Dear Dessert Oasis,
What’s the deal with Xmas log cakes? Why would anyone want to eat a log?? That’s gotta have more fiber than an econo size jar of Metamucil.
Not a Woodsman
Dear Not a Woodsman,
How fortunate of you to write me today, the Winter Solstice! The Xmas log cake – or rather bûche de Noël or Yule log – dates waaaaay back to the Celtic tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice. A HUGE log – usually from a beech, elm, oak or fruit tree – was burned for the ENTIRE night to bring good luck for the following year’s harvest. And they said predictions could be made from poking the log and reading the embers…..magical!
As hearths got smaller and homes became more refined, smaller logs were used. Eventually, the log left skipped the fireplace altogether and became more of a centerpiece with some little sweets surrounding it on the holiday table ( gotta make due without a 1-800-FLORIST to deliver year round bouquets). In the Victorian Era, the actual wood log was replaced with a cake that resembled a log, because there was no way that a centerpiece tiny log could burn for the whole night and people needed a way to stretch out the celebration. Works for me!
So what is it?? Not playground mulch or a fallen limb stowed away for a rainy day…. Traditionally, a thin Genoese cake is used as the base and rolled up with chocolate, coffee or chestnut buttercream, and then topped with chocolate ganache scored to look like bark. Some meringue or marzipan mushrooms or leaves make the perfect woodsy garnish.
Bakeries in France and Quebec often sell bûches around Christmastime, or you can get cray and try making one yourself!
*photo creds to @hopscotchcakes, @areturntosimplicity, @little_flower_cafe
Have a dessert question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.
Realizing yesterday that today was National Dessert Day (these days tend to sneak up on me….. dessert bloggers – they’re just like us!), I had a brief flash of panic: AHHHH I’m in Champaign-Urbana for the weekend, where would I celebrate?!?!?! Where could I find desserts worthy of such an illustrious holiday?!?! But the answer came quickly bc it is the same answer I give to anyone who ever asks me where to find great desserts in C-U: Hopscotch. A beacon of sugary light in a land known for pork and corn. And so, this afternoon, armed with an empty stomach, I made my way to their pastry case.
Hopscotch Cakes & Confections is housed in the newishly relocated Art Mart. (I’ve often contemplated housing myself there as well. Intelligentsia, Le Creuset, stickers, stuffed animals, wine, cheese…..how hard would it be to just camp out in a dressing room or slide under a table and have my mail forwarded? They sell fancy soap…I’d stay hygienic.) But back to the desserts.
One of the reasons Hopscotch is so great is their slight seasonal twists on classics. Kaya Tate, Hopscotch master, pushes patrons juuuuust a little nudge out of their flavor comfort zone and in doing so keeps things exciting and interesting, and helps to expand palates away from the disgusting hole that is blue raspberry or cookie dough blizzard. I’m talking about grapefruit poppyseed shortbread, sea salt fennel caramels, blackberry lavender bars, maple bourbon marshmallows……yessssssss.
Today was no exception to the excellent flavor landscape: carrot ginger cupcakes, cheesecake mousse topped with dried flowers, apricot sage bar, pumpkin spice cheesecake.
And now I’m napping off my dessert coma until dinnertime, where you might just find me at Watson’s Shack & Rail for some fried chicken, but more importantly (obvs) for their daily Hopscotch pie offering. On today’s menu: apple because October.
Sadly, I do not have 1000000 more photos for this post, so you will have to use your imagination. Imagine an enchanting room surrounded by sunny cases and sugary racks of pies, cakes, tarts, cookies, muffins, ice cream, brownies, cupcakes, brownie cupcakes, donut muffins…. Lemon, apple, plum, chocolate, passion fruit, raspberry, caramel, cinnamon…. Imagine that everything, EVERYTHING, looks and smells so so good that it is IMPOSSIBLE to choose just one thing. Just imagine…..mmmmmm……
You guys – you can bring this exercise in imagination to life, because this place really exists and you can order as many treats as you damn well want. I know this, because I have been there and done that. The Downtown Bakery and Creamery is the stuff of dreams. If ever you are in Napa/Sonoma, do yourself a favor (don’t disappoint me) and hop over to Healdsburg to be transported to bakery heaven.
I carried their business card around in my wallet for years so I could have their address ready for anyone who even off-handedly mentioned that they might be thinking about maybe perhaps going to wine country (I eventually gave the card to a friend headed to Sonoma when I couldn’t find a pen/had too much Sonoma “research wine” to realize that I could have texted the info…shame). I’m not even going to suggest the “best” things to get there, because it is all the best. THE BEST. Get it all.
I will, however, make the following (non-desserty) suggestions re: wine country:
- Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves – drink wine in a cave! pair little snackies wth your tasting!
- Dry Creek General Store – down the hill from Bella – the perfect place to fuel up for a long day of not using the spittoon.
- Scopa – make a reservation, and make sure someone orders the Nonna’s chicken – even if you’re thinking, “oh, I can make this at home,” just do it. you won’t be disappointed.