This year your holidays may look a little different. As we adjust to these changing times, we might have had to change a few plans, but that doesn’t mean this year’s holidays are any less special. The holidays are a time to enjoy various traditions that have often been passed down for years. These traditions span different cultures and countries, which can help bring us all together.
Ready for dessert already? Here is the Bûche de Noël recipe.
This year I’m spending my first holiday season in France. While this year isn’t the same as years past, there are plenty of traditions that help make this holiday season a little brighter. One of these holiday traditions is to enjoy a Bûche de Noël, or yule log in English. This Christmas cake is usually enjoyed on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve, or all three! The chocolate yule log is probably the most popular flavor, but there are many different varieties.
To learn more about the yule log, we spoke with Coach Candice and Coach Jennifer, two French natives, to learn more about the Bûche de Noël and other French holiday traditions. While many of us might wish we could be enjoying a Bûche de Noël in France, we’re sharing a traditional French Bûche de Noël recipe so that you can enjoy a little bit of this French tradition wherever you are in the world.
What words do I need to know for Christmas and New Year’s Eve-related celebrations?
If you’re looking to learn French or want to say a few kind words to a French friend over the holidays, these French words and phrases are great to add to your vocabulary!
Bonne année ! = Happy new year!
“This is a classic way to wish someone a happy new year in French. In English, we say ‘happy new year,’ but the ‘new’ is unnecessary in French–bonne année does the whole job.”
Bonne année et bonne santé ! = Good year and good health!
This phrase is another common way to wish someone a happy new year.
Usually, following Bonne année et bonne santé, the French add bonne santé (good health), which is wishing good health as a nice thought, but it also rhymes.
Meilleurs vœux pour le Nouvel An ! = Best wishes for the new year!
If you want to really wish the best for your friends and family you can say, “Bonne année, bonne santé, et meilleurs vœux.”
Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année ! = Happy holidays!
Joyeuses fêtes ! = Happy holidays!
Joyeuses fêtes is just a shortened and slightly different version of bonnes fêtes de fin d’année, which literally means “good end of the year holidays.” Joyeuses fêtes literally means “joyful holidays.”
Joyeux Noël ! = Merry Christmas!
Joyeux Hanouka ! = Happy Hanukkah!
Chin-Chin = Cheers
Santé = Cheers
Santé means “health.” This version of “cheers” is a shortened version of à votre santé or “to your good health.”
What are Bûches de Noël, or yule logs?
A Bûche de Noël, literally “Christmas log,” is a traditional cake commonly enjoyed during the holiday season, which, as its name suggests, is served in the shape of a log. This French log cake comes in a ton of different flavors. Earlier, we revealed that the chocolate yule log is the most popular, but you’ll see Bûches de Noël made with coffee, raspberry, vanilla, and more.
Certain boulangeries (bakeries) enjoy getting creative and have out-of-the-box flavors. One boulangerie I know has a bûche de Noël made with brownies, peanuts, and popcorn! These days, many people also enjoy frozen Bûche de Noël that is made with ice cream. A frozen Bûche de Noël is called a Bûche de Noël glacée, and the non-frozen one is called a Bûche de Noël au beurre or a Bûche de Noël pâtissière.
What is the history of the Bûche de Noël, or yule log?
Originally a yule log was a log that was burned every year as a Christmas tradition in regions of Europe. The exact origins aren’t known, but the log was burned every day until Twelfth Night and was supposed to bring good fortune. Today, when you hear someone refer to a yule log, they are most likely referring to the dessert.
Like the original yule log, we don’t know the exact origins of the yule log cake. Some historians believe it originated in the 17th century, but it wasn’t mainstream until it was popularized by Parisian boulangers (bakers) in the 19th century.
Today, this classic Christmas log cake is enjoyed throughout the world, but it is commonly seen in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Canada, Lebanon, Syria, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Spain. It also exists in several former French colonies, such as Vietnam.
How are Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrated in France?
Christmas is usually celebrated with a dinner on Christmas eve or lunch on Christmas Day (sometimes both!) with friends and family. The French typically don’t put stockings out for Père Noël (Santa Claus) to fill, but some children in France leave their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve, where Père Noël fills them with candy and toys.
Christmas dinner usually includes some sort of fowl or game meat, but the most popular is turkey. It is also common to enjoy foie gras, smoked salmon, oyster, coquilles Saint Jaques (scallops), and champagne to celebrate either Christmas or the new year.
“Having thirteen people around the table is supposed to bring bad luck. This French superstition is believed to have come from the Last Supper, where Judas, one of the thirteen diners, was a traitor. People who are superstitious tend to invite an extra person to avoid bad luck.”
Bûche de Noël (French Yule Log Cake) Recipe
3 Tbsp. warm water
140 grams (5/8 cup) white sugar
100 grams (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
11 grams (2 tsp.) baking powder
1 1/2 cup dark chocolate
3/4 cup butter (unsalted, soft)
Chantilly Cream (filling)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
80 grams (1/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla essence
1. Separate egg yolks from egg whites.
2. Beat the yolks with 5/8 cup of sugar and 3 Tbsp. of warm water until foamy.
3. Gradually add 1/2 cup flour, 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, and 2 tsp. baking powder.
4. In a new bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Then fold them delicately into the egg yolk mixture.
5. Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Bake at 355 °F (180 °C) for 10 to 15 minutes. Do NOT overbake!
7. As soon as your genoise gets out of the oven, place a clean and damp dish towel on top of it. Using another baking sheet to hold everything in place, turn it over and roll it with the towel. Let it cool off.
8. Next, prepare your chantilly cream by whipping 2 cups heavy whipping cream, 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, and 1 Tbsp. vanilla essence together until stiff.
9. Unroll the genoise carefully. Evenly spread the chantilly cream. Roll it up again and place it in the fridge.
10. Melt 1 1/2 cup dark chocolate and gradually add 3/4 cup unsalted, softened butter. Stir until it fully incorporates and has a gorgeous shine.
11. Pour your ganache over your genoise roll.
12. Using a fork, make markings and knots to resemble a log of wood.
13. Store in fridge for a few hours before slicing.
More about Coach Jennifer
Coach Jennifer is a French Second Language teacher, French coach, and native speaker from Provence, with 15 years of teaching experience. She loves cooking and baking with her daughters. She also enjoys reading and walking on her own.
More about Coach Candice
Coach Candice has a doctorate in education leadership. She is a French coach and a native speaker from Orleans in the Loire valley of France with 16 years of experience in teaching and administration. She loves traveling and enjoying time with her family.