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photo: Scott Phillips

Servings: 12 to 16

This twist on a traditional bûche de Noël is a glorious centerpiece dessert for a holiday party or meal. While the cake entails a bit of a time investment, it’s worth it for the wow factor when you reveal the gorgeous vertical layers. See the article for step-by-step assembly photos, and browse our ideas for garnishes, from sugared berries to meringue mushrooms.

Ingredients

For the ganache filling

  • 15 oz. good-quality white chocolate, such as Ghirardelli, coarsely chopped (not chips)
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 4-3/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • Pinch of table salt

For the buttercream frosting

  • 1/3 cup (1 oz.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt; more to taste
  • 4-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) coarsely chopped bittersweet (60 percent cacao) chocolate
  • 5 oz. (10 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened

For the soaking syrup

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. bourbon or coffee liqueur

For the cake

  • Nonstick cooking spray or softened butter, for the pan
  • 1-1/4 cups (5-3/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pan
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 5 large eggs plus 1 yolk, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. neutral oil, such as canola
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (about 1 cup)
  • Decorative garnishes (optional)

Nutritional Information

  • Calories (kcal) : 510
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 260
  • Fat (g): 29
  • Saturated Fat (g): 17
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 5
  • Cholesterol (mg): 120
  • Sodium (mg): 170
  • Carbohydrates (g): 59
  • Fiber (g): 2
  • Sugar (g): 48
  • Protein (g): 7

Preparation

Make the ganache

  • Put the white chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream, espresso powder, and salt, stirring occasionally to dissolve the espresso, just until small bubbles start to form at the side of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the cream mixture over the white chocolate, and then gently stir with a whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes (this can also be done in a microwave). Set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until cooled. Then refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 3 hours or up to 3 days ahead. (For faster cooling, set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with an ice bath, stirring and scraping the sides frequently.)
  • Pour and scrape the chilled ganache into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the ganache on low speed to loosen, about 10 seconds. Then continue beating on low speed until slightly lighter in color and thickened, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium until firm peaks form, being careful not to overbeat the ganache and scraping the bowl as needed, about 1 minute more. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake, up to 1 day in advance.

Make the buttercream

  • Put the cocoa and flour in a small saucepan. Tipping the pan to one side, add about half of the milk, and whisk until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the remaining milk, and whisk until smooth. Set aside for at least an hour before proceeding, preferably overnight.
  • Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until boiling, and then continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. The mixture will be thick. With the pan off the heat, add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, and whisk until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Put the chocolate in a heatproof medium bowl. Over the bowl with the chocolate, pour the cocoa mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to strain out any small floury bits (use a spatula to gently move the liquid through the sieve—do not press down). Scrape the underside of the sieve into the bowl, and discard the floury bits. Stir until the chocolate is melted (if necessary, microwave or set the bowl over gently simmering water). Set aside, stirring occasionally, to cool to room temperature. (For faster cooling, set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with an ice bath, stirring and scraping the sides frequently, until chilled to room temperature.)
  • Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 1 minute. Add the room-temperature chocolate mixture, and beat on medium speed until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, and keep at room temperature until ready to assemble the cake or for up to 3 hours.

Make the syrup

  • In a microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove, combine the water and sugar. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in the bourbon, and set aside to cool to room temperature. (For faster cooling, set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with an ice bath, stirring frequently.) Cover with plastic, and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake or for up to 3 days.

Make the cake

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a large rimmed baking sheet (13x18x1-inch), and line the bottom with parchment. Lightly grease and flour the parchment, and lightly flour the sides of the pan. Gently tap out the excess flour.
  • Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and whisk until blended. Put the eggs and egg yolk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand-held electric mixer fitted with wire beaters). Beat on medium-high speed until pale in color, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar, and continue beating until very thick and tripled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes. It should be thick enough to form a ribbon of batter in the bowl when the beater is lifted. Add the oil and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until blended. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture over the eggs, and gently fold in with a large silicone spatula just until blended. Repeat with the remaining flour.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and using an offset spatula, spread evenly. Bake until the top springs back when lightly touched and the cake is just baked through but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes.
  • While the cake is baking, have ready four long strips of paper towels, the confectioners’ sugar for dusting, a fine-mesh sieve, a small serrated knife, and two large wire racks.
  • When the cake comes out of the oven, move the pan to a rack, and sift the confectioners’ sugar over the cake in a generous layer. Using a sawing motion, run the tip of the knife around the edges to loosen the cake from the pan. Using the same knife and a sawing motion, cut the cake crosswise into five equal strips (each 3-1/4 inches wide). You will need to trim the last strip by about 1/4 inch so that the strips are a consistent width. Arrange two overlapping paper towels on top of one single end strip, aligning the inside edges. Cover the remaining 4 cake strips completely with the remaining 3 long overlapping paper towels, and cover with a rack large enough to overhang the edges of the pan. Gripping the rack with towels and with the baking sheet sandwiched in between, flip the pan and rack to invert. Lift the pan from the cake, and carefully peel away the parchment.
  • Working with one end of the single cake strip and beginning on a short side, roll up the cake and paper-towel layer together. Do this while the cake is still hot, or it will crack. Arrange seam side down on the rack. Beginning on the short sides, roll the remaining cake strips and paper towels together, hold for about 1 minute, and then unroll. Let the rolled cake strip and remaining cake strips cool completely, about 20 minutes.

