When I started to report SAVEUR's Issue #143's story on the classic Christmas cake buche de Noel, 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 patissier Pierre Herme 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 buche de Noel collections by Paris's top patisseries. 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 patissiers who simply refused to demonstrate a cake from their 2010 collection. "The chef does not have his 2011 buche 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 gateaux such a delight. In this slide show, we present some of the most interesting buches de Noel that Paris has to offer this year, and you will see that these pastry chefs are not holding back.
Gallery researched and written by Laura Loesch-Quintin