by Barb, who’s in Boston visiting her daughter and brand new granddaughter
I admit I was completely daunted when Kensington asked me to write a tale of Christmas mayhem centered on a complicated dessert. When they asked me to write for the previous collection, Eggnog Murder, I had an eggnog anecdote I’d been sitting on for years. For a Bûche de Noël, I had nuthin’. Plus, my baking is confined to a) fruit pies, b) Christmas cookies, and c) the very occasional bread (pumpkin, cranberry, etc.) or coffee cake. Note there are zero frosted cakes on that list, much less anything that gets rolled up.
But I love the holiday season and I love writing in the novella length, so there was no way I wasn’t going for it. I enjoyed doing the research, especially watching the famous video of Julia Child making a bûche.
The best part is when she flings the caramel at a broomstick to make the spun sugar moss (which starts about about 24:25 in the video).
Speaking to my niece Julia, who makes a Bûche de Noël every year, did nothing to assuage my fears. She strongly recommended making the cake over several days. Lots of the recipes I was looking at said the same. For example this excellent blog post improves Julia’s recipe by clarifying it. A mere 40 steps!
My protagonist Julia isn’t the baker in her family. Her sister Livvie is. So the idea of Julia learning to make the bûche over several days, while also learning about and solving a mystery, began to take shape. Who would teach her? Her mother’s elderly neighbor, Odile St. Onge. And why would Julia want to learn? To honor her boyfriend Chris’s family’s French Canadian heritage. After keeping mum about his family forever, Chris finally began to open up about them in Stowed Away and tells even more in Steamed Open (coming December 18, just in time for…).
So that’s the story. Making each part of the cake–the base, the filling, the icing, the meringue mushrooms, and the spun sugar moss–is entwined with a part of the mystery Julia uncovers at Mrs. St. Onge’s house.
Readers: Is there a holiday recipe or craft you’ve always wanted to try–but been daunted by? Do you think you’ll go for it or let it go?