Assemble the cake

  • Have ready the whipped ganache, buttercream, and syrup.
  • Carefully unroll the cooled curled cake strip. It will look a bit wavy and one end will be curled. Discard the paper towel. Using a pastry brush, wipe off as much of the confectioners’ sugar as possible, and put the cake strip on a new rack. Leaving behind the paper towels, move the remaining strips to the new rack, inverting them so the confectioners’ sugar side is up. Using a pastry brush, wipe off as much of the excess sugar as possible and flip them back over. Using a small sharp knife, cut a 3/4-inch bevel on the noncurly end of the curled cake strip. Repeat this beveled cut on both ends of the flat strips.
  • Brush some of the syrup evenly over the curled cake strip, and spread about 1/3 cup of the ganache evenly over the strip, including into the curled edge. Gently reroll the frosted cake strip. Arrange the roll upright on parchment on a cutting board or large plate.
  • Working with one cake strip at a time (brushing all the strips in advance leads to soggy, difficult-to-handle strips), brush some of the syrup evenly over the strip and gently spread about 1/2 cup of the ganache evenly over the strip, including the beveled edges.
  • Positioning your hands on the short side of the strip, lift it (don’t stretch it), and wrap it around the frosted cake strip, aligning one edge with the edge of the previously wrapped strip, pressing gently but firmly so the layers hold together (that’s what I call a cake “hug”). Don’t worry if there are some small cracks. Repeat the process with the remaining strips and syrup using 1/2 cup of ganache for each strip. After wrapping the last piece, secure the end with a couple of toothpicks, if you like. If there is any remaining sugar syrup, sprinkle it over the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread about 1/4 cup of the remaining ganache over the top of the cake to fill in any gaps. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes to set the ganache. Cover and refrigerate any remaining ganache to use as a garnish, if you like.
  • Remove the toothpicks if you’ve used them to secure the cake. Spread a thin layer of the buttercream over the sides and top of the assembled cake to seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes to set the buttercream. Spread the remaining buttercream evenly over the sides and top of cake. (This is the time to use the tines of a fork to create a rustic bark pattern if you like. Also, if you want to use chopped pistachios to create the look of lichen, apply them now.)
  • Refrigerate for 1 hour, then cover loosely. Chill for 1 day before serving. About 1 hour before serving, remove the cake from the refrigerator. Use a large cake spatula or lifter to move the cake to a serving platter. Discard the parchment. Top the cake with meringue mushrooms, chocolate curls, mint sprigs, silver dragées, sugared cranberries, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, if you like. Use a hot knife to cut the cake into wedges, wiping the knife clean before each slice.

Reviews

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Reviews (4 reviews)

  • bob_bob | 12/29/2019

    I made this for Christmas. My family uniformly said it was the best cake they ever had. I agree with some of the comments and not with others, so I will give a detailed review.
    As background, I have made a traditional Bunche before, indeed a complex version from Jacquy Pfeiffer. That said, I don’t make a lot of cakes so this was pushing my skills a bit. Also, my local stores had a run on decent quality white chocolate, and I couldn’t find anything after visiting four stores that I would use, so I ended up using Amazon Prime for next day delivery of a 12 pack of Lindt bars, which proved to be lucky.
    The reason it was lucky is that when I went to whip the white chocolate ganache the morning after I made it, it broke, meaning it crystallized and was unusable. I tried Pfeiffer’s trick for repairing a broken ganache, and it came back together, and then after 15 minutes in the fridge it broke again. I decided to remake it because it really tasted phenomenal before it broke, and fortunately I had a LOT of white chocolate on hand, but mentally I was working on plan B, which fortunately wasn’t needed. For the second batch, I cooled it in an ice bath, since it was now the day I needed to make it, and I barely whipped it with a whisk. It wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked, but didn’t taste bad, and since it was on the inside I was okay if it wasn’t shiny as long as it wasn’t grainy. I don’t see how you can whip a cold ganache with a whisk attachment of a home quality Kitchenaid mixer, it’s just too flimsy. After the fact I see other ganaches whipped with a hand mixer and I might try that.
    I had no issues mixing the cake batter. I baked the cake one minute longer than the guidelines when it seemed to fit the description of when it was done, and did not use convection. I had no problem with the flipping and preliminary rolling; although my bevels weren’t very neat they didn’t need to be. I did have quite a battle getting the ganache to adhere without all the cake coming off, but I found modest dollops and a firm spread while holding the edge worked. After each layer was ganached and rolled I gave the cake a firm hug to be sure the layers adhered. I didn’t add a lot of the syrup (about 2/3) but it was fine - neither too dry nor too wet. Really the rolling went fine after I got the ganache on, and I was very pleased since I had a nice, tight cylinder which was even enough for me. Finally, I wanted to decorate it with white chocolate birch bark, so I skipped the buttercream and went instead for a thin layer of Pfeiffer’s chocolate ganache, which went on smoothly and beautifully complemented the other flavors. Really the cake needed little extra decoration after I grooved the ganache with a fork, I was just showing off. After decorating and a few hours in the fridge and about an hour out of it, I used a hot knife to cut it and it cut perfectly. The taste was amazing and the vertical layers were stunning.
    The four stars are because of the heartbreak of the broken ganache, and how frustrating it was to put it on the layers. My guests would rate it beyond 5. So if you are adventurous, give it a try!

