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All Aboard the NYC Bûche de Noël Train
"So I want to make a train," Ed says one day. "Out of buches de noel."
"You mean with yule logs?"
"Yeah, with yule logs. We'll make a train."
All you have to do is look at the photo above to realize how awesome of an idea this would be. So of course, Ed, a buche de noel train we shall make.
A buche de noel is not a modern cake. It's a tribute to showy French pastry glory—sponge cake and icing (typically buttercream) are rolled and sculpted and meticulously decorated. Traditionally they're made to look like logs, the swirl of cake imitating tree rings and an outer coat of icing forming bark.
We got on the horn with some of our favorite fancy-pants bakeries and restaurants to get the deliveries rolling.* And they started to arrive, yule log after yule log, train car after train car. We soon realized that while some of the cakes stayed true to the traditional log format, others went far more modern. Really, no two cakes looked alike.
* This isn't a comprehensive list of noteworthy buches de noel in NYC. Other bakeries and restaurants, like Bien Cuit in Brooklyn, also make the cakes for the holiday.
So here are all the cakes we received for our train, with notes on their flavors and availability. For many bakeries, the deadline to order buches de noel is fast approaching, so if you want to order a yule log, do so quickly. Then check out the slideshow above to see the train in all its glory. You can see a larger version of the epic aerial shot here.
Depending on size, each buche de noel should feed six to ten people. But we think that if you slice them thin you can probably get more out of them. These are all rich cakes with lots of icing, and we enjoyed them best in elegantly restrained slices.
Click on any photo for a larger version.
Balthazar sent one of the more traditional cakes. It starts with a dark chocolate sponge cake and, instead of icing on the outside, there are bark-like layers of dark chocolate. The ends are discs of marzipan swirled with chocolate. One of our favorites, and very chocolatey.
Order Deadline: At least 48 hours in advance for Christmas orders
Alain Ducasse's restaurant Benoit has a limited number of full-size buches at their tarts-to-go station, which they will offer through December. They sent us this mini-buche, which comes included on their prix-fixe Christmas menu. It has a deep chocolate flavor and soft chocolate coating painted on the outside.
Price: $35 for full cake; miniature version pictured included on Christmas menu
Order Deadline: Limited number of full cakes available at restaurant
Bouchon Bakery sent over two very different buches. Up top is the chocolate-hazelnut version with intense hazelnut flavor and an arresting coat of chocolate shards for a modern touch. The second is an orange-tinged vanilla log with two thin strips of cake (one at the bottom, one suspended in the middle) and a mousse-like filling.
Price: $38 for 8-inch, $52 for 12-inch
Order Deadline: December 21st at 5 p.m. for Christmas; a few will also be available in-store on the 21st
Multiple locations in Midtown
Three cakes from Canelle Patisserie in Jackson Heights, our favorite French bakery in Queens. The chocolate gets added texture from little chocolate crunchies to complement the custard-like filling. The white chocolate cake is flavored with almond and cherries. The mocha cake, our top pick of the three, has a higher cake to cream ratio and serious coffee flavor.
Price: $20 cake feeds four to six, $30 cake feeds eight to ten
Order Deadline: Day-of, but before December 22nd for Christmas
Daniel Boulud's DBGB has a buche de noel on their menu through the holidays, which you can order by the slice. It's coffee-flavored with a praline sponge cake and streaks of salty caramel, the only cake we tried that added some salty-sweetness to the buche occasion. The icing coating is a traditional buttercream that very much looks the part of the classic buche.
Price: $10 per slice
Order Deadline: Through the holidays
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel is doing full-size and mini buches de noel. Dominique was so excited by our train idea that he added chocolate wheels to one of the cakes, ensuring it'd be the train engine. It's filled with a core of hazelnut and comes with a nutty cream; the cake wraps around the outside of the buche. The darker brown cake is chestnut flavored with a higher cake-to-icing ratio. Mini buches come in pistachio, chestnut, and dark chocolate.
Dominique also sent us a treat they have for New Years: a gold-dusted chocolate ball filled with truffles, caramels, and toronne. You can crack it open like a pinata at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve!
Price: $5.50 for mini buche, $38 for full cake, $70 for New Years Ball
Order Deadline: Mini buches in store; pre-orders taken now for Christmas, to be picked up between the 21st and 24th
You can get this chestnut cake at Epicerie Boulud, which comes with chunks of candied chestnut and a more restrained sweetness than your typical buche de noel. The rich almond cake comes through loud and clear, with a delicate complementary coat of coffee buttercream. Epicerie Boulud has three other cakes to choose from: chocolate with hazelnut crunchies, raspberry-pistachio-mascarpone, and caramel-mocha.
Order Deadline: Available in-store at 64th and Broadway; advance orders also accepted
Francois Payard Patisserie
Payard has four buches this season; we got the Louvre, which is basically a giant truffle in yule log form. It exchanges chocolate mousee for the buttercream and incorporates crunchy hazelnut wafers along with a hazelnut dacquoise. A silky, gold-tinged chocolate glaze enrobes the log.
Order Deadline: Now available in store, pre-orders only on December 21st and 24th
Now who's ready to play Ticket to Ride?