The holidays have always provided a perfect time for me to go baking crazy for several reasons. For one, as any seasoned baker knows, the chilly weather of the Northeast turns the front porch into an extra fridge. Another reason, which I’ll write about in an upcoming post, I usually spend a solid two or three days in the kitchen baking homemade treat boxes for friends and family, so the cold weather makes being in the kitchen bearable, if not ideal. Now if only my cake orders coincided with the cold weather, I’d be an extremely happy baker.

Since I’ve started making homemade gifts about 4 years ago, I rarely make a dessert for our Christmas gatherings. This year, my sister asked me if I was going to make one since we were hosting Christmas lunch, turned dinner since everyone was running a bit…late. While keeping count of how many batches of cookies and treats I made so far, I had the thought of what I could make that wouldn’t give me a last-minute kitchen meltdown at the back of my mind. The was no shortage of ideas, however, I always came back to one dessert in particular.

Buche de Noele.

I’ve made buche de noel (boosh deh no-elle), or the less fancier term jelly roll, for plenty of Christmases past. Actually, it’s one of the first desserts that I learned how to make after being completely awestruck with the jelly rolls that my mom would make for the holidays. I made a matcha buche de noele before matcha was trendy and I could buy a canister of the good stuff for less than $5. This year, I decided to stick with the classic chocolate cake. Of course, I added a bit of magic to it. Here’s the recipe that I used for the cake portion of the buche de noel.

Nutella Meringue.

I’ve racked [wracked?] my brain trying to remember where I saw the inspiration for the look for this year’s dessert. It could have been the Harry Potter marathon and the scenes from the earlier movies that showed the feasts in the Great Hall with towering desserts. However, I distinctly remember seeing an Instagram post of a cake adorned with various striped colors and sizes of meringue cookies. It was an absolute feast for the eyes.

If you’ve ever made meringue cookies, then you know that they’re simple enough to make and simple enough to utterly, mess up. Under-whip the egg whites, they lose their shape and spread out too much on the baking sheet. Over-whip, the structure of the egg whites begin to break apart, leaving you with a watery mess. Both scenarios I’ve experienced, and both scenarios have resulted in heartbreak and meltdowns.

I woke up early [4AM to be exact] Christmas morning, determined to recreate the tantalizing, whimsey of the cake that I only had a foggy memory of at that point. Part of the determination stemmed from my little cousins. They’re usually my inspiration for various projects, but now that they’re getting older, they’re at an age where, at least from my own experience, they’re making lasting memories. And well, I wanted this cake to be one of them.

While I considered using different colors I settled on creating both flavor and texture with Nutella spread onto the sides of my piping bag and they came out perfect. The recipe I used for the Nutella meringue cookies can be found here.

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Meringue cookies ready for the oven

All Together Now.

Once the cake is baked and cooled, and the meringue is baking in the oven, assembly is rather quick and easy. I filled my buche de noel with chocolate mousse. Rolled, covered it with plastic wrap, and chilled it in the fridge until I was ready to decorate it. In a pinch, the easiest “mousse” can be made with about two cups of heavy whipping cream and a packet of instant pudding. It’s decadent, but at the same time, not coyingly sweet.

Aside from the meringue cookies, I whipped up an additional two cups of heavy whipping cream with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of gelatin dissolved in 8 teaspoons of water. For flavor, I added a tablespoon of cognac. You can use bourbon, triple sec, or just vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate.

About an hour before everyone is due to arrive (or you think they’re going to arrive) take the cake and whipped cream out of the fridge. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream all around and reserve some for decorating. Decorate with the cooled meringue cookies and pipe the reserved whipped cream. Chill until ready to serve.

 

Randomly, strategically placed meringue cookies.

 

“I really love this!”

My cousins usually don’t say this without their parents prompting them to do so, but this time they each came up to me to tell me how much they loved the cake and that was the best gift I got this Christmas season to be completely honest.

There were a lot of ooo’s and ahh’s to go around so suffice it to say, the buche de noel was a big crowd pleaser and I’m sure will be requested again and again. Talk about sensory overload. It was crunchy and chewy from the meringue, sweet from the chocolate filling, with an undertone of bitterness from the bittersweet chocolate used in the cake and nutty from the Nutella used in the meringue, all the more enhanced with the faint presence of the cognac in the whipped cream. Decadent, while overused when talking about desserts, is the only word that can summate the feelings towards this dessert.

Thinking about the versions of this cake I’ve made in the past, I can truly say that my baking has come a long way from decorating with mini marshmallows, to using matcha, to feeling completely at ease with baking meringue and not stressing out that the cake didn’t roll without splitting at some points. After all, when you’re confident that it’s going to taste amazing, what does it matter that there are a few imperfections?

This dessert is truly a special occasion dessert, but not necessarily just for Christmas. So go ahead. Make it for your next family gathering [hint: 2017 is coming ’round the corner]. The work is worth it in the end.