Savory Wild Mushroom Bûche de Noël
The glow of the fire warming your cheeks. The crackle of bark as the sacred log is consumed by flames. The scent of caramelized wine wafting through the smoky air. Some things are so ancient and primal that to remember them is like remembering your own origins. Yule Logs are like that for me.
The tradition of the Yule Log was one of the most ancient and widespread midwinter traditions in early modern Europe, with its first appearance in 1184. As is common with traditions that go back as far as this, the origins are blurry. Some historians believe that it was a progression from human sacrifice in early tribes - more feasible and acceptable than the blood of a person or beast as cultures changed and developed. Others say that it was a large log burned on the Solstice (the longest night of the year) to keep dark spirits at bay, and still others say it started out as an entire tree sticking out of the hearth that was gradually fed into it over the 12 days of Christmas (back when hearths were much larger and apparently nobody worried about house fires??) It probably began as a pagan ritual but was soon adapted by early Christianity and spread throughout Europe.
Many different cultures celebrated this tradition in their own way, though there were some common threads. In most places the log was burned almost completely but a small bit was saved to use to light the next year’s fire. It was said that having the yule log fragment in your house protected you from misfortune over the coming year. On Christmas eve, all lights were put out except for the fire of the yule log, then candles were lit from the yule log’s flame. As each person lit their candle, they made a wish (which they kept silent.) Tradition states that the candles and yule log were to be left to burn until they burned themselves out (which is similar to the traditional Hanukah candles as well, interestingly.) Beyond that, there were many subtle differences in celebrating the yule log. In Eastern Europe, logs were cut on the morning of Christmas eve and then lit that evening. In other areas of Northern Europe, there was a long hunt for the perfect yule log and then a celebration around the fire with plenty of wassail. In France, the logs were paraded around the house, then blessed with wine before being burned, which gave off a delicious sweet scent as it burned (I believe this - I often use wine-soaked fruit as a binder in my homemade incense.)
The French took the tradition one step further in the early 19th century, though: they started celebrating their Yule Logs with, of course, cake. Called “Bûche de Noël,” these sweet roulade cakes were baked and then decorated with meringue mushrooms and chocolate shavings to look like bark, then eaten in celebration of the holiday instead of or in addition to burning actual logs - which was harder to do in the cities. This new tradition took the world by storm and soon there were many new adaptations of the classic log cake shape, all rich and sweet and heavy.
But why does the Bûche de Noël have to be a sweet cake? After all, there are plenty of recipes for savory roulade rolls, and what better to flavor a celebratory symbol of a large log with than the forest mushrooms that grow on and around them? My version has a savory filling of goat cheese and last fall’s chanterelles soaked in red wine. It is adorned with other savory morsels - mushrooms made out of sweet red peppers and breadsticks. This spread makes a wonderful Christmas eve luncheon after a rousing morning hunting down the perfect yule log.
1/2 c. white flour
1/2 c. buckwheat flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 c. water
Add the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and stir with a fork, then add the water and mix it in until it is absorbed.
Turn the mixture out onto a clean counter and knead the dough to form a smooth ball. If it is too dry and crumbly, you may need to add more water but be careful not to make the dough sticky. You should knead for about 5 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 balls and coat gently in olive oil, then cover with a clean towel.
Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with baking paper or silicone mats. You can use two baking sheets so you can bake 2 pans of crackers at a time as well.
Keep the rest of your balls of dough covered and remove one, then flatten it into a disc between the palms of your hands. Set a pasta machine to its widest setting and roll the disc of dough through it to thin it out. Fold the dough in half so that you can roll it through again. Repeat several times until the dough feels supple. If it gets sticky, dust it with some flour.
Switch the pasta roller to the next setting and slip the dough through again to thin it out. Repeat as many times as you’d like, changing the settings to narrower and narrower, until your dough is as thin as you would like your crackers to be (pretty thin!) Place the dough on the baking sheet and cut it into thin strips with varying widths so that they will look like tree bark.
Cook for 7-10 minutes, or until richly brown. Remove pan from oven and transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the rest of the dough. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container for a few weeks.
Savory roulade cake:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. white flour
1/4 c. buckwheat flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper
4 eggs, carefully separated
Preheat oven to 325F and line a shallow baking tin that’s 8” x 12” with non stick baking paper. Grease any surface that may stick out.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and then add the flours to it, whisking well. Cook for one minute.
Add the milk and whisk quickly over high heat until the sauce thickens. When it starts to bubble, remove from the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow it to cool slightly while you move on to the next step.
Whisk the 4 egg whites to soft peak stage.
Whisk the egg yolks into the sauce, then gently fold in the egg whites.
Pour onto the prepared tray and spread the mixture out evenly, then bake for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling:
Wild mushroom filling:
1 c. dried mushrooms (I used chanterelles), or 1.5-2 oz.
1 c. finely chopped fresh mushrooms
3 (4oz) packages goat cheese, room temperature
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 c. red wine
3 Tbs. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
soak the dried mushrooms in enough boiling water to cover about 15 minutes or until soft. Drain, discarding liquid. Squeeze them to remove any additional liquid, then finely chop.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the prepared mushrooms and saute for about 1 minute, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the red wine, garlic, and parsley and continue to cook until everything is fragrant and tender and most of the wine has cooked out.
Stir the mushroom mixture into the goat cheese. Add the green onions and salt and pepper to taste.
Other decorations and assembly:
A little extra goat cheese, at room temperature
preserved red peppers and/or red olives
powdered or finely chopped herbs, for mossy dusting (I used nettle and parsley)
While the roulade is baking, place a dish towel on your work surface. Immediately after removing the roulade from the oven, invert the pan onto the towel, then gently peel the grease proof paper off.
Let the roulade cool for 5 minutes, then spread the goat cheese filling all over the roulade, leaving a 1” border all the way around.
Use the towel to start the roll by placing your hands on it and pulling firmly. Then roll the rest of the roulade with your hands. (Don’t roll the towel into it!)
Refrigerate for half an hour to let the roll set up.
Place the roll on your serving platter, seam side down. Slice 1/4 of it off the end at an angle, then place that piece against the main trunk like a branch.
Apply the crackers like bark, using some of the softened goat cheese as “glue.” Chill again for a few minutes to let it set up.
To make the mushrooms, just cut the peppers or olives in half and place them on the end of a stiff breadstick or pretzel, then push that into the roll. Dab or pipe on some goat cheese.
Surround the mushrooms and roulade with fresh pine branches or other greenery to finish the display and serve.
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