French log: origin story and recipe for a traditional Christmas log

The famous dessert is somewhat similar to the Fairy Tale Cake

Christmas is undoubtedly one of the kindest holidays. These are gifts, family comfort, light crackling of logs in the fireplace … The main holiday dessert in France is called just Bûche de Noël – a Christmas log.

Together with baked goose and turkey, a biscuit roll soaked in butter cream, doused with chocolate icing and decorated with confectionery mushrooms and candied fruit, is sure to decorate the French festive table on Christmas night. In our country, the Soviet fairy tale cake can be considered an approximate analogue of this dessert.

Sweet logs were invented by confectioners not so long ago, in the middle of the 19th century, but the tradition of putting a decorated log on the table at Christmas is quite ancient.


In medieval France, it was customary for the whole family to gather by the fireplace after the festive mass. The head of the family read a prayer, after which it was supposed to light a Christmas log, usually the largest one. So a huge trunk can be called a log with a stretch, rather a log -it did not always fit entirely in the fireplace.

In the south of France, fruit trees -plums, apple trees, cherries were more often used. In other regions of the country – beech or oak, these plants were revered by the Celts and the ancient Germans. The doors of houses on Christmas night were often left open for the poor to enter and warm themselves by the hearth.

French log: origin story and recipe for the traditional Christmas log

The size of the trunk and the quality of the wood were of great importance: the tree had to smolder in the fireplace for at least three days, otherwise wait for the fire. Often, before the start of the Christmas service, the fire in all the hearths was specially extinguished in order to light it from a torch or candle brought from the church.

Each region of France had its own tradition of handling Christmas logs. In Poitou-Charentes, before being lit, they sprinkled it with salt, in Provence they poured wine over it, in other regions they sprinkled it with holy water, smeared it with vegetable oil or honey. And sometimes they put bread and cheese on a log. In the 18th century, a tradition appeared to put a log on the table, decorating it with ribbons, dried fruits, nuts – as a gift to baby Jesus.

The ashes from the “blessed” log were considered a panacea for troubles and ailments. For fertility, it was dispelled in gardens and fields. To protect livestock from diseases, they scattered it in a barn. According to some beliefs, the ashes saved chicken coops from foxes, and people from the evil eye. Thrown into a well, he helped from snakes and gossip. For the dying, it facilitated the transition to another world, and for the dead, it provided salvation in the afterlife. Stepping over an unlit log or sitting in front of it before it was kindled in the fireplace was considered a bad omen and promised illness.

The folk custom of decorating a Christmas log survived several French revolutions, but passed under the onslaught of technological progress. In the middle of the 19th century, the first gas ovens appeared. By the middle of the 20th century, the tradition of lighting a Christmas log had practically disappeared. And it was at this time that a dessert appeared on the tables of the French, the pieces of which outwardly resemble saw cuts of a tree.

French-style log: origin story and recipe for the traditional Christmas log

Regis Triguel

A native of Paris, chef of the Moscow brasserie “Most” (in 2016 – Approx. – about the Christmas traditions of France

What do the French eat at Christmas?

In Paris, foie gras and turkey with chestnuts should be on the festive table. And in Alsace they bake kuglof – a bun that looks like a brioche. In the Alps they roast a capon, a specially fattened rooster. In Provence, it is customary to serve 13 different desserts – in honor of Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. But baked goose or turkey and a log for dessert are a must everywhere.

Is it customary to cook this dessert yourself or buy it?

If the hostess has time, she will cook it herself. My mother, for example, bakes logs only by herself. Even if I come home for Christmas, he won't let me do it. It is better to cook a log on the eve of the holiday so that the biscuit is well saturated with cream. And those who don't want to or don't know how to bake buy dessert.

Where in Paris is the best Christmas log sold?

They are all good, you can buy literally on every corner, in any bakery or pastry shop. But I would especially recommend a small family shop – Stohrer bakery. It has existed in Paris since 1730 and is still popular today. They try not to change either traditional recipes or the interior, so they always have queues. Take a look there, you won't regret it.

History has not preserved either the exact date of the sweet invention or the name of the author. According to one version, it was a Parisian confectioner from Saint-Germain-des-Pres who invented the dessert in 1834. According to another, the birthplace of the Christmas log is Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, and the date of birth is 1860. There is also an opinion that the dessert was invented in 1898 by Pierre Lacambe, who was once a confectioner for Charles III, Prince of Monaco. biscuit roll stuffed with fruit jam. It was he who became the prototype of the Christmas dessert, in which jam replaced the more expensive butter cream as a filling.

To contrast with the biscuit, as a rule, cocoa is added to it, in Corsica – chestnuts. The top of the roll is generously sprinkled with chocolate icing, and everyone chooses the decoration himself – from simple candied fruits to figurines of Santa, elves or gnomes.

Now few people remember about the ancient tradition and folk beliefs. But this does not prevent you from making a wish, having received your portion of dessert. All kinds of miracles are possible on Christmas!

Christmas log

Servings: 6–8

Prep time: 30 minutes


For the biscuit:

eggs – 3 pcs.
granulated sugar – 300 g;
flour – 50 g;
water – 50 ml;
sugar syrup – 100 ml (for 50 ml of water 50 g of sugar)

For the cream:

eggs – 3 pcs.
sugar – 70 g;
vanilla sugar – 1 g;
butter – 250 g;.
vanilla – 1 pod;
lemon zest – 10 g;
lime zest – 10 g;
orange zest – 10 g;
cocoa – 6 g;
praline – 50 g

For praline:

Hazelnut – 50 g;
icing sugar – 20 g

To decorate:

Small meringues – 5 pcs.
strawberries – 3 pcs.;
biscuit – 20 g;
food flowers

French log: origin story and recipe for the traditional Christmas log

1. For the biscuit beat eggs and sugar until fluffy white mass, add flour and water, mix with your hands. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet, roll out the dough on it in an even layer. Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C for 9 minutes. Put the biscuit on a waffle towel, cool for 2-3 minutes. Lubricate with sugar syrup and twist into a roll with a towel, cool at room temperature.

2. For cream beat the yolks with a whisk, heat the sugar with water and pour into the yolks, continuing to beat. Add room temperature butter and beat until smooth. Remove the vanilla seeds from the pod and put them in the cream. Divide the cream into three parts, send citrus zest into one, and praline and cocoa into the other two, respectively. For the praline, roast the hazelnuts in a dry, heated frying pan. Place in a blender, add powdered sugar, beat until puree.

3. Unfold the biscuit on cling film, grease with citrus cream. Roll up again with a film, fasten the edges. Put in the refrigerator for a day or two. Cut off the edge at an oblique angle, decorate with praline and cocoa cream.

4. Decorate with green sponge cake, strawberries, meringues and edible flowers.

Photos: Grigory Polyakovsky, unless otherwise noted

Material published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 12, December 2016, partially updated in January 2023

Elena Knyazeva


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