Christmas Yule Log

Years ago it was the custom in France to burn a Christmas log of great size that, once lighted, would last through Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve supper.

The custom is Jacques Pépin's inspiration for the yule log cake known as "Buche de Noel." The dessert is one the most charming traditional French holiday cakes.

Ingredients: Biscuit Roulé (Cake Roll)

• 3 eggs, separated • 1/2 cup sugar • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour • 2 tablespoons cornstarch • 1 tablespoon sweet butter, melted

Directions: step one, biscuit roulé

1. Line an 11-by-16-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper or buttered and floured waxed paper. Set aside.

2. Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and beat until very light and the mixture makes "ribbons." Mix in the flour and cornstarch.

3. Beat the whites with a rotary or electric beater until they hold firm, shiny peaks when the beater is held straight up. With a wire whisk, beat about 1/3 of the whites into the batter vigorously. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the remainder. Go as fast as you can when adding the whites or they will be grainy. Finally, fold in the melted butter.

4. Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the batter evenly so that it touches all sides.

5. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the roulé begins to shrink from the sides of the pan. Let cool for 30 minutes, cover with a wet towel and refrigerate until ready to use. Be sure the towel is kept damp.

Ingredients: Crème au Beurre (Butter Cream)

• 1/3 cup sugar • 1/4 cup water • 3 egg yolks • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature

Directions: step two, Crème au Beurre (Butter Cream)

1. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes on medium heat.

2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl. Add the syrup very gradually, beating constantly with an electric beater.

3. After the syrup has been added, beat another 5 minutes to give texture and consistency to the mixture. Place the bowl in a pan of cold water and continue beating until cool. At this point, begin to add the butter, bit by bit, beating in each addition thoroughly.

4. When all the butter has been added, the crème should be firm enough to hold a shape. If not used immediately, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using. *If the crème curdles during the addition of the butter, heat it slightly over hot water and work with a whisk to combine together again.

Ingredients for Log Finish

• 10-ounce jar of currant jelly • 2 tablespoons of kirsch (dry, clear brandy) • Green food coloring • Powdered instant coffee • 3 squares (1-ounce size) of unsweetened chocolate • The crème au beurre you've made

Directions: step three, log finish

1. Spoon the currant jelly into a bowl and beat with a fork.

2. Mix the kirsch with 1 tablespoon of water and sprinkle all over one side of the biscuit roulé. Spread the jelly over the entire surface of the roulé. Roll up tightly with the seam side down.

3. Take 1 1/2 tablespoons of the crème au beurre; add a few drops of the green food coloring, and mix well. Set aside. Dissolve 1 tablespoon powdered instant coffee in 1/2 teaspoon water. Stir into 1/3 cup of crème au beurre. Set aside.

4. Melt the chocolate over hot, not boiling, water. When melted, stir into the remaining crème. With a spatula, spread the chocolate crème thickly over the top and sides, but not the ends. Then draw the tines of a fork down the full length of the roll, sides and top, to simulate bark. Coat the ends of the "log" with the coffee-flavored crème.

5. With a paper cornet make a trimming of ivy with green crème over the "bark." Scatter chopped pistachios over the top to make moss. The log may be garnished with meringue mushrooms.

Recipes courtesy of Jacques Pépin, © 2001