Thursday, September 11, 2014

Relais Desserts - Les Buches de Noel 2014

Yesterday was the grand degustation of the 2014 Christmas büche de Noël cakes - a tasting of the 26 winners of the Relais Desserts competition of Pastry chefs worldwide.

It was held at the newly opened Peninsula Hotel on 19, Avenue Kléber 75008

Very grand setting indeed.

There were lots of traditional logs (büche) looking almost trompe l'eoil(fool the eye). A log by Spanish chef Miguel Moreno composed of praline mousseline, vanilla and coulis of apricot.

Do not put these very lifelike intensely chocolatey cakes in your fireplace svp! This luscious log is by Parisian Laurent Duchene.

'Burying the hatchet' as we know it is not a French custom. Quite the opposite. The French adore their hatchets at Xmas time, preferably in gold leaf and edible. This stunner is by Laurent Le Daniel - Rennes. The faux wood rings is a winner no? Inside milk chocolate and creme de pamplemousse!? Plus crunchy noisettes(hazelnuts).

I loved the Autumnal look of this büche by Marc Ducobu of Waterloo. A büche is classically a roulade or rolled genoise cake with flavored fillings. This one has forest fruits with a touch of violette and creme de marron confit.

A very lush and elaborate affair by chef Lionel Raux of Bayonne. Speculoos crust, vanilla cream, hazelnuts and a heart of caramel sauce. We decided we must taste this one.

How it works. The cakes on display are left untouched. You tell the waiter your choices and he goes into the kitchen for cut tastes. Some clever chefs made individual versions of their cakes like Raux did here. 

Unfortunately I forgot my special Kyocera pastry knife. What was I thinking? A girl should never leave home without her pastry knife! Enfin a mess cutaway view. Yes that is a cream puff or choux sitting on top filled with more hazelnut cream. I brought Lindsey Tramuta of Lost in Cheeseland to the tasting. She picked this one out. 

.Our second plate of tastes.

Here's the witty giant size version of the little bear made of ice cream on the plate. Created by Relais Desserts President Frederic Cassel of Fontainebleau. Inside: vanilla ice cream, hazelnut crumble, caramelized pecans and salted caramel. YUM

Back in the kitchen Cassel's top pastry chef Norbert takes me into the Aladdin's cave where the cakes are chilling. I would have happily stayed there to study the cakes further...

Now that I've studied the guide booklet they gave us I could use a second visit to sample some cakes I overlooked.

Better yet maybe at next year's event I can help out in the kitchen collecting crumbs?

The inside cutaways look very different from the outside büche de Noël. They are constructed like architecture, layer by layer. Flavor on top of flavor. Contrasting texture upon texture.

Another plate of samples (not ours).

Parisian Chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin created a Christmas ball-shaped dessert not the traditional log. You lift off the dark chocolate dome to find a giant macaron filled with dark chocolate ganache flavored with red wine. There's a slice on the plate above.

I fell for this Yuzu and apple combination by Joël Baud of Besançon - very light and delicate. I'm partial to fruity desserts admittedly. 

Another beauty. Love the color and playfulness of the design. By Lyonnaise chef Sebastian Bouillet. Inside pain d'epice, dark chocolate and apricots Bergeron. I'm drooling as I type...
Granny Smith apple, plus vanilla and almond by Alban Guilmet of Caen. I've only shown you 9 of the 26 buches. And to think I only tasted 6 or 7. This is tragic. I need a second go-round surely no?

Of course the chefs were tasting too along with press and bloggers.

Here's Lindsey chatting with Pierre Hermé who won an award for his gorgeous Fetish Ispahan book this year.

Do download the Free Relais Desserts app. There could be a member pastry chef around the corner you didn't know about. This will give you the scoop.

The Relais publishes a handsome quarterly journal in French, English and Spanish and it's free in members pastry shops. This issue was focused on what else? On the delights of French regional candies. That's why you should get the latest Paris Sketch Letter sent to you to keep on top of all things French.

The annual tasting ends with an awards ceremony. Pastry chef of Restaurant Lassere Claire Heiztler won as best chef this year. Take a look at last year's buche de Noel event here. Only in Paris do you get to eat Christmas cake TWO times a year. Isn't La Rentrée a wonderful thing! A triumphant day all around.
Bravo French pastry chefs!


  1. What an indulgent afternoon! Lots of great talents, so hard to limit ourselves to just 3 (or, well, 6) but impressive display of pâtisserie savoir faire. Thanks for the enjoyable afternoon!

  2. Love the way the arch-shape of the buches is repeated in the Peninsula's windows.
    nice geometry

  3. I'm so envious of your buche-tasting experience!!!!
    Hope you're enjoying the new season...

  4. I am in awe.
    I have been searching online for a buche mold..$$$$$$$$
    And none here..Imagine..
    Yet in France plentiful and $.
    The day I go to Paris..first on my list.
    I LOVE the toy soldier one the very best.
    PH was wonderful on that show we loved.
    It's over and we cannot wait for next season.
    Best pastry show on earth.
    The bear is quite dear too.

    1. A buche mold?! I didn't know they existed.
      If they do they will be at the salon du chocolat in depth
      Will keep an eye out.

    2. More buche pics on my Instagram FYI

  5. PS you know I mean it if I am going to prove I am not a robot again:)
    Your aquarelle is spot on charming.

  6. Carol, these 2014 buches-de-noel finalists look fabulous.

    Truly, as you well know, there is nothing quite like these treasures, or even the pursuit of such treasures, over here.

