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.
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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!
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!
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.
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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