15. Bûche de Noël (The Yule Log)

“The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Welcome back to The Land of Desire, a French history podcast dedicated to exploring all the weird adventures, mysteries and surprising backstories behind French cultural icons. Yesterday we all celebrated the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. Celebrations of the winter solstice make up some of the oldest traditions in France – and they continue to this day! One of the more famous traditions, the yule log or bûche de Noël, managed to make the leap from pagan to Christian, and then, perhaps more impressively, from hardwood to sponge cake! This week, snuggle up in front of a fireplace (even if it’s just one being broadcast on your TV screen) and treat yourself to a slice of cake while we learn about France’s oldest winter tradition, its most impressive feast, and perhaps its most charming dessert.

Special thanks to the folks at Bello Collective for including The Land of Desire in their list of the 100 Outstanding Audio Stories of 2016!

Episode 15: “La Bûche de Noël”

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to listen in! I’m planning on one more episode before the New Year, if I can swing it in the midst of holiday madness. In the meantime, please help me wrap up the year by spreading the word about this show!


Cake: A Slice of History – Alysa Levene

Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert – Michael Krondl; see his blog post dedicated to the bûche de Noël here.

Further Reading:

France’s most popular Christmas cake lives on in the bakeries of Vietnam” – Thu-Huong Ha, Quartz

A Slice of Christmas – Gabriella Gershenson, Saveur: Includes an interview with pastry chef Arnaud Delmontel and a super tasty sounding recipe!

Wanna see examples of some fancy avant-garde bûches de Noël? Of course you do! 

Wanna see even more examples of some fancy avant-garde bûches de Noël, including the bookshelf mentioned in the episode? Of course you do!

Wanna see a bunch of industrial bûches de Noël being made in an industrial factory? Strangely, yes!

In 2015, Parisians almost lost the right to an old-fashioned bûche de Noël when lawmakers threatened to ban the burning of wood in fireplaces! Luckily for traditionalists/Pagans, the law didn’t pass.

Here’s a history of that OTHER Yule log!

Bûche de Noël Recipes

Serious Eats has a great traditional bûche de Noël recipe with very clearly written instructions.

I love this recipe from Houston Magazine and its step by step photo instructions.

It’s not a traditional recipe, but Dorie Greenspan is a treasure and she’s teaching us how to make gingerbread bûche de Noël!!!! Bless.