below.
Praline mousse. You can always use ground hazelnuts folded into a basic vanilla mousse mixture. However I heroically made my own praline just for the crack. I’m not going to tell you how I did it because the hassle is the equivalent to making your own curry paste. Buy a jar it tastes the same. Also it won’t cause your mother a heart attack when she’s trying to cook a turkey and you are standing there with a sack of hazelnuts and a pestle.
Chocolate glaze. Use good quality cocoa powder and ensure there is enough gelatine. This is normally done last minute before the buche fully defrosts so you must ensure it’s cooled to room temperature before pouring and will be thick enough to coat.
Tempered chocolate decorations. If you wish to sell your soul to the devil.

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Now, if you have time and want to save stress, I would suggest you follow this schedule:
Day one. Make inner mousse and freeze. Start chocolate decorations as these will store for a few days.
Day two. Prepare the feuillete and dacquoise inserts.
Day three. Make the outer mousse and assemble all components in the mould. Freeze.
Serving day. In the morning prepare the glaze, pour over, return to the freezer to set. It tastes great either partially frozen or fully defrosted, so it’s up to you, allow two to three hours.

I did it all in less two days which is not advisable on Christmas eve…

Tips for assemblage.
Half a cereal box cut down works well for the inner praline mousse mould – that’s if you are using a rectangle.

Use acetate, or even foil to line the mould. Do NOT use cling film. It is a nightmare to pour the mousse into and falls apart as you try to peel it off frozen. It then leaves an undesirably rugged edge, though this should be hidden by the glaze.

As I said, do not skimp on the gelatine for the glaze, I did a rough guess of powder instead of sheets and found myself standing outside in the cold on xmas morning, stirring and hopelessly waiting for it to thicken (the fridge was too full).

20141225_155219Decoration.
Chocolate tempering is always worth the effort even though it rarely works for me. Some tips here. I want to stubbornly point out that the white smear on the square in the picture above is an experiment with white chocolate, not a bad bloom from tempering.
The tree was made by cutting set sheets of chocolate with a template and hot knife then sealing together. It’s fiddly work but I found it rather therapeutic.
The pine cone was made by piping spattered star shapes on a baking sheet in different sizes. Once set, I would use the tip of a hot knife to stack and glue them on top of each other.
And there we have it. There are endless possibilities of flavours and layers to experiment with. The three recipes that I combined my elements from were Cannelle VanillePatisserie Makes Perfect and La Fee Chantilly (in French). There you can pick your winning combination. Next I’m thinking pistachio or salted caramel?