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Caramel Walnut Buche de Noel

December 16, 2009

Caramel Walnut Buche de Noel

When I was in high school I was a bit of a Francophile. Ok, I was a lot of a Francophile. I took French throughout high school, and most years our teacher would bring a buche de noel to share before our winter break. One year we even got to take over the home ec room and make one. I loved them and every year I think of making one again, but I never have. This year, for our library’s holiday party, our lovely admin asked me to bring a dessert. I poured over cookbooks and holiday cooking magazines before it hit me: Of course I had to make a buche de noel!

Now, I’m not really a fancy cake kind of a girl. I rarely bake anything with frosting or layers. It’s not that I dislike cake (though I’m definitely more of a Team Pie player). It’s more that I’m, well, lazy. Simple bundt cakes or fruity upside down cakes are much more my style. My perfectionism is probably another reason I don’t do decorated, fancy cakes. This was utterly delicious in every way, but I felt a little disgruntled that I couldn’t figure out how to make it actually look like a log. The frosting didn’t thicken up enough to give it texture, and the branch I attempted to stick on the side didn’t want to stick. And I couldn’t find any leaves to garnish the plate and make it look woodsy.

All my complaining aside, though, I would definitely make this one again. Sure, my cake decorating skills leave something to be desired, but baking it wasn’t difficult and the flavor was out of this world: it was fluffy and moist, and the light fragrance of bourbon and caramel was perfect, and not too cloying or alcoholic.

I used a recipe from Epicurious, for Caramel Pecan Buche de Noel, and swapped walnuts for the pecans. Don’t be intimidated by how long and complicated this recipe looks. Sure, it takes some time, but if you take it step-by-step, it’s not difficult at all. And it’s so worth it.

Caramel Walnut Buche de Noel
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the cake:

  • 2 cups walnuts, toasted, cooled
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled

For the frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Ground Walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 17 x 12 inch baking sheet with buttered parchment paper.

Grind the toasted notes to the consistency in the picture above. I left some chunks here and there, but for the most part the walnuts were like a coarse sand. Mix in the flour, and set aside.

Beat the egg whites and the salt in a large bowl until they’re foamy. Then beat in 1/4 of a cup of sugar, and beat until stiff peaks foam. Set the bowl aside. In another large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, and the bourbon, until you have a creamy, pale yellow, thick mixture. Gently stir the yolk mixture into the whites mixture.

Whipped Whites

Sprinkle the nut and flour mixture into the eggs, and gently stir together until combined. Add the melted butter, and stir gently until the mixture is just blended. Pour the batter into a prepared baking sheet, and spread until you have an even, smooth layer. Bake the cake for about 14 or 15 minutes, until it’s just starting to brown at the edges.

Now here is the buche de noel secret: When the cake comes out of the oven, lay a dry, clean (non-terry) towel over the top, and use the parchment paper to carefully roll the cake, from the short end, into a roll.

Rolled Cake

Letting the cake cool this way will prevent cracks when you try to re-roll after frosting it. Let the cake cool completely, probably at least an hour or two. Once the cake is cool, you can make your frosting.

To make the frosting, you first make a caramel sauce, then you stir chocolate into half of the sauce to make the frosting, and set the other half aside to serve alongside the cake, with bananas and ice cream. I didn’t do this, so I ended up with the leftover caramel sauce in my refrigerator. This isn’t a bad thing, not at all. I discovered last night that holiday cookies are even more delicious when they are dipped into caramel sauce, so I wouldn’t worry about having leftovers if I were you. Of course, you can go ahead and serve it with the bananas and ice cream, too. It’s your loss.

Stir together the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, and boil the sugar mixture, without stirring, until it’s a golden amber color. Just swirl the pan occasionally. This should take about ten minutes. Once it reaches that golden color, remove it from the heat and add the heavy cream. Whisk in the butter, the bourbon, and the salt. Then return the sauce pan to medium heat, and stir until all the caramel bits dissolve. Voila: Caramel sauce.

To make the frosting, pour off about a cup of the caramel sauce, and stir the chocolate into the remaining sauce in the saucepan. Stir until it’s smooth, then let it sit, off the heat, for an hour or more, stirring occasionally, until it thickens into frosting.

Now, carefully unroll the cake. Frost the inside, and carefully roll it back up. Cut off about 2 inches at the end for your branch, and use frosting to stick it onto the side. Frost the outside of the cake thickly, and if you can, use a fork or knife to give he frosting a log-like texture. Dust the top with powdered sugar using a fine strainer or cake sifter.

If you’re feeling like going for the extra effort (and you still have greenery where you live) garnish the server plate with some leaves. If not, don’t worry about it. People will eat it anyway, and they will love it.

Caramel Walnut Buche de Noel

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2009 12:15 pm

    I remember my Mom making these from one of her Julia Childs books. Very sophistocated!! Looks and sounds delicious!! :)

  2. December 30, 2009 4:22 pm

    wOah! that’s awesome! Don’t mention caramel again, please. Otherwise I’ll kindly have to ask you to pay for the water damages to my MacBook . . . I’m dr00ling :P~

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