During the holiday season, we like to open our homes to our friends and to visit them too. So I’m glad to say yes to Jennifer’s perfect holiday invitation.
Here is my participation to the Virtual Cookie Tour. With a French twist.
In my Middle Grade novel Sylvie gets into an argument with Scott on Christmas Eve.
“Snow feels like tears falling from the sky, yet when I see Madame Duval arranging fancy bûches de Noël in the bakery window, an urge makes me enter the store.”
For French people no other cake symbolizes Christmas more than a bûche de Noël.
Twelve-year-old Scott misses his mom a lot. And it is worse on Christmas Day.
“On Christmas Day, Dad made a big deal of adding chestnuts around the turkey like the French do, and he even bought the special cake shaped like a Yule log. It’s called a bûche de Noël and it’s decorated with miniature plastic pine trees or pine branches, mushrooms made of meringue, and other winter stuff.”
Scott never realized, though, that his French-born mother had adopted the American way after years spent in the US.
“Back home, we had ham and Mom baked cookies that we ate with different kinds of pudding. So much better than this French menu.”
Most expats and immigrants, I’m sure, feel homesick at the time of their first holiday season. Mine was also bittersweet. Alone with my husband and baby, I was excited to discover the United States but missed our French traditions. The favorite American food for Christmas was different and there was no bûche de Noël.
Year after year, thanks to my kids, I’ve made mine the American ways to celebrate the season. With my kids I assembled gingerbread houses, baked cookies shaped into Christmas trees, stars and bells, and bought green and red sprinkles as if I had always been an American.
Yet I always missed my bûche de Noël.
In Massachusetts, I made friends with a phenomenal Belgian cook and baker. She gave me her personal bûche de Noël recipe. But I didn’t have her skills, so mine looked a little crushed and messy. Everyone said it was lovely, but I knew better.
In a fortunate turn of events many French bakeries started to open everywhere in the States. So for the last fifteen years my bûche de Noël has been store-bought. I figured that it was still kind of homemade. Just made somewhere else by someone else.
But this year, due to my daughter’s request for a wholesome Christmas, I will give it another try and bake my own bûche de Noël.
I’ll use an American recipe, because my small French kitchen scale is broken and also because this recipe sounds much easier than the French ones I checked. So it will be my bûche de Noël with an American twist.
If you want to know about the origins of the bûche de Noël:
Starting in the 13th century, most people living in the countries that currently form Western Europe used to set a big log in their fireplaces on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day they poured oil, salt, and warm wine on the log and prayed to keep their home safe from lighting and evil forces. In the Canadian province of Quebec and in France this tradition lasted until mid 19th century. Then it faded due to the arrival of iron stoves. A much smaller log, sometimes decorated with candles and greenery, replaced the big log and was used as a table centerpiece. Soon after, bakers created a cake, also shaped like a log and decorated with non-edible small seasonal symbols. Nowadays, most French bûches de Noël are decorated with similar symbols, often very elaborate and almost always edible.