One of the things you’ll see in the windows of pâtisseries and boulangeries all over France in December is a bûche de Noël – a Christmas yule log cake…
The history of the Yule Log Cake
The tradition of the yule log is hazy. Some historians say that as far back as the Iron Age, it was a custom to decorate a large log with ivy, cones, holly and berries to burn in the fire to celebrate the Winter Solstice. This day, usually on the 21 or 22 of December in the northern Hemisphere was an important date in the ancient calendar and families would celebrate to mark the date when the sun was at its lowest altitude making for the longest night of the year.
Like so many other Pagan festivals, with the introduction of Christianity, the Yule log tradition continued – but with a tweak. Some records indicate that by the 13th Century, in Germany trees would be cut for firewood and a “yule” log would be specifically prepared for burning on Christmas Eve. It would burn throughout the night; the family might sing songs and pray for a good harvest the following year. In the morning the ashes would be gathered and kept in the house for the rest of the year. It was believed that the burnt wood would protect the home against lightning and the devil.
There is no certain proof of the origins of the yule log tradition but the history of the Yule Log cake certainly seems to have been invented in France in the late 1800s by some canny Parisian bakers.
La Buche de Noel
The Buche de Noel in France really became popular in the mid 1900s and as the popularity grew, the different bakeries would make their mark by their elaborate decoration or style and the custom spread.
These days you can buy individual yule logs or giant yule logs to feed a whole family and they come in a wide variety of colours and flavours. One thing they all have in common is that a buche de Noel will be made of a rolled, filled sponge cake, frosted with buttercream, usually made to look like tree bark and adorned with decorations from sparkly Christmas trees, meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, spun sugar cobwebs, small axes (for cutting the yule log) and any other sort of edible decoration.
Where ever you are in France at Christmas – you can indulge yourself with a fabulous and elaborately decorated buche de Noel – whether it’s from the oldest pâtisserie in Paris or the local supermarket!
Read about the custom of the 13 desserts of Provence at Christmas
More on Christmas traditions in France