Not Quite Julia’s Child

For a few weeks, my mother, her best friend Debbie , my sister Bailey and I have been planning a ‘baking morning’. I was looking for a real challenge, so we settled on one of Julia Child’s Bûche de Noël recipes. My mom and Bailey were less enthused by this choice than Debbie and I, so we were hoping that the final product would be worth all the work.

Let’s just say that, three and a half hours after beginning, we had one delicious Bûche de Noël and I had the inspiration for this inaugural blog post.

The original recipe was incredibly confusing, so Nancy of Julia, Julie & I – The Joy of Cooking Rediscovered created an improved version, which is what we used. We discovered, though, that even this version could still be pared down to a slightly simpler list of directions. I hope that our version, which was decided upon after much debate and a few small errors in measuring (is adding 3/4 cup of sugar instead of 1.5 tbsp really a big problem?), will be helpful if you ever decide to spend half a day in the kitchen creating a very complicated (but not so complicated-looking) yule log. The very christmas-y themed recipe called for meringue mushrooms which we left off, given that they would have required an extra hour of work. If you do attempt this recipe (which I hope will take you less than the three and a half hours it took us, now that you have our revised recipe), be sure to read the entire thing through before beginning. Measuring out the ingredients will also be incredibly helpful.

photo (1)

Julia’s Bûche de Noël with Chocolate Italian Meringue Frosting


  • 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan
  • wax paper
  • a stand mixer and two bowls for it (if you have them)- if you only have one, a clean, dry bowl and a beater for the egg whites will work
  • large rubber spatula (or two)
  • 2 baking sheets
  • very lightly dampened tea towel
  • baking rack
  • plastic wrap (if you’re going to make the sponge cake ahead of time)
  • candy thermometer
  • tea strainer
  • sifter


  • Butter
  • All purpose flour (to flour the pan)
  • Plain bleached cake flour
  • 6 eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Juice and grated zest of one orange
  • Salt
  • Cream of tartar
  • Whipping cream
  • Water
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • strong brewed coffee
  • unsweetened cocoa

Sponge cake: Pâté a Biscuit

  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • Butter to grease jelly roll pan and wax paper
  • 3 eggs separated (white and yolks will be used separately)
  • 1 ½ tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Juice and grated zest of one orange
  • Pinch of salt
  • Scant ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup + ¼ cup (12 Tbs total) plain bleached cake flour, scooped and leveled into a sifter set over wax paper
  • 3 tbsp tepid melted butter
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack on lower middle level.
  2. Measure out all ingredients.
  3. Butter jelly roll pan, and then cover with wax paper that is two inches longer at each end.
  4. Butter and flour wax paper (using approximately ½ cup all purpose flour, and knocking out excess after moving sheet so that all parts have been covered).

Batter Base:

The egg yolks and sugar:

  1. Start beating the egg yolks in the mixing bowl, and gradually beat in the sugar (the 1½ tbsp) by tablespoon; continue for several minutes, until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and forms the ribbon.
  2. Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Beat in orange juice and grated zest.

Beating the egg whites:

  1. Beat the egg whites separately, starting at slow speed, until they foam throughout.
  2. Add the salt and cream of tartar, and continue until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle in the sugar (the ½ cup) and beat to stiff peaks.

Finishing the batter:

  1. At once, stir a quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolks and sugar mixture to lighten the mixture.
  2. Rapidly plop a third of the remaining whites on top, and sift on a quarter of the flour (3 of the 12 tbsp).
  3. Delicately and rapidly fold them together, and when almost blended repeat the sequence with a third of the remaining egg whites and a third of the remaining flour, then half of each, and when you have almost blended the last of each, add and fold in the tepid melted butter – do not over blend or you will deflate the batter.
  4. Proceed at once to the baking.

Baking the sponge sheet:

About 7 – 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

  1. Immediately turn the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan spreading with a spatula to get into the corners; bang once firmly but not roughly on your work surface to settle it, and place at once in preheated oven.

When it is done:

It is done when the top just feels springy. It must just hold together; if overcooked and dried out it will crack when you roll it up.

