Christmas is a time when I look forward to the sweet treats and one of my favourite is the ‘Buche de Noel’ or the yule log. My childhood memories of Christmas log appearing at the end of the meal and guessing whether it was cold or cake based.. My mother always kept it as a surprise, and it was a real rush of pleasure tickling when it appeared. Each time with a different decoration, colour and taste. My favourite one still remains the chocolate one with Moccha cream and ‘griottes'( cherries). It is such a simple cake compared to the rich Christmas pudding, but the taste for me is always just right to finish the festive meal. Light, creamy and delectably good on the palate, it infuses the festivity surrounding with the right touch of sophistication without going over the top. now, I have tasted a good number of ‘buche de Noel’ over the years but the ones made by Dolayau are simply ecstasy melting in the mouth!
The origin of the yule log is quite interesting, and it has come a long way from the days when it was presented to the family gathered around the hearth on a cold night.
A Yule log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. It can be a part of the Winter Solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night.
The expression “Yule log” has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as “chocolate logs” or “Bûche de Noël“. The Yule log is related to other Christmas and Yuletide traditions such as the Ashen faggot.
The term “Yule log” is not the only term used to refer to the custom. In the north-east of England it was commonly called a “Yule Clog”, and in the country’s Midlands and West Country, the term “Yule Block” was also used. In the county of Lincolnshire, the term “Gule Block” was found, and in Cornwall, the term “Stock of the Mock” was as well.
In other parts of the British Isles, different terms were used, for instance in Wales, the log was often referred to as “Y Bloccyn Gwylian”, meaning “the Festival Block”, whilst in Scotland, “Yeel Carline” (meaning “the Christmas Old Wife”) was used, and in Ireland, the term “Bloc na Nollaig”, which meant “the Christmas Block”, was used.
In Germany, the log is reffered to as Christklotz, Christbrand or Weihnachtsscheit (“Christ-log” or “Christmas-log”). Kindled on Christmas eve, the log in German tradition functioned as a lightning charm.
The Yule log has frequently been associated with having its origins in the historical Germanic paganism which was practiced across northern Europe prior to Christianisation. One of the first people to do so was the British Henry Bourne, who, writing in the 1720s, described the practice occuring in the Tyne valley. Bourne theorised that the practice originated from Anglo-Saxon paganism, which is a form of Germanic paganism that was practiced in England during the early mediaeval period.
Robert Chambers, in his 1832 work, Book of Days notes that “two popular observances belonging to Christmas are more especially derived from the worship of our pagan ancestors—the hanging up of the mistletoe and the burning of the Yule log.” James George Frazer in his work on anthropology, The Golden Bough (p. 736) holds that “the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive” in the Yule log custom. Frazer records traditions from England, France, among the South Slavs, in Central Germany (Meiningen) and western Switzerland (the Bernese Jura).
However, some historians have disagreed with this claim, for instance the Swedish C.W. von Sydow attacked Frazer’s theories, claiming that the Yule log had never had any religious significance, and was instead simply a festive decoration with practical uses.
Because there are no accounts of the custom prior to the 17th century, some historians and folklorists have theorised that it was not an ancient British custom but was in fact imported into Britain from continental Europe in the early modern period, possibly from Flanders in Belgium, where the tradition thrived in this period.
The first mention of the Yule log in the British Isles is a written account by the clergyman Robert Herrick, from the 1620s or 1630s. Herrick called the tradition a “Christmas log” and said that it was brought into the farmhouse by a group of males, who were then rewarded with free beer from the farmer’s wife. Herrick claimed that the fire used to burn the log was always started with a remnant from the log that had been burned in the previous year’s festivities. He also said that the log’s role was primarily one of bringing prosperity and protection from evil – by keeping the remnant of the log all the year long the protection was said to remain across the year.
In traditional British rural culture, the Yule log was not only seen as a magical protective amulet, and there are many reports of rivalries occuring between members of a community as to who had the largest log.
The traditions of the Yule log died out in Britain in the latter 19th and early 20th century because of, according to historian Ronald Hutton, “the reduction in farm labour and the disappearence of the old-fashioned open hearths”.
In Tuscany, there is a Festa di Ceppo (“festival of the log”).
Sometime in the late 18th to early 19th century, a facsimile of the Yule Log became a traditional French dessert. Usually, it is in the form of a large rectangular yellow cake spread with frosting and rolled up into a cylinder – one end is then lopped off and stood on end to indicate the rings of the “log.” This “Bûche de Noël” became a traditional Christmas dessert, and has recently spread to other regions, where it is often referred to as a yule log.
Bûche de Noël (“Yule log“) is a traditional dessert served during the Christmas holidays in France, Belgium, Quebec, Lebanon and several other Christian-populated francophone countries. As the name indicates, the cake is generally prepared, presented, and garnished so as to look like a log ready for the fire. The traditional bûche is made from a Génoise or other sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow jelly roll pan, frosted, rolled to form a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside. The most common combination is a basic yellow sponge cake, frosted and filled with chocolate buttercream, however, many variations on the traditional recipe exist, possibly including chocolate cakes, ganache and espresso or otherwise-flavored frostings and fillings. Bûches are often served with a portion of one end of the cake cut off and set on top of the cake to resemble a chopped off branch, and bark-like texture is often produced in the buttercream for further realism. These cakes are often decorated with powdered sugar to resemble snow, tree branches, fresh berries, and mushrooms made of meringue.
One popular story behind the creation of this dessert is that Napoleon I of France issued a proclamation requiring households in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter, based on the notion that cold air caused medical problems. This prevented Parisians from being able to use their fireplaces, and, thus, prevented them from engaging in many of the traditions surrounding and involving the hearth in French Christmas tradition. French bakers, according to the theory, invented this dessert as a symbolic replacement around which the family could gather for story-telling and other holiday merriment.
Guess this year too, the ‘buche’ will be present on our table. Looking forward to this sponge delight with a glass of bubbly !