Bûche de Noël (also known as a Yule Log) can be found in several boulangerie (bakeries) and pâtisseries (pastry shops) in Québec City, and during the holiday season, some of the restaurants in the city will add it to their dessert menu.
Bûche de Noël/Yule Log was not always a cake. Henry Bourne, a 17th-century English historian, searched for the origins of the Yule Log in Anglo-Saxon paganism:
“Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devious of Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up Candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the Fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog, or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, aud [sic] turn the Night into Day; which custom, in some Measure, is still kept up in the Northern Parts. It hath, in all probability, been derived from the Saxons. For Bede tells us, That [sic] this very Night was observed in this Land before, by the Heathen Saxons. They began, says he, their Year on the Eight of the Calenders of January, which is now our Christmas Party: And the very Night before, which is now Holy to us, was by them called Mædrenack, or the Night of the Mothers … The Yule-Clog therefore hath probably been a Part of those Ceremonies which were perform’d that Night’s Ceremonies. It seems to have been used, as an Emblem of the return of the Sun, and the lengthening of the Days. For as both December and January were called Guilior Yule, upon Account of the Sun’s Returning, and the Increase of the Days; so, I am apt to believe, the Log has had the Name of the Yule-Log, from its being burnt as an Emblem of the returning Sun, and the Increase of its Light and Heat. This was probably the Reason of the custom among the Heathen Saxons; but I cannot think the Observation of it was continued for the same Reason, after Christianity was embraced. …” [source]
While this may have been the origins of the Yule Log, other customs and traditions have been invented, and were more commonly used in the 20th century England:
- When a Yule Log was given, it was placed on the fireplace hearth and lit, once (it was thought to be unlucky if lit a second time). The log was then burned downed to the embers.
- Families would sit around the yule log and tell ghost stories or play cards
- Just before supper on Christmas Eve, while the Yule Log burns, the lights in the house would be turned off and the Christmas candles would be lit from the Yule Log. This was generally done by the youngest person in the household.
Bûche de Noël
Today, while some families may still celebrate the English Yule Log traditions, many will satisfy their sweet-tooth instead and buy (or make) a Bûche de Noël.
Similar to a Swiss Roll, Bûche de Noël traditionally consists of Genoise (an Italian style sponge cake) baked in a large Swiss Roll pan, cooled, iced, and then rolled into a cylinder. The cake is then iced on the outside with a rich chocolate buttercream or ganache. Sometimes a fork will be run through the icing to give the cake a rough bark-like feel.
Before serving Bûche de Noël, a piece of cake is sliced off and placed on top or to the side, to represent a cut off the branch. Today Bûche de Noël is made in several flavour combinations and can vary greatly in overall presentation.
Making your own Bûche de Noël while you are in Québec City is going to be rather difficult (if you want to make one at home, this is a great recipe by Ricardo – one of Québec’s celebrity chefs), and the closer it gets to Christmas, the harder it will be to buy one from a boulangerie or pâtisserie.
- In Vieux Québec, Paillard on rue Saint-Jean makes delicious, and creative Bûche de Noël.
- In Grand Allée and Montcalm, walk over to Les Halles Cartier and visit Anna Pierrot, a pâtisserie & chocolatier.
- In Saint-Jean-Baptiste, go to Pâtisserie Simon on rue Saint-Jean.
- In Saint-Roch, go to Le Croquembouche, a boulangerie and pâtisserie on rue Saint-Joseph Est.
If sitting in your hotel room and stuffing your face with an entire Bûche de Noël is not your ‘thing’ (who are you?!?!?!), you can always order some after dinner at one of Québec City’s restaurants. We highly recommend going to Là Là in Vieux Port (303, rue Saint-Paul); they serve a Bûche du Temps des fêtes made with ganache, blueberries, and orange buttercream that is to die for!