On December, the 12th,
we were tempted by a Christmas pudding
But we were tempted by a Christmas pudding only because the Advent Calendar is a British Victoriana. Although we have adopted the English tradition, we had a Christmas pudding only when we were in the UK or, now, when one is sent or brought by friends (as this year when Bob brought us one at the end of November or beginning of December). But this is not the French tradition at all. Neither are the mince pies, marzipan cakes or the rich fruit cake or the Christmas cake - not to speak of the brandy butter. All these delicacies are unknown of the French cuisine.
What we have instead is a bûche de Noël - a Christmas log. As a cake of course!
There are now variations around the main theme of the traditional bûche. It may come iced or under various forms. Let's begin with the trditional one.
There are several tastes but the main ones are chocolate, vanilla, coffee, praline, and Cointreau, which is a liquor as you may know. We usually have chocolate. During Advent time, chocolate has been banished as the money to buy it has been part of the common savings used to buy something for less fortunate people, or sent to a priest friend for his parish in Rwanda or another one in Benin. Therefore, there is a true craving for lots of creamy chocolate! The bûche can be made at home but we buy it at one of the bakers-confectioners' who is a master, when we are in The Village in Dordogne.
As the confectioner is up-to-date, and although being half retired, goes on to training courses and sends his employees to them as well, at some of the most important Parisian confectioners' like Lenôtre or Pierre Hermé - he has tried his hand to the "new bûches": the ice ones are now easily found almost everywhere, even at The Supermarket's; others are more audiacious in form, colour, and taste.
We are not so audacious as to taste something like the last green one!
The traditional bûche is mainly a sponge pastry upon which a rich cream is spread out. Then the whole flat thing is rolled as a log and decorations are added. The ingredients are rather basic. This is for the basis - the cake:
and this for the cream:
As you can see, it makes a very rich cake, which is supposed to come with champagne, and after foie gras, oysters or smoked salmon, turkey with chestnuts and green beens, and cheese. But this is a traditional meal, and customs have changed a lot during the last twenty years at least. Menus are now more sophisticated and may be lighter - or heavier in a different way.
One recipe of the bûche de Noël is given by Julia Child. I have to say that the French ignore absolutely who Julia Child may be; they do not know her name and her existence. They may have a vague idea now since the film "Julie/Julia" has been released. As to us (I refer to my family), we have great doubts about the Frenchiness of her cooking and recipes... However, here is the link to Julia Child recipe (as it is in English and I do not have to translate from French to English - sorry but I am rather lazy today) through the famous blog that started the adventure of "Julie/Julia":
Of course, the bûche is a clear reference to the Yule log and the pagan tradition of burning a log during the winter solstice. There is no coincidence that the two great figures of the New Testament, Jesus and John the Baptist (his cousin and precursor as last prophet, who gave Him the baptism in the Jordan River) have their feast on both solstices: Jesus with the Nativity on the winter solstice, and John with his memorial feast on the summer solstice. In both cases as well, logs are burnt. Remember on June, the 24th, the big bonfires? (http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/06/feu-de-saint-jean.html)
Although a Roman Catholic, I do not believe - and lots of RCs do not believe - that Christ was born on December, the 25th. A date was chosen by the primitive Church, and, as most of Church festivals, it came to "christianise" pagan celebrations. They coincided with the Roman calendar first as the need to make the Roman Empire Christian was the first necessity, and then with further countries and further traditions. But several traditions were the same, be they of Northern Europe or Celtic regions, or Eastern Europe, or Rome, Greece, and even Egypt or the great Middle-Eastern Empires. Human beings celebrate the main elements (Water, Earth, Fire, Air) almost everywhere, as they note almost everywhere the longest nights or the longest days, the storms, the wind, etc.
Christians could not, and at the beginning perhaps would not, or were not able to eradicate such fundamental ceremonies. Even in our materialised and rationalised world, we still continue to celebrate, even unknowingly or unwillingly, primeval elements that are firmly planted in our psyche - Jung was no fool!
Another blog gives the meaning of the Yule log and the Yule time. I disagree slightly with some elements, but laziness being too overwhelming today, as it is in English, I give you the link (it is an excellent blog).
The Yule log and the bûche de Noël always make me think of what has been the epitome of Christmas for me during a long time: Dickens and "The Pickwick Papers".
When I was a child, I was given first an abridged version in French one of Father's books from when he was a child himself, and I fell in love with "The Pickwick Papers" and their original drawings. What could be a better and more joyous celebration of Christmas than that at Dingley Dell?
And therefore we find ourselves back in Britain and in front of our Christmas pudding with its brandy butter and its sprig of holly, gaily blazing in a darkened room at the end of the Christmas dinner!
Only tempted today...
Ding Dong, Merrily on High (King's College Cambridge)