As a child growing up in Lebanon, my mother would bake several Buches de Noel every Christmas and take them as gifts to our relatives. I helped and observed in awe as she transformed eggs, flour, sugar and butter into scrumptious creations. It was a Christmas tradition that she honored year after year even when war made it difficult to make as many. It was only a matter of time before my turn came to carry the torch and keep this tradition going.
Regarding its origins, I read that the tradition started with the Celts before Christianity. They celebrated the winter solstice by burning logs in the hearth. The ceremony of burning a log continued after Christianity becoming more elaborate with logs being decorated with ribbons, pinecones, greeneries. Resulting ashes were used in the subsequent year. They were believed to eliminate bad spirits, cure some sicknesses and make the soil more fertile. As hearth were replaced with ovens, the tradition of log burning morphed into baking a cake in the shape of a log. It is not clear who first created such a cake, but it quickly became a widespread Christmas tradition in France and Francophone countries like Lebanon.
After the armistice of 1918, Lebanon fell under the French mandate. France was to assist Lebanon in becoming an independent country. Before the mandate became official, France had maintained close ties with Lebanese Christians specifically the Maronites, coming to their aide over the years. France did help establish a constitution in Lebanon, improved the utilities in the country, expanded the education system modeling it after France’s. Lebanese schools are bilingual. French literature, Math and Sciences are taught in French, Arabic literature, History and Geography in Arabic. After much struggle, Lebanon became an independent country on November 22nd, 1943. Twenty-Five years of French mandate touched every aspect of Lebanese lives. French influence on Lebanese cuisine resulted in making it more diverse. French patisseries abound in Lebanon. Their succulent products from baguettes to croissants, petits fours, Milles Feuilles, Choux a la creme etc. have been engrained into the culture and are sought after just as much as traditional middle Eastern dishes and pastries are. Baking or purchasing a Bûche de Noël at Christmas, was embraced as a local tradition.
I followed various Buche de Noel recipes in past years. I was most successful with this recipe posted on 12/3/2015 by Beeta @Mon Petit Four. I started out with simple decoration and added on each year. Below you can see photos of my Bûches de Noël from the past 5 years.
References French Christmas Traditions: Buche de Noel, La Buche de Noel – Christmas Yule, Beyond Brioche: The History and Tradition of La Buche De Noel, The French Mandate in Lebanon, Mon Petit Four – Buche de Noel Recipe
Sylvie’s Bûche de Noël since 2018