    It's grand to see so many ways to interpret a tradition. And to think that you, dear Carol, actually got to give some the test of a taste. Bliss!

    I love your watercolors of les buches and also those in the prior post of les souliers. Is it permissible to wear sandals during September in Paris? If so, I applaud the news.

    Fall Fashion Week 2014 is winding down today in NYC. On this 9/11, I am actually glad that the Fashion's Night Out is no longer happening. It was a good idea to get folks interested in fashion in September after that horrific day, but the occasion evolved into something rather occasion for kids to get drunk on free alcohol.

    (I type those sentences just to let you know that you are in a much more sensitive place.)


    1. Vogue Fashion Nite is next week here. i'm going to taste 35 !!! Eclairs at Fauchon. Maybe I'll get eclair drunk ;))

  7. I love the sniff cards in my letters - how about some taste cards? Those desserts were a treat for the eye but my tongue is jealous!

    1. I wish it were's just luck the perf travels thru the mails. I'm never sure..

  8. Wow, that is pastry overload! Amazing :)
    Great photos, Carol.

  9. love your illustration for Desserts . . .congrats on the commission! last year the Royal Monceau sent our office Pierre Herme's buche for them . . . it had weird berry things infused with foie gras. I suppose it was supposed to be the height of chic but I found it revolting!

  10. Wonderful creativity. The first sign of the Christmas season. I'm now going for a long walk in preparation for Noel.

    1. Oh my I need to take a long walk.
      But I Have to run to another Xmas tasting !!!
      Royal Monceau

  11. They are all stunning, altho I'm partial to the one by Laurent le Daniel - so creative & witty. Thank you for all your hard work, Carol, on the reporting! what a great country we live in, such amazing artistry.

  12. Carolyn9:43 AM

    What a wonderful tasting opportunity! Love the contrast in the traditional and the new versions of the concept.! Would love to see the winning buche. I continue to be impressed with the many layers and details that go into the French desserts. Also, love the mini versions some chefs made for the tasting:) You are one fortunate lady!!

  13. Oh my!

    Such decadent temptations!!!

    And so beautiful, as well...



  14. It's a tough job but someone had to do it. Thanks for taking one or two for the team. lol What a tasty afternoon that must have been. Stunning photos to make one's mouth water.

    1. Th cakes were stunning. Beautifully thought out designs.
      These chefs are artists plain and simple.

  15. cyndi from SD11:35 AM

    Though I realize that a common visitor to Paris could never attend this event,it would definitely be on what some my call my bucket list.Sigh...

    1. It's true Cyndi. But don't forget we only shared 6 small pieces...maybe equaling one small half slice.
      I do wish we could choose from slices laid out by the cakes. There's a disconnect when they arrive grouped on the plate when you sit down. Very hard
      to remember what was what on most of them.
      It looks different from a distance, your viewpoint methinks

  16. Anonymous12:22 PM

    What an amazing edition of your regular newsletter. I think you do more for France than all the famous guidebooks! I had no idea that there was such sophistication in French patisserie until I started looking at your blogs. . This one about the buches competition is absolutely incredible. Gwendoline in Australia.

  17. The perfect summer day in Paris

  18. Kathryn de M.3:29 PM

    I drooled over each!!!!! and then had to share them with other passionate pastry lovers. How could you possibly choose? And those portions look healthy! And you were invited into the kitchen. You are my hero, Carol G.

    1. Ahem...I was Not invited i to the kitchen. i snuck in. The waiters weren't too happy but the chefs didn't mind. The most fun was in the kitchen.
      It is difficult to choose because it's based on a verbal description. Never mind that it's in French. It would be so much better to have the slices beside the cakes I think, but no one's consulting me...

  19. I didn't think it would be possible to get into a Christmas mood this early(AND with our heat and drought),but buches are among my most favorite(both to make and to eat); wow! these are incredible.
    Carol,your photographs in every blog are fantastic but today's are really fantastic.
    Also enjoyed Coco J's words about you in her blog today.
    What a way to start the weekend! YUM!!!

  20. Jacquelyn8:37 PM

    Wow, really did a good one this time! oh, la, la...makes me wish I would be in Paris for Christmas,2014!

  21. Wow, I remember this event from last year. Extraordinary. That speculoos, hazelnut, caramel concoction looks so amazing. When do they become available do you know? I hope I get to eat some one day- maybe this year who knows?

    1. Very good question.
      I beleive you have to ORDER them ahead.
      It's rare to just walk in and buy one in the case.
      I will let you know on PB
      Early December for ordering I would guess...

    2. I hadn't realised that they needed to be ordered- an always terrifying process for those not completely fluent in French, but I've ordered a special birthday cake before from Pierre Herme, so could do it again. Thanks for finding out for us.

  22. These are glorious! I absolutely have to make one of these this year!

  23. So many cakes, so little time! I suppose the average French citizen only buys one buche for the family dinner...even if you visit 2 or 3 friends' houses, you'd only get to taste 4 of them. How on earth do they choose?
    I am especially impressed that they produce these after taking the month of August for les vacances....the chefs must be plotting these many, many months in advance.

  24. I can't take it anymore. This post goes beyond torture! I want to eat everything. I'm still trying to lose the first 30 pounds I've gained since following your blog!


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