Wicked Wednesday — Yule Log Murder

Here’s a bit about Barb’s novella in Yule Log Murder:

Realizing she can’t make a decent Bûche de Noël to save her life, Julia Snowden enlists the help of her eccentric neighbor, Mrs. St. Onge, in hopes of mastering the dessert for Christmas. With everyone in the old woman’s circle missing or deceased, however, it’s up to Julia to stop the deadly tidings before she’s the next Busman’s Harbor resident to meet a not-so-jolly fate.

Wickeds, have you ever eaten a Buche De Noel or attempted to make one?If not a Buche De Noel, what about a jelly roll? And if not a jelly roll what is the most complicated dessert you’ve made?

Edith: My son and I did try to make a Buche a few years ago. It was not a big success. It was too sweet for me, and definitely did not look like a log… But it was fun baking with Allan! Congratulations on the book, Barb. Can’t wait to read your novella.

Barb: Edith, you were brave to take this on. Julia’s first three attempts were so much worse.

Jessie: While I love food that looks like something fanciful I have never attempted a Buche de Noel. I am not really a fan of chocolate so it seems like a great deal of work for the pleasure it would provide me. I have made several jelly rolls and am always delighted by the apparent miracle of a cake that turns into a neat spiral. I also love its vintage feel and am always warmed by the memory of my maternal grandmother who talked me through the first one I made over the telephone.

Barb: Jessie, I love the picture I have in my head of your grandmother coaching you over the phone.

Sherry: I had a friend who made an excellent Buche de Noel, however I haven’t tried to make one. I have made several other cake rolls. One of my favorite is a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. When the ladies from Mystery Lovers Kitchen invited me to do a guest spot I created a Fluffernutter cake roll. It was yummy. Click here for a link to the recipe. And like Jessie, I love to see that spiral.

Barb: Sherry, I am coming to visit next time you make that pumpkin roll. It sounds delicious. I’m a little suspicious about the fluffernutter, though. As I disclosed yesterday, the whole Buche de Noel thing overwhelmed me. I made the whole thing more daunting for Julia by forcing her to use hand tools, no electric mixer, food processor, etc. I think I’ll stick to my cookies, mincemeat and occasional fruitcake. I loved writing about the recipes, though.

Julie: When I was in high school I made Buche de Noel. I don’t remember it being difficult which was either due to my youth, or the long lost recipe. A couple of years ago, inspired by The Great British Baking Show, my niece and I attempted to make one. Epic fail. My sponge tasted like chocolate eggs. The orange oil made the cream taste like perfume. Awful. I’m going to try again this year to redeem myself.

Readers: What is that special dessert you make for the holidays? The real showstopper.

39 Thoughts

  1. I have made several pumpkin rolls, but have never tried anything more complicated. For the holidays I like making Mexican Wedding cookies, or as I call them, Snowballs.

  2. It’s been too long since I’ve baked much of anything (tiny trailer kitchen does not have prep space) but I vaguely recall something of the roll-up variety probably 35 years ago…

  3. I have made jelly rolls a number of times but the first one was a BIG fail! I wanted to make an ice cream roll for dinner with friends and I let the ice cream get too soft and it melted out of the cake before it froze again! Looked horrible but the kids loved it.

    1. This made me laugh! It sounds like something I would do. I haven’t had an ice cream cake roll for years. We used to buy them at the store and they were so good!

  4. As I said yesterday, I make my grandmother’s nut roll once. But the most extravagant dessert I ever made was a chocolate cream pie from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse. I’ve done that one a couple times and it is always amazing (or so I gather, judging by how fast it disappears).

  5. My Mom started making a fresh grated coconut cake for the holidays when I was a little girl. Since Dad’s birthday was December 31st, we always told him it was his birthday cake early (even though he always got another cake on his birthday). Years later, Mom found fresh frozen coconut cake which made it a whole lot easier since it seemed she was baking none stop during the holidays with all the candy, cookies and sweets she made for us all plus everyone I think she ever knew. 🙂

    Years later we started making this Three Day Coconut Cake which I still make. What is amazing about this one is you have to make it and let it set in the refrigerator three days before you can it BUT the longer it sets the better it gets. That makes it a wonderful cake for the holidays because instead of having to bake and cook everything at the last minute to be fresh, you can bake this one way ahead of time and pop in it the refrigerator and forget it. Dessert made!

    This is the recipe.
    Three Day Coconut Cake

    1 box of Duncan Hines Butter Cake mix
    3 pkgs of the fresh frozen coconut (freezer section at WalMart) thawed
    8 ounces of sour cream
    2 cups sugar
    Prepare cake mix according to package directions.
    Recipe calls for 3 layers – this gal used the 9 X 13” pan and then just split the cooled cake into two layers.
    Cool 10 minutes and then cool on racks.
    While cake is baking make the icing.
    Mix the sour cream and sugar stirring until sugar dissolves – DO NOT BEAT.
    Then stir in the thawed coconut and place in refrigerator until ready to ice cake.
    When cake has cooled spread icing onto cake already on cake plate that has a sealed cover like Tupperware. Top with layer(s) and finish icing. Cover with lid, seal and place in refrigerator for a minimum of three day before eating. I check once a day and if any liquid comes off cake I spoon back to top of cake.

    After three days, you will never know there is sour cream in the icing and it’s the best moistest cake you will eat. It will just continue to get better. It will never dry out. The longer it sits the better it gets IF you can have it last long enough to find that out. It also freezes very well.

    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  6. I used to make a buche when I hosted larger gatherings for Christmas. Also cookie houses from scratch. Traditional family/ethnic holiday dessert is potica, a Slovenian raised sweet yeast dough spread with a ground walnut filling, rolled up and baked in an angel food cake pan. Got a Slovenian cookbook of just potica recipes two years ago and made the great ound almond variety last year. A good friend and I also get together at the beginning of December and bake stollen from her family recipe. She’s been mailing small loaves for Christmas gifts for over 25 years.

  7. I’ve never tried any variation of a jelly roll. Not a fan of sponge cake in general so doesn’t justify the work or calories for me. My favorite is pie and it’s become a rare treat. A whole pie for just my husband and me is not a good idea. (Actually it’s a great idea but!) So that’s the big company Thanksgiving splurge. Maybe chocolate silk,made with really good chocolate; apple pie with this fall’s fresh apples and some chopped crystallized ginger; cherry ( I use canned, water packed sour cherries)? But the fanciest? From my early days as a wife, a layered mousse recipe I failed to save from the NY Times. Tried to recreate. Failed again. Found later in a Maida Heatter dessert cookbook (they are are great cookbooks, BTW). It’s called a Harlequin, rich chocolate mousse on the bottom and airy vanilla mousse on top. And not half as hard as it looks. A wow for a special occasion. (Love cooking talk – thanks!)

  8. Oh dear. I remember the first time I tried to make a Buche de Noel after watching The French Chef on PBS.

    My late mother was a TERRIBLE cook. (For example, a steak dinner was made by taking a rib-eye steak out of the freezer and cooking it in the oven – not the broiler, the oven – until it was a deep brown all the way through. Rare beef was banned in our household. Her famous quote when presented with rare meat was, “I’ve seen cows hurt worse than that that recovered.”)

    But her first success (at least from my point of view as the chief consumer of her efforts) was making a cake according to Julia’s directions, topped with apricot jam in the French fashion. It really was wonderful, and the two of us scarfed down the whole thing the same day. I still have fond memories of that cake.

    After that, we were together in the kitchen trying out Julia’s recipes every week. Frankly, that’s where I learned all my cooking skills (from Julia, rather than my mother). And the results, if not perfect, were always edible, and the process of doing it together was a lot of fun.

    At least until we got to the Buche de Noel episode.

    It was as though, the Kitchen Gods decided it was time the bill came due for all our earlier successes. “Beginner’s Luck doesn’t last forever,” they seemed to be saying. Every mistake we could have made, we made.

    We actually had to do the sponge cake batter over three times. The first time we used bread flour instead of cake flour. Ugh, HORRIBLE! The second time, while I was adding the salt to the dry ingredients, the lid came off our salt container and about a cup of it went into the dry mix. We scooped most of it out and decided to try making it anyway. How bad could a little extra salt make things. We found out. The third time, the batter was OK, so we continued thinking we’d now made every mistake possible. Hubris such as that is ALWAYS punished.

