gluten free, sulfite and additive free “bûche” with cranberry mousse filling: a traditional French Christmas dessert with a New England twist

For Christmas this year I have decided to follow the French tradition once again and bake a « bûche » – meaning a cake rolled in the shape of a log – for dessert. I have just realized that this will be the very first bûche recipe on this blog, while I already have two on my French blog: one with chocolate and preserved orange slices, the other with a coffee flavored creamy filling.

Whenever I make a bûche over the holiday season, I think about one of my great aunts, great in all senses of the word : a wonderful person who at the age of 92 keeps making her own low-sodium bread on a regular basis and treats her family every year at Christmas time with not one, not two, but three, sometimes even four beautiful logs, all varying in flavors ! As for the one featured in this post, it is made with a cocoa flavored cake batter and filled with a cranberry mousse. The creamy frosting is slightly sweet to compensate for the acidity of the mousse, with toasted chopped almonds on top for a pleasant crunch. I have finally figured out how to get a fruit mousse that will hold without using whipped cream of any kind – for my husband’s health, dairy is not an option and neither is any non-dairy store-bought cream, usually laden with preservatives or additives. The trick is actually simple : I beat an egg white with some sugar into a meringue before folding it into the fruit preparation to which some agar powder is added (gelatin would be ok if you don’t have problems with sulfites). If you are here because you need to or want to avoid dairy products, this recipe is likely to be the right one for you ! And if you are curious, dear neighbors, you can read about the trials and tribulations that led to this final success right below the recipe.

Ingredients for a log big enough for 6 to 8 servings

For the fruit preparation:

200 g / 7 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen

– 200 ml /7 fluid oz freshly pressed orange juice (about 2 oranges)

– 40 g / 1.5 oz all natural cane sugar, no added caramel color

For the cocoa cake batter:

3 eggs, whites and yolks separate

90 g / 3 oz homemade icing sugar (= just sugar blitzed in a coffee grinder)

2 TBSP grapeseed oil (to prevent the cake from tasting too dry)

15 g / 0.5 oz pure unsweetened cocoa powder

30 g / 1 oz organic almond powder (should normally be sulfite-free)

30 g / 1 oz rice flour, to be sifted

NOTE : if you don’t like chocolate, or cannot have cocoa (like a very dear neighbor with nightshade intolerance), you can replace it with an equivalent amount in weight of rice flour, as I do in my regular bûche recipe here ; you can then skip the oil entirely.

To moisten the cake:

4 TBSP water, sweetened with 1 tsp sugar

For the mousse:

200 ml /7 fluid oz pureed cranberry previously prepared

2 egg yolks + only 1 white, separate (freeze the remaining white for future use, such as gluten-free phyllo leaves)

– 50 g / 1.75 oz all natural cane sugar

– 2 tsp agar powder

– 15 à 20 g / / 0.5 to 0.75 oz homemade icing sugar

How to: total prep time 30 min + 30 min + 30 min + 15 min (including 2 minutes with an extra pair of hands to make your work easier 😉) for the finishing touch

Making the fruit preparation which will be used to make the mousse:

Cook cranberries with orange juice and sugar in a pan, lid on, for 10 to 15 minutes on low heat after boiling point. Puree with an immersion blender and set aside.

NOTE : This fruit puree can be made two days prior to making the bûche and kept refrigerated, or even frozen if you make it way ahead.

 

Making the cocoa cake base:

(Line a baking tray with greased parchment paper and pre-heat your oven to 210°C / 410 °F, fan-forced, or 220°C / 425 °F non fan)

1. Beat together yolks and sugar until mixture is pale and foamy.

2. Add oil, cocoa powder, and almond meal, in this order, mixing well after each addition.

3. Beat egg whites separately. Fold half the mixture in cocoa batter with rubber spatula.

4. Add sifted rice flour.

5. Fold in remaining beaten egg whites.

6. Spread batter into a rectangle on lined baking tray and bake about 5 minutes. Cooking doesn’t take very long as the batter will be thinly spread. This just about gives you time to 1) humidify a (clean 😊) dish towel under a tap of running water 2) lay it on your work surface and 3) combine 4 TBSP water with 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl. (The towel may be folded if it is very large.)

7. Remove from oven and flip the baked batter upside down on the wet towel. Carefully peel off parchment paper, spoon the sweetened water over the whole rectangle and roll immediately inside the towel. Do not listen to those who tell you the cake should cool down before rolling it ! The cake will cool down in this shape while you prepare the mousse. Provided there are no thieves out there, cats included 😄 😉, you may take advantage of the colder temperatures to speed up the cooling process by placing the cake on a window sill.

img_5697-1
cake fresh out of the oven, ready to be moistened

Preparing the mousse:

1. Beat the egg white (remember, only one), gradually adding icing sugar until you get a glossy foam.

2. Beat the yolks and sugar until mixture turns pale and foamy.

3. Add agar powder to 200 ml / 7 fluid oz cranberry preparation in a saucepan and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring constantly. Keep boiling on low, still stirring, for about a minute. This is what will help the mousse hold inside the cake.

