Countdown to Christmas - figuring out the Bûche de Noël

Lenôtre's chestnut bûche is 57€ and serves 6-7 people.

Bûche de Noël - First of all, I've got to say that "bûche" is one of the more difficult French words for me to get my lips around and by lips I mean that it's one of those words that you're supposed to pronounce as if your lips are puckered far forward for a kiss. As an Anglophone, I prefer to keep my lips in a more retracted position. So, for the past couple of days, most of Stéphane and my conversations have consisted of me using the aforementioned word followed by Stephane saying, "it's not bush, it's bûche" as he demonstrates, once again, the extended position that my lips must achieve to make the correct sound. It's gotten to the point where I may hold up a piece of paper with the words "Bûche de Noël" written on it to preemptively avoid the pronunciation lessons.

Why has this awkward word become such a hot topic? Because we've been taste testing "bushes" in preparation for our first Parisian Christmas. While we could get a really fancy one from Lenôtre, we decided to first sample the more traditional ones from our bakery and bought a selection of chocolate, Grand Marnier, and praline mini bûches.

After completing our taste tests, I sent our daughter a message with a status report. Since December 25 is Sara's birthday, we usually ask what she would like for the main meal, even if it means tracking her down at a pub in London. Isn't this the instant message conversation via Skype that every daughter wants to have with her mother when she's out having a pint with friends:

MK: we wanted to know if a buche de noel would be ok for your b'day cake
S: what is a buche de noel?
MK: traditional french christmas cake. google it. dad and i have been tasting petit bouches [edit: embarrassed to admit it, but I did write the French word for "mouths"] today.
S: is it just cake?
MK: it's cake and a buttercream frosting. rolled to look like a log.
S: oh
MK: google it
S: i dont like those log things. i dont normally like the frosting in them.
MK: but have you had a french one? a real one?
S: i don't know
MK: cause even dad likes it
S: but ive never had a log thing i like
MK: ok. well, we can get something else. dad wants to know if you like st honore.

While walking home from the metro after meeting Sara at Gare du Nord last night, Stéphane and I continued our pro-bûche propaganda by showing her the selection of gourmet ones at Lenôtre and having her sample some of the ones from our bakery. She really doesn't like them. But since we've never claimed that our family is a democracy, Stephane and I decided that we're still going to order a Bûche de Noël from our bakery -- we'll just have it on the 24th instead of the 25th of December. Vive le  tradition!

Traditional Bûche de Noël


  1. Taste-testing Buches de Noel sounds like a wonderful project. Have you seen the list and video on Paris by Mouth? it's not too late to try a few more!

    I enjoy reading your blog everyday. Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. Hello, Mary Kay! Thank you for answering my guinea pig question on Stephanie's blog. Yet another reason to love the internet.

    I'm so glad to have discovered your blog--I love reading about others' adventures until the day I can join in again! Making a buche de noel from scratch is one of my goals. Someday...

  3. I have seen the bouche pronunciation exercise is person, it ain't pretty, as they say. You're right, Anglo-Saxons just don't speak like that. It can be pretty funny. And then you have the whole pun, with bouche/buche--one meaning "mouth".

    I love buche de Noel but I'm surprised by how expensive they are there. I don't recall the cost being so high back on the East Coast but I haven't found a proper French bakery in Chicago, so I have no comparison. I can't believe someone can not like the taste. Hmmm, are you sure she's yours?

    I like your solution though, as it's most important to remember the birthday of those born around this time (like myself). What's the harm in two cakes? None. And extra gifts, indeed.

  4. Best Skype IM conversation ever. Absolutely hilarious. You have me intrigued to try one now. I hope I have enough time to order one from somewhere... ahhh! And you speak French - I can't imagine what it will sound like coming out of my mouth! My list of Christmas shopping is getting longer and longer.

  5. Hilarious! My birthday is on December 28th and as a child, I always requested a bûche de Noël as a birthday cake!:) We have the bûche tradition in Québec, you see, except that our bûches are not made with crème de marron, since we don't grow marrons in our neck of the woods. I'm in Paris for Christmas and I'm intent on buying a traditional French bûche de Noël so my husband can experience the real thing:)

  6. Anon, Thanks for sharing the link for the Paris by Mouth list of Bûches de Noël. They found some amazing ones! Some of them are so beautiful that I would have a hard time eating them. Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and thanks for commenting!

