At Christmas in France, the star of the festival table is the bûche de Noël cake. It’s a tradition that goes back to the middle ages though then the bûche, log, was a real one and burned on the day of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It was believed that the ashes from the log, which might be soaked in oil or wine, would bring luck. The burning log was said to purify the house and drive bad spirits away. In Antibes, there are unlikely to be any bad spirits at all, as each years, in this lovely coastal town, bakers produce the biggest büche de Noel in the world!
The tradition of yule log cakes in France
In the 1800s, the log tradition was transformed from wood to cake, it became a ‘fake’ yule log, and a symbol of Christmas in France. No one knows exactly when this happened but some historians say that the bûche de Noël cake was invented by a Paris hotel chef, others that it was created by Antonine Charadot, a pastry chef in Lyon (who invented buttercream). Or perhaps by Felix Bonnat, a Lyon-cased chocolate master or by Pierre Lacam, cake ice cream maker to Prince Charles III of Monaco.
In December boulangeries and patisseries all over France create bûches de Noël of every flavour. One of the most popular is the traditional chocolate bûche, made to look just like a wooden log. But bakers and cake makers let their imagination run wild, meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, spun sugar cobwebs and tiny sugar axes often feature. Chefs go out of their way to find the best and most delicious ingredients from around France, such as Corsican chestnuts creamy chestnut crème brûlée, Bavarian mousse with blue vanilla from Réunion island and confit from Burgundy.
The World’s biggest yule log cake!
But there is one place in France that takes the bûche de Noël to a whole new level.
In enchanting Antibes on the French Riviera, you’ll see bûche de Noël cakes in every boulangerie and patisserie. But that’s not all. Each year local bakers and chefs get together with volunteers to make the biggest bûche de Noël in the world – up to a mouth-watering 50 feet (15.3 metres) long. A whopping 800 eggs, 85kg of flour, 100kg jam, 20kg of sugar, 20 litres of rum and 40 litres of Chantilly cream go into the making of this enormous cake.
Each mid-December, those in the know head to the pretty Le Safranier district, a flowery little corner of the old town. It’s known as a ‘free commune’, set up in the sixties, and has its own mayor whose role it is to organise activities! There are cake shops and restaurants, flower-filled streets. It here in the main square where the cake is set up. Songs are sung and to much applause the cake is cut by the Mayor of Antibes and the Mayor of Le Safranier with a huge saw as it’s too big to cut with a conventional knife. Everyone gets a piece of the bûche de Noël, served with mulled wine or chocolat chaud. A true taste of the spirit of Christmas in France…
Make your own Buche de Noel with this scrumptious recipe: easy, classic buche du noel
Details of the event can be found at: lacommunelibredusafranier.fr
By Janine Marsh, Editor of The Good Life France, and author of several books about France.
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