Christmas Eve –
A Feast of Family and Friends
We usually spend Christmas Eve having dinner at home, just our family. It’s a nice and quiet affair, we share a meal, open presents and have drinks over mellow music. However, this year, I really wanted to gather the whole extended family together, as well as our closest family friends, to share a nice Christmas Eve sit-down dinner.
Right around the holidays, I like to take a break. Also, I know my oven pretty well and it can in no way acommodate food for 30 people, so I chose to rely on a trusted caterer for the main course (oven-roasted duck with braised vegetables) and focus on the rest of the meal and the arrangements.
This is something I always do when I plan events: I start by getting excited, thinking big and as time progresses and the D Day approaches, things get a little bit crazy. But I somehow manage to pull it off. So, of course, on Christmas Eve we were mounting strings of lights with not enough fabric cable and realizing we have no fir-tree branches to adorn them with and not a big enough tray to carry the Bûche de Noël that was fresh out of the oven and waiting to be assembled and so on. In the end, it turned out beautifully, even better than planned, a bit more simple, with a rustic, yet festive feel.
I tried to keep the menu diverse, with enough Romanian Christmas dishes to have a traditional feel, as well as lighter ones, for balance. The entrees ranged from fish roe to turkey liver pate. For dessert my Mom made cozonac (traditional walnut pound cake) and I made my family recipe of Bûche de Noël, the same one I’ve been having every Christmas since I was a child. At 80 cm long, it was the show-stopper of the dinner.
The recipe below makes one regular size Bûche de Noël, which serves around 10-12 people. If you’d like to make a huge one, like I did, you need to triple the recipe, and then spread the cocoa butter-creambutter-cream on top.
For the dough:
4 large free-range eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
A few drops of lemon juice
60gr/2oz caster sugar
60gr/2oz all-purpose flour
Zest of an orange
For the cocoa butter-cream:
300gr/2.5stick unsalted butter, softened
300gr/10oz caster sugar
4 free-range eggs
1Tblsp dark rhum
First, make the butter-cream. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and the sugar until it is light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the cocoa and the rhum and mix until incorporated. Put in the fridge until using. (Keeps for 3-4 days in the fridge.)
Make the dough. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice until stiff peaks form. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and creamy. Add the flour, followed by the orange zest and mix until incorporated. With a spoon, gradually fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then transfer to the greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Be careful that it doesn’t brown.
Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack. Spread a clean, damp kitchen towel on your working area and place the dough on it. Spread half of the butter-cream on the dough and even out with a spatula until it has covered about three quarters of the dough’s length. Then, with the aid of the towel, start rolling lengthwise, with the filling inside. Place seam side down on a serving dish, spread the cocoa butter-cream on top, cover all visible sides and create a log effect with the aid of a fork.