There is a famous French pastry, called bûche de Noël , that is based on the ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the winter solstice by burning a large trunk of either oak, beech, elm or cherry, the Yule log, to burn on the shortest day of the year, which is today. The logs and the ceremony of the burning log became even more elaborate through the years, eventually replaced by simpler branches placed on the table and surrounded by sweets. This branch eventually was transformed by Parisian chefs into the gorgeous Bûche de Noël cake.
The South End patisserie Cafe Madeleine is taking orders now for their bûche de Noël cakes. Available in limited quantities and only for Christmas, these cakes, are shaped like a log and filled with cream filling, including Vanilla Dream (vanilla French sponge cake, vanilla mousse, white chocolate center); Pure Chocolate (decadent chocolate cake, dark, milk, and white chocolate mousse – nut free); La Framboise (French sponge cake with raspberry mousse, shortbread cookie, yogurt cremeux center, enrobed with white chocolate); and The Nutcracker (hazelnut and almond cake, milk chocolate mousse, creamy milk chocolate ganache center, milk chocolate glaze, candied nuts – gluten free).
“Bûche de Noël is a special order for Christmas,” explained Pastry Chef and General Manager Hana Quon. The cakes are $45 each, and serves 8-10. Call now.
And when you pick up your cake, be a true Christmas hero and be sure to also take home a fabulous-looking apple pie; and the pecan pie is “amazing,” said Quon, due to the unique hazelnut paste with candied pecans. They come in full size and mini portions.
And it will be hard not to leave with a few other holiday treats. The delicately flavored and moist pain de spice gingerbread “is very French and traditional,” said Quon. “It’s great for Christmas during breakfast.” Or the thin Swedish gingersnaps, which makes a crisp sound when you break them to symbolize the crispness of the winter air; a dozen of their pistachio and strawberry (or other green and red) macarons; a holiday version of their chocolate chip cookie, with oatmeal, walnuts, and candied orange peel; and a dozen cannele, a crepe batter baked in a copper mold so it caramelizes on the outside, but leaves a very soft center like bread pudding with hints of rum.
Other French treats available include croissants, including plain, chocolate, almond, ham and cheese, chausson aux pommes (apple turnovers), pain aux raisins, candied orange tropezienne (filled brioche), tarte citron, éclairs, and Robert’s “signature” chocolate cake, composed of layers of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and gianduja (crispy hazelnut chocolate). There are large blocks of meringue that are fun for the kids to break apart and crumble on their ice cream.
Café Madeleine also offers lunch items for takeout, or to eat at one of the six stools by the window: soups, salads, sandwiches and French specialties like quiche Lorraine and croque monsieur.
For beverages, coffee and espresso are from La Colombe Coffee Torrefaction, a Strictly Earth Conscious roaster based in Philadelphia, and which will be opening a Boston branch soon. I had their espresso, which was topped with the loveliest crema. But on these increasingly cold days, I heartily recommend their hot chocolate, an extremely creamy Belgian milk chocolate. They also serve a crisp hot cider from Harvard, Mass. Organic apples, and mulled in-house, and offer small-batch, boutique, Allain Milliat fruit juices imported from France.
Café Madeleine recently celebrated its first anniversary with the announcement that Quon has been selected by Zagat Boston as one of the city’s “30 Under 30” culinary movers and shakers. Hana received her certification in classic French pastry, doughs, gateau de voyage, petits fours and macarons at the Ecole Gastronomique Bellouet Conseil in Paris, where she studied under M.O.F. Jean Michel Perruchon, and previously worked as sous chef to Chef Frederic Robert at PB Boulangerie & Bistro in Wellfleet.
Cafe Madeleine’s authentic Gallic pastries are made fresh daily using organic and other fine ingredients. The restaurant is named for owner Frederic Robert’s mother, although Café Madeleine also serves madeleines, the distinctive, shell-shaped, butter cakes idealized by novelist Marcel Proust in his “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Cafe Madeleine owner Frederic Robert is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard award for his book Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse’s Desserts and Pastries, which he co-authored with multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, with whom he partnered for over 25 years, beginning in 1987 at the 3 Michelin Star Louis XV Monaco at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and including the 3 Michelin Star Plaza Athenee, Paris; 3 Michelin Star 59 Avenue Poincare, Paris; The Essex House in New York; Mix, New York; 1 Michelin Star Spoon, Paris; Spoon Byblos, St. Tropez; Spoon Tokyo; Spoon London; 1 Michelin Star Abbaye de la Celle, Provence; and 1 Michelin Star Auberge de Moustiers, Provence. Later he became Executive Pastry Chef at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, and until 2012 was Executive Pastry Chef at PB Boulangerie.
517 Columbus Ave., Boston
Open 7 days, 6:30am-7pm