When I started to report SAVEUR's Issue #143's story on the classic Christmas cake bûche de Noël, one of the most fascinating aspects of this evolving dessert was the level of creativity and artistry that it's come to represent. The cake, which was originally inspired by the Christmas yule log and thus decorated that way, has progressed from a frosted roulade with mushroom meringues, to cakes in a variety of Technicolor hues, with flavors as exotic as yuzu and macha tea, and forms that bear absolutely no resemblance to their branch-shaped forebears. I spoke with many pastry professionals who, across the board, credited the trailblazing pâtissier Pierre Hermé with infusing the pastry arts with the same sense of timeliness, trends, and personal expression, which are the norm in the fashion world. He was the first to create seasonal lines (fall, winter, spring, etc.) of his desserts, introducing a new palette of colors, flavors, and concepts, with each unveiling.
Over the last decade, his fellow pastry chefs have followed suit, and nowhere is this development more evident than in the annual reveal of bûche de Noël collections by Paris's top pâtisseries. Just like fashion designers, pastry chefs have become secretive and proprietary about their creations, and many of them would never dream of making the same cake two Christmases in a row. When I traveled to Paris to do additional reporting once the holiday had past, I encountered many well-known pâtissiers who simply refused to demonstrate a cake from their 2010 collection. "The chef does not have his 2011 bûche ready, Madame," they would say, not even considering showing the previous year's cake a viable option. But this sense of creative vanity is also what makes these often flamboyant, sometimes show-stopping gâteaux such a delight.
In the slideshow above, we present some of the most interesting bûches de Noël that Paris has to offer this year, and you will see that these pastry chefs are not holding back.