Cooling and unmolding:

  1. Remove from the oven, and slice ¼ inch off the long sides of the sponge sheet – they may be brittle and will crack.

The following maneuvers are to prevent the cake from becoming dry and impossible to roll.

  1. Sprinkle the top with 1/16-inch layer of confectioner’s sugar. One sixteenth is a light dusting of sugar, but be sure to completely cover the surface.
  2. Cover with a sheet of wax paper and a VERY lightly dampened tea towel.
  3. Turn a tray or baking sheet upside down over the cake, and reverse the two.
  4. Unmold the cake by holding an end of the wax paper while you lift off the jelly-roll pan.
  5. Neatly and carefully, peel the wax paper off the cake. It may be easier to pull the paper back almost horizontally.
  6. Sift another 1/16-layer of confectioner’s sugar over the cake and roll it up in the VERY slightly dampened towel, and put on rack to cool – about 30 minutes. (Julia says the roulade may be baked a day or two ahead and refrigerated having been wrapped in plastic wrap. If it is frozen, it needs to thaw an hour or more or it will break.)

Making the Italian meringue

  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • Scant ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  •  3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water

The egg whites:

  1. Beat the egg whites (room temperature) at slow speed until they foam throughout; add the salt and cream of tartar.
  2. Gradually increase speed to fast, and beat to soft peaks. Turn the machine to slow as you complete the sugar syrup.

The sugar syrup:

  1. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer, swirl the pan to dissolve the sugar completely, cover gently, and boil to the soft-ball stage (238 degrees). Using a candy thermometer will make this easier.

Sugar syrup into egg whites:

  1. Beating the egg whites at moderately slow speed, dribble into them the boiling syrup – trying to avoid the wires of the whip.
  2. Increase speed to moderately fast, and beat until cool and the egg whites form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks. The meringue is now ready.

Frosting and Filling

  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate melted with 1/3 cup strong coffee
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup – approximately – sifted unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 – 3 Tbs – sifted unsweetened cocoa in a tea strainer
  • Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling baked roll
  1. Beat smoothly melted chocolate into the Italian meringue.
  2. Fold in whipping cream.
  3. Remove ⅔ of the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate; this is the frosting.

Filling the cake:

  1. Gently unroll the cooked cake, and spread the filling over the top (the remaining 1/3 of the above mixture). If the filling is too thin, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and test again. A couple tablespoons of cocoa (the additional 2-3 tbsp listed in the ingredients) can be beaten into it to make it firmer.
  2. Roll it up from one of the short sides, and you have made a log. You may need to gently release the bottom of the cake from the waxed paper as you are rolling so that it doesn’t stick.
  3. Neatly slice a narrow slanting piece from each end of the log. (Depending on how well it was filled and rolled, you may not need to do this).
  4. Using an offset spatula inserted under one end of the log, transfer it to the serving platter placing it seam side down.
  5. Slip double sheets of wax paper under the edge of each side and the two ends to catch spills.

Frosting the log:

  1. Beat 2 or more spoonfuls of sifted cocoa into the frosting mixture to make it of spreadable consistency. You may not have used all of the cocoa- that’s okay, depending on the consistency of the filling/frosting.
  2. Leaving the two ends unfrosted, frost the cake using a flexible metal spatula, and then use a fork to give it a bark-like look.
  3. Remove wax paper. Cake can be refrigerated at this point, covered.

Final decorations – just before serving:

  1. Dust the log with a sparse coating of confectioner’s sugar to give a snowy effect.

Let me know if you attempt it!!


5 thoughts on “Not Quite Julia’s Child

    • It actually DID take almost three hours to sift through the original recipe and all of our notes in order to retype. It got rave reviews from the very qualified taste testers (my father and husband). I’d say you could get about 12-14 slices out of it.

  1. As one of the bakers involved with this painstaking recipe, (the mother!) it should have a sign on it that says it is Julia Childs’ recipe so that people clue in to how hard it is to make. Teh finsihed product looks quite simple– however the taste is quite superb!

  2. As an unmentioned taste tester I can honestly say this is the best Buche De Noel I have ever tasted. Kudos to the chefs.

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