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Taste of Europe: Cyril Lignac’s Bûche de Noël

A staunch and warm Christmas tradition for most is a yule log

Cyril Lignac’s Bûche de Noël

Christmas dinner should last a long time. We usually sit down around 2pm and will remain at the table until gone six. Beforehand, we’ll snack on smoked salmon and tempura prawns, endless crisps, a variety of nuts, and drink champagne. Then comes the roast and the wine, before desserts and digestifs, and a quiz while we pass around an enormous box of chocolates.

I quite like to go on a run at about midday to work up a greater appetite. Some might balk at such a declaration but look at it this way: exercise equals greater hunger and so even more food. Gluttony is a veritable payoff when pitched against a 30-minute canter around a frosty lake in rural Norfolk, which is where I often am on December 25 because that’s where my aunt and uncle live these days.

These are small and personal but satisfying traditions. The festive season is made up of so many of them. Another in our house is stockings pre-lunch, “main presents” after, which sounds archaic and formal, but Christmas Day remains the diktat of my grandparents – now, just my nanna – and so none of us begrudge such Victorian impositions.

Another in my house is Boxing Day lunch: another turkey, leftover ham and any other vegetables – red cabbage is always thankfully abundant – with oven chips. All of this with various pickles, savoury preserves and coleslaw. Don’t worry, we still make turkey sandwiches with stuffing, roast potato shards and gravy-soaked bread (and whatever else might be knocking around), but our sit-down meal is essentially turkey and chips and lots of mayonnaise.

Another happy tradition is saving a slab of Christmas pudding because then it can be deep-fried in brandy butter so the outside caramelises even further and goes a little hard, while the centre remains fruity and almost like a curranty glue. This, under a basin of cream, I can only imagine is what Jesus was thinking about while dead. I learned about frying Christmas pudding, sometimes Christmas cake, many years ago at a restaurant called Ox Club in Leeds. My first taste was revelatory and inspiring: one of the moments where an entirely new dish makes you gasp. Lots of people do it, apparently, but if you don’t already, you’re welcome.

Another staunch and warm tradition for most is a yule log. My mum is tasked with making ours and each year she outdoes herself. I’ve written before about how I don’t care for cake much and this is true, but on Christmas Day, when presented with a slice of chocolate log, perfectly formed and decorated, and made by my actual mother, I’m not going to turn it down, am I? I’d eat it even if it were rubbish.

She would probably shoot me if I shared her recipe. Enter, then, a Frenchman. Cyril Lignac is chef-owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Quinzième, the bistro Le Chardenoux, and a pâtisserie, all in Paris, as well as Bar Des Prés in London. He is a master of puddings. Here’s his Bûche de Noël, a chocolate and amarena log: it’s an absolute stunner.

Bûche de Noël (Chocolate and amarena Christmas log)

Serves 4


For the chocolate rolled biscuit:
3 organic whole eggs
4 organic egg whites
2 organic egg yolks
85g + 135g caster sugar
85g flour
50g cocoa powder
Butter for the plate

For the mascarpone whipped cream:
125g mascarpone
25cl of very cold 35% full-fat liquid cream
65g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod

For the topping:
3 tbsp cherry jam
2 tbsp amarena cherries in syrup
40g dark chocolate shavings


Preheat the oven to 210C.

In a salad bowl, whisk the egg whites with 85g of the caster sugar so that they form a bird’s beak. Then in a second bowl, beat the yolks with the whole eggs and 135g of sugar, and add the flour and the cocoa powder with a spatula. Gently mix the contents of the two bowls together. Pour into a buttered silicone-rimmed baking sheet or on to a silicone sheet placed on a baking sheet. Spread lightly to even out the biscuit using an angled spatula. Bake for seven minutes.

At the end of cooking, gently unmould the biscuit upside down on a damp cloth, trim the edges to obtain a neat rectangle, roll in the cloth and leave to cool.

Split the vanilla pod in half and collect the vanilla pulp, then place it in a ramekin. Use the pod to make vanilla sugar. In a very cold salad bowl, pour the mascarpone, beat it lightly using a hand mixer, pour the very cold liquid cream and continue to whip and pour the sugar with the vanilla pulp and whipped cream.

Set aside one half in a bowl and the other half in a plastic bag fitted with a size 10 plain nozzle. Chill for one hour.

Coat the biscuit with cherry jam, then with mascarpone whipped cream, and add a few amarena cherries. Roll the biscuit without crushing it and place it in the dish.

Place the rest of the mascarpone whipped cream on the log and create some lines on top. Sprinkle with dark chocolate shavings and add four amarena cherries. Keep the log in the fridge until serving.

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