    When the sponge was baked we decided to just let it cool on the rack first rather than rolling it up in the towel right away. You can imagine how well that worked out. Then when we finally did roll it, we did the roll from the long end with the result that we had a Twig de Noel rather than a Buche. I’m afraid I have to take the blame for that particular screw up, since by then I’d kind of taken over. The only platter we had big enough to hold it was reserved for the turkey, so we had to cut it in two to serve it (meaning that

    Our chocolate icing tasted fine (and it certainly covered a lot of my earlier sins – all the cracks in the roll from waiting until it was cool were hidden, but looking at the ends (and the slices when it was served) had only about one and a half layers of spiral (because I’d rolled it the wrong way), and because of the additional surface area, there wasn’t enough icing, so we had to make a second batch.

    And then the garnishes. I’m not sure what we did wrong – probably undercooking, but our meringue mushroom caps collapsed as soon as I tried to remove them from the pan, so they looked more like toadstooly pancakes than anything else.

    And then there was the moss. Since all the moss I’d seen was green, I had the brilliant idea of adding some green food coloring to the caramel mix before we cooked it. Not only did it screw up the caramel’s setting and hardening properly (oh, Lord, the mess we had on the kitchen floor from trying to string it over that broomstick), but the color was … shall we say uncondusive to a hearty appetite. Actually, it looked like our cake had been made weeks ago and had started to mold, and because it wouldn’t form the strings, it was pretty much plopped on the cake in big globs.

    Finally, because Holly wasn’t one of those things that normally grows in California, I had the brilliant idea of using mistletoe instead. It wasn’t until the cake was on the table in front of our guests, that I learned that mistletoe is actually poisonous.

    It was definitely the worst cooking disaster of my life, but certainly the most memorable. But there was actually an upside. Ever after, whenever I had the souffle collapse upon bringing it to the table or undercooked the chicken so that it ran bloody when carved or went overboard when trying to make the pasta al dente so much that someone cracked a tooth trying to eat it, I could always console my guests by telling them it could have been worse and regaling them with the tale of my Buche de Noel as I dialed the number for Chinese take out.

    May your kitchen disasters be equally anecdote-worhty.

    Lee Sauer

      1. Why didn’t I talk to you before I wrote this story? Julia Child said she never changed a thing about her Buche recipe–except the base, the filling and the frosting. By the time she’s making it with Jacques Pepin, the base is a chocolate roulade.

      2. Hi Sherry,

        I have Barb’s story, but I REFUSE to do anything with a Christmas theme until after Halloween … and the trick-or-treaters are still ringing my bell. So reading it is going to have to wait until tomorrow.

        I remember when I was outraged to see Christmas merchandise in stores before Thanksgiving. Oh, how the times have changed.

        Great thanks to all of you for this lovely blog. It’s something I look forward to every single day.

      1. Hi Edith,

        Improv? I don’t think so. I’m one of those people who come up with the snappy rejoinder about an hour later, and trying to find the audience after they’ve left the theater to dazzle them with my quick wit doesn’t seem to me to be a profitable enterprise.

    1. Ahhh! Such a fun memory! Like I always say to my kids when things go wrong “this will make a great story someday!” Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

      1. Jessie, I’m very much afraid that if I were your kids, hearing that in mid-catastrophe wouldn’t be received terribly well. I suspect my response might not be parentally appropriate.

      1. Hi Julia,

        No, it was the mistletoe that did the slaying, the caramel just LOOKED poisonous.

    2. Oh my gosh..I was laughing so hard by the time I got through reading your story! I’ve had those baking sessions before, where nothing goes right, and it usually happens when you are making something to take somewhere!

      1. Hi Liz,

        And I didn’t even tell you about cleaning the kitchen after the … experiment. Truly, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Perfect for Halloween.

    3. Hi Barb,

      Thanks for the nice thought.

      To be serious for a moment, I think that the greatest thing Julia Child did was make us mere mortals believe that we could cook the things she was cooking in front of us. The fact that her initial series was done live made sure that we saw her as someone like us, skilled, but with imperfections and just as capable as making mistakes as we were.

      Of course, she never saw my Buche, so I suspect she might have disavowed me .. unless she decided to take out a restraining order instead.

  9. Pretty much being a baker in name only, I haven’t tried anything too complicated. I did go through a baking phase, even making some desserts from Joanne Fluke’s books, but it’s been a while.

    1. I’ve got to say, Joanne Fluke’s recipes are awesome. I got the cookbook a few years back. She has a recipe for Highland brownies that’s shortbread on the bottom and brownie on top. Always a huge hit.

  10. I will confess I do like making orange mince pies (the orange is in the very delicate pastry 🙂 )

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