I remember my first Christmas in Paris. A light dusting of snow swept the streets of the right bank’s Marais district where glimmering festive lights illuminated the Parisian landscape. It was romantic, idyllic, and beautiful. My husband and I walked for hours, wandering through little streets (“ruelles”) that would eventually lead us to bigger streets and boulevards, discovering the magic that can only be Paris.
We eventually made our way to Galeries Lafayette in the 9th arrondissement. I’ll never forget their magnificent Christmas tree that stood in all its splendour under the glass dome of the iconic department store. Beautifully lit in the center of the concourse, it stretched as high as the eye could see, capturing the essence of the season – it took our breath away!
The memory of that particular Christmas stayed with me over the years, and while December 25th in the desert might not be quite the same as in Paris, it is beautiful and magical in it’s own right. Dubai’s Galeries Lafayette sets the perfect tone when it comes to creating an enchanting holiday escape, especially when it comes to food. Home to an endless array of culinary goodies, from gingerbread houses, chocolate Santa’s, mince pies to roast turkey with all the trimmings, this is the place to be when you want to inject some Christmas magic into your kitchen.
I was fortunate to get the chance to help make Galeries Lafayette’s first bûche de Noël (Yule log) of the season – a challenge I was more than ready and willing to take on. Working with the pastry team led by chef Dany Mouawad under the supervision of culinary director Russell Impiazzi, I was welcomed behind the scenes into the commercial kitchen, tucked away upstairs behind the glitzy department store.
When I walked through the “secret” door, the pastry team was busy prepping everything from miniscule bite-sized macaroons to mixing industrial sized batches of carrot cake batter in a mixer of epic proportions. It was clear that the production process in this kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine – meticulous, precise, and efficient.
Chef Dany gave me a briefing on what we would do, and we were off to do some serious mixing, baking, and assembly.
Here is my step-by-step account on how to roll (pardon the pun) with the pros! Russell and Dany graciously entrusted me with their recipe, which I have adapted for the home kitchen.
For the Chocolate Sponge:
- 5 eggs, at room temperature
- 130 grams sugar
- 80 grams flour
- 35 grams cocoa powder
Preheat your oven to 165 degrees Celsius (C).
Line a large half sheet pan (18 x 12 inches) or jelly roll pan (15½ x 10½ inches) with buttered parchment paper.
Place your eggs in a bowl and start beating on medium speed with the whisk attachment of your mixer.
Slowly add your sugar to the eggs. Remember to do this step gradually as you want to build volume. Continue to beat on medium/high-speed until the mixture is a light pale lemony color.
In the meantime, sift together your flour and cocoa powder. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour/cocoa mixture into the eggs until well incorporated.
Pour your mixture into your prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool while you get on with the buttercream and the sugar syrup.
For the Chocolate Buttercream:
- 140 grams egg whites (as eggs differ in size and volume, this is best weighed)
- 200 grams sugar
- 50 grams water
- 400 grams butter
- 150 grams dark chocolate, melted – we used Guanaja from Valrhona
Boil the sugar and water until it reaches 121 C (this temperature will actually “cook” your egg whites so they are no longer “raw”). While the sugar and water is boiling, beat your egg whites until soft peaks form. With the mixer running on low-speed, gradually add the sugar syrup. Continue beating on medium/high-speed until the mixture cools to 40 C and you are left with a beautiful, glossy meringue.
With the mixer still running, add the butter in cubes, until it is fully incorporated into the meringue. Stir in the melted chocolate. Give it a taste, not for any particular reason, just because the chocolate smells insanely delicious.
Set it aside without eating it all while you make your moistening syrup.
Moistening Syrup (this will keep the cake from drying out):
- 75 grams sugar
- 250 grams water
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
- 1 star anise (optional)
Mix sugar, water together, vanilla, and star anise (if using). Boil just until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
For the Chocolate Bark (Optional):
- 150 grams dark chocolate – again, we used Guanaja from Valrhona
Melt chocolate over a bowl of simmering water. Let cool to 30 C. Spread it on baking paper, then roll it up and chill until ready to use.
To Assemble the Cake:
Unmold the sponge cake from the pan and remove parchment paper.
Sprinkle or brush the moistening syrup all over the cake.
Spread a layer of buttercream all over the top of cake.
Carefully start rolling the cake into a log, pressing down gently to retain a curved shape.
Start spreading the buttercream on the log, covering the entire surface evenly. You can get creative with your spatula by making little groves lengthwise in your buttercream. (If you’re wondering why the scenery has changed, we moved into Les Galeries at this point to get some more festive shots. I also had chef Russell watching over our every move here, so the pressure was definitely on).
Slice off two 2-inch rounds from the end of the bûche. Stick one round on the front side of the bûche, then the other round on the other side at the back. This will give its characteristic log appearance. Slather both rounds with buttercream.
Carefully remove chocolate curls (if using) from the parchment paper, place chocolate “shards” onto the cake lengthwise (don’t worry if the chocolate breaks apart a little).
Decorate the bûche de Noël as desired. We used decorations made of sugarcraft and molded chocolate figurines. Feel free to use whatever you can source easily.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve. Get ready for lots of “ooohs” and “aaaahs” from your guests. This is definitely a Christmas showstopper!
Merry Christmas everyone! Wishing you all a peaceful holiday season.
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Shot on location at Galeries Lafayette in the Dubai Mall
Photos by Tara Atkinson Photography
Dress by Roland Mouret in the Dubai Mall
Hair by Rashid at Mohamed Alsagheer