    Shannon, Your question about the guinea pigs on Steph's blog caught my attention because I've always found it interesting that there's a Swiss law that protects "social animals". There's even a woman who rents guinea pigs to help people who are in danger of breaking the law when one of their guinea pigs die.

    Thanks for posting the pattern for the scherenschnitte angels. I think that we'll make some for our tree.

    Joseph, When is your birthday? Has it passed - or will I still be able to sing Happy Birthday to you? If I would have known, I would have sent you an Eiffel Tower key ring. I have plenty of them! ;) And I agree, people who are born around Christmas (or other holidays) really do deserve to have their special day recognized. At noon, we switch from Christmas mode to Sara's birthday mode. The big bonus is that we've always been together on her day.

    I know that it's probably hard to believe, but no one in our family is really into sweets, so Sara really is mine. We even have some chocolate leftover from last Christmas that I just found in the closet. Before moving to Paris, I used to like the occasional miniature cupcake or piece of cake, but french fries and onion rings are my favorite vice. Eating cake and other sweets just seems to go with the territory.

    kbh, Yeah, it was pretty funny to go back and read what we had said to each other...even though we both cringed a bit!

    If you haven't seen it already, take a look at the Paris by Mouth website (see link above) because they found some incredible buches de Noel.

    Duchesse, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you.... I'll be curious to know what kind of Buche de Noel you get for Christmas and for your birthday and how they compare with the ones in Quebec.

  7. Bonjour MK
    When I opened your blog today I showed the picture of la bûche Rubis to Susan so she could drool over such friandise, then I tried to get her to pronounce the word bûche. Not a chance; so you are in good company. Another word that I have given up teaching her is "Hercule Poirot" which we watch on PBS.

    This reminded me of my childhood, many, many years ago when my Mom would buy the factory made in Québec, bûche by Vachon. If I had one of those these days I would probably need to have my head examined (-: nothing at all like the ones you have shown here.
    As with all big corporations they all seem to have this PC bent so as to not offend anyone so Vachon is dropping the word Noël. It is now being sold as Bûche des Fêtes; which is another reason I would think twice about getting another one.

    On a more cheerful note, Susan and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas or un Joyeux Noël!

    We are looking forward to enjoying your blog in 2012 perusing for information for our next trip to Paris.

  8. All those buches looked fabulous. I love the idea of test tasting them. Wish I'd thought of that. I'd planned to make one but Benj brought a vile fluey virus back with him which has laid me low this week so it hasn't happened. Maybe for the New Year.
    Have a wonderful, lovely Christmas X

  9. Oh that is so funny! The bûche I used to eat for my birthday in Québec was a bûche VACHON! LOL I grew up in the area where they are made!:) A taste from my childhood indeed!:)

    I was thinking of you this afternoon Mary Kay when I went to the huge Monoprix near the Quais de Seine in the XVth! Their selection of bûches looked nothing like the ones on your pics (and they weren't in the same price range either!), and I couldn't make up my mind. I was trying to decide between a chocolate mousse and a buttercream chocolate bûche, but my husband won't have chocolate at night cuz it keeps him awake... so I decided instead to go for a selection of four "bûchettes" (praliné, chocolat, café and fruits rouges)! This way, I can sample a few without going overboard and we can both have our dessert at the same time:)

    And thank you for you good wishes:) Happy wedding anniversary to you!

  10. I'm with your daughter. All that buttercream is exquisitely beautiful but it doesn't taste good to me.

  11. Merci, Conrad. Best wishes to Susan and you for a very Merry Christmas!

    Thanks for letting me know that Susan also has problems pronouncing bûche. As our children grew up speaking French with Stephane, I always feel outnumbered at home because they can't believe it when I can't pronounce a word.

    After reading your comment, I've been keeping my eye out for a Bûche des Fêtes in Paris and haven't seen one yet.

    Duchesse, How were your bûchettes from Monoprix? Since I could only eat a bite of one last night, I had a couple more bites for breakfast. Nothing like buttercream frosting to start the day on a sugary note!

    I hope that you're having fun in Paris and that your Christmas Eve visit to Versailles went well! It seems like it would have been an excellent time to go. When we passed the Eiffel Tower last night, I noticed that the area around it was practically empty. I've never seen it like that before.

    Anne, Sara was so pleased to read your comment, especially because we've been giving her a hard time about not liking the frosting!


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