  • choffman | 12/09/2019

    Thank you to debm59 for her review. As per her recommendations, the first time I made this as a three-tiered round cake without bothering with the vertical layers. Other than what is noted below, I followed the recipe and it is a TON of work for an incredibly delicious result. The coffee-white chocolate ganache is crazy good.

    I gave the recipe only four stars because 1. it's a lot of work that felt unnecessary, 2. the recipe itself seems poorly tested/edited (the reasoning behind some steps is left unexplained), and 3. while delicious, it would be very, very challenging to make visually attractive (more below).

    If you choose to make this, read the recipe carefully and plan ahead. Some steps are...unusual, like recommending that you leave your cocoa/flour/milk mixture to sit overnight. There is no explanation given for this. I left mine to sit at room temp for about 2 hours. Also, some parts are needlessly frustrating, like asking for 4.5 oz of bittersweet chocolate. Similarly, the recipe asks for 15oz of white chocolate. The article accompanying the recipe recommended Ghiradelli chocolate (which I used), but note that this brand comes in 4oz packages. I reduced my bittersweet to 4oz and increased the white chocolate to 16oz and it was fine.

    As for the sponge cake, I took mine out of the oven as recommended (when the surface springs but before any browning), but felt that this resulted in underdone cake, which once the soaking liquid is added, becomes a bit dense and gummy. I understand that dry cakes can't be effectively rolled for the vertical layers, which I didn't do, but next time I will still bake it a minute or two more. This cake also seemed overly complicated for a basic sponge. Next time I may substitute another sponge cake (FC has a great recipe).

    For the soaking syrup, I used coffee flavored bourbon. I was generous when I put it on the cake layers, but I still had leftover. I did not add it to the cake as the recipe suggests. After tasting the results, I'm glad I didn't as it would have made it even gummier and messier.

    The recipe recommends refrigerating the cake for 15min "to set the ganache." I chilled mine for over an hour, but adding the buttercream was still a challenging, messy affair. Next time I will try to chill the cake for significantly longer. The cake looks fine covered in ganache, so it could be served without the buttercream, however the dark chocolate coating is a fantastic compliment to the rich, sweet coffee ganache. Next time, I will rethink this a bit.

    Finally, the cake is a mess to slice and serve. I honestly don't know how much of a wow factor vertical layers would be as the whole thing is so soft and rich that the structure blends with the knife slices. On the other hand, the flavor is a total WOW!

  • JBate | 12/08/2019

    Yes, this cake is a lot of work—but oh so worth it! I started the prep 2 days ahead so the finished cake would have the suggested overnight fridge time. I didn’t have any trouble with the rolling or shaping of the sponge and was very pleased with the finished cake. Served it at a small dinner party (6of us) . Had 1/2 of the cake left. One guest commented that it was the best cake he’d ever had. I used Kahlua in the soaking syrup——the cake reminded me of tiramisu. Will make this one again.

  • debm59 | 12/06/2019

    This was A LOT of work. I was prepared for that, however I didn't think it would take me all day (9am-7pm), with the wait times for cooling, etc, so keep that in mind. I would suggest to do the make ahead steps. I also suggest doing a test bake before doing it for a party or pot luck, that way you get the kinks out.

    I did have a couple of issues. The first was mixing the flour into the egg whites. I did it as instructed (little bit at a time) but it took so long to get it mixed together and when I poured it into the sheet pan, I still had unmixed flour, so I had to try to mix that in. The amount of batter didn't fill the 18x13 pan so when cooked the edges were too thin. It was awkward for me using the paper towels, when I flipped the cake over, they went everywhere, along with the powered sugar (it was quite funny). Because the cake was not at the right thickness it broke when I tried to roll it, but I made it work.

    Assembling the cake was a good laugh, it was hard to work with (again, maybe because it was too thin), and I had a hard time wrapping it around the other pieces, and it came out lopsided, and I couldn't fix it, but oh well, the beauty of homemade!

    I finished it off, but was too tired to do any of the garnishes so I just gave it a dusting of icing sugar and some white candy sprinkles, did the bark marks on the side. Looked pretty good. One other thing I was surprised at was that it only measure 8" when finished and didn't think this would serve 12-16.

    Taste test: I found the cake too dense, that's was the only complaint. It was probably because I mixed it too much but had to do that to get all the flour mixed in. My husband loved it and didn't think it was dense, and commented that it had a tiramisu flavour. It was good and will make it again, but not doing it this way, it will be a 3 tiered cake. I'm making it again for our office Christmas pot luck.

    Thanks Fine Cooking for providing another beautiful desert!

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