 

4. Carefully add the fruit and agar preparation to the yolk and sugar mixture, starting with small amounts at first. Fold in the meringue (egg white and icing sugar) last, without delay, before the fruit mixture starts setting.

Filling the log with the mousse:

img_5701-1

Unfold the cooled cake. It will have taken on a slightly curved shape. Ask for help to keep the shape open while you generously spread the mousse on it. Leave the cake in this somewhat « uncomfortable position » in the refrigerator while the mousse sets.

img_5702-1
at this end the cake is curled, that’s okay

Afer half an hour, you can safely roll the cake into a log and place it on a pretty serving tray. The only thing left for you to do is to decorate it !

Decorating for a festive look:

img_5704-1
You could almost serve it as is, but it’s Christmas, so let’s keep on going!  Please notice how there is absolutely no need for any food coloring when you work with natural ingredients!

Prepare a buttery cream (which can be totally non dairy cream if you prefer) with :

20g coconut oil + 15g ghee butter, melted together, + 25g margarine, 15 g homemade icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and half an egg yolk. Blend with immersion blender and spread on the bûche.

img_5705-1
At this point the freshly made frosting is still very soft.

Place chopped organic almonds, lightly toasted, on top, with the help of a trowel, a spoon, a spatula or your hands, as you like ! The buttery cream will hold them into place and set in the refrigerator while you move on to other holiday activities.

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And now, the trials and tribulations of a stubborn persistent neighbor looking for the right mousse texture:

Pastries and cakes are not a very big part of our diet ; they remain an exception, something of a special treat. Still, I am a big fan of a program on French TV called « Le Meilleur Pâtissier » (The Best Pastry Chef). I find the contestants, non-professionals like you and me, so creative ! Of course, it is very frustrating to watch when on a restricted diet : no gluten for me, no dairy or preservatives for my husband. The day I got it into my head that I would make a fruit mousse, I browsed the Internet to see and replicate what others suggested. I started by trying to substitute dairy cream with coconut cream, apparently a classic trick. To be able to whip the coconut cream into a foam, it is preferable to put it in the freezer for a while beforehand. Not very practical when you want to use it as filling, not to mention the fact that coconut cream has a particular taste, not to everyone’s liking. I also tried mixing coconut cream and coconut oil. As soon as you put it in the fridge, the oil congeals and forms tiny hard balls, not what one would expect in a mousse ! As a general rule, whenever you try to mix a water base ingredient (such as a fruit puree) and an oil base one (such as cream, coconut oil, or cocoa butter, yes, I tried that also!) it just doesn’t work. This is Chemistry 101, what was I thinking, dear neighbor ? Hence the presence of « emulsifiers » in industrial products.

I had the beginning of a revelation one day that I was eating a chocolate mousse : the beaten egg white is foamy ; so I started testing the idea with raspberries. It was not a complete success, because even with agar powder the mousse did not hold very well. I made my worst raspberry mousse while staying with my children in the U.S. When you change country, have to deal with slightly different ingredients, the outcome is never quite the same. On that day, the filling for what was supposed to be a graduation cake sadly collapsed under the weight of the cake layers !

Then, one time, as my fruit base did not taste sweet enough, I added sugar to the egg white, and to my surprise, at that point the mousse held exactly the way I wanted it to !

There you have it, dear neighbor. One lesson to remember from this is : the fact that a recipe is published on the Internet will not guarantee that it will come out fine in your own kitchen – not even mine. You have to try it, make it again with your own adaptations, take notes as my great aunt does… Regrettably, though, very few sites offer explanations on the roles of the ingredients they use or the chemistry involved – you know, CHEM 101 🧪. This all requires time. I very humbly offer you mine.

Dear neighbors, I wish you all a very happy holiday season, with or without gluten / dairy !

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11 Comments

    1. It’s on its way, Kathryn! 😊
      Actually, even though it makes a very nice contrast with the filling, I am not sure that I will keep the cocoa base for Christmas: I may just use my usual rice and almond flour mix, with a touch of vanilla. Can you find fresh or frozen cranberries in the U.K.?
      Thank you for stopping by 😊

      Like

      1. I don’t think I’ve tried chocolate with cranberry, that’s why it sounded interesting, but the almond version sounds good too. There have been fresh cranberries in the shops here for about 3 weeks now, as well as frozen. I always freeze down some fresh ones each year because they disappear from the shops once the festivities are over, and for my job as a food stylist, I’m usually preparing Christmas in June when they just aren’t available anywhere 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Very wise, Kathryn, I do exactly the same thing! The mousse featured in this post was made using frozen fruit. Cranberries freeze very well, as you no doubt will know 😊
        So you are a food stylist… I sure could use your talents for my blog!
        Take care

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jack, for the compliment. I’m blushing but I have to agree with you: if cooking is about survival, pastry making is definitely about love and sharing — which would explain why my mom insists on me having cake every time I show up? Her freezer is full of homemade desserts waiting to be served!
      I once made whipped cream from coconut cream to which I had added a small amount of real, good quality dairy cream (from pasture raised cows bred in the island of Jersey). The two creams put together fluffed very nicely, the taste was great but my husband couldn’t have any. Maybe this combination would work for you?
      Take care!

      Liked by 1 person

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