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“We need to discuss this,” Suzen said.

I didn’t know why. It was a simple request.

“Sit down,” she said. I did.

“What is your last name?” she asked.

“Now wait a minute,” I objected, “I’ve taken all my meds.”

‘What is your last name,” she repeated.

“O’Rourke,” I said. No use lying about that. It’s on the marriage certificate.

“And that would be Irish?” she continued.

“Yes, Suzen,” I mumbled. My simple request was going to take forever.

“So you are not French?”

“I’m an internationalist,” I said.

“You? The man who wants the United States to leave the United Nation. I don’t think so. Tell me this year’s reason why you want a Buche De Noel.”

“I’ve never told you this,” I began. Her eyes focused on me. “But I never had a Buche De Noel as a child.”

“Surprisingly, few of us Jewish girls did either,” she commented.

“But when I was in graduate school I read this story in the Washington Post about this little village just outside of Baltimore that had a bakery that made the best Buche possible. So just before Christmas, I planned to drive home from Johns Hopkins and stop along the way and buy a Buche.”


“That very day there was flash flood. No village. No bakery. No Buche.”

“Okay, we’ll make one,” Suzen replied. “I admire your creativity.”

“What do you mean?” I was puzzled.

“Well, last year your reason was your French grandmother in Pittsburgh who had just died.”

I panicked a bit. What if she was keeping count?

“You know, Brian,” she continued. “You are my first husband who has had five grandmothers in five cities.”

Now the thing is, my story this year is true. I was living in Washington and going to school at Hopkins in Baltimore. And there was a flood and that bakery was swept away. But each year, I find some way now to make this holiday treat. Well, to have Suzen make it. Suzen is not a buttercream fan, so I generally feel a need to give her some inspiration. I will say this, she makes a beautiful cake, including that piped buttercream on the top. Those are coffee candies dotting the buttercream.

For this Buche recipe, I turned to Nick Malgieri and his Perfect Cakes. Nick’s flawless recipes for a genoise cake base and buttercream filling and frosting make this dessert surprisingly easy.

In the pictures, you see our simple Buche De Noel. You’ve probably seen these “yule log” desserts with meringue mushrooms or marzipan pine cones. Yes, you can go all out to make this “cake” look like a work of nature, but I’m happy just to have cake and buttercream.

I appreciate Suzen’s patience and energy in making this holiday treat. I’ve run out of grandmothers now. Time to come up with other ideas.

Buche de Noel:

Yield: serves 8

Plain Genoise Cake


  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup cake flour (spoon flour into I dry-measure cup and level off)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch


Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees (test with your finger). Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the howl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeal with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake the genoise for about 25 minutes, or until well risen, deep gold, and firm to the touch.

Immediately use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Invert the cake onto a rack, then reinvert onto another rack and let the cake cool right side up on the paper. Remove the paper when the cake is cool.

Coffee Buttercream


  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons rum or brandy


To make the buttercream, whisk the egg white and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the eggs whites are hot.

Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the butter cream.


Turn the genoise layer over and peel away the paper. Invert onto a fresh piece of paper.

Spread the layer with half the buttercream. Use the paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder. Transfer to baking sheet and refrigerate. Reserve the remaining buttercream for the outside of the Buche.

Source: Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri