There's probably no dessert more closely associated with Christmas than the Buche de Noel, the "yule log" cake. This confection is cake (usually yellow) rolled and dressed to look something like a length of firewood.
The origins of this cake stretch back to pre-Christian – or "pagan" --Europe, when around the winter solstice a very large log would be burned in the hearth. Whether this was a reflection of even more ancient fire-festivals, or just a fun thing to do in the dead of winter, is a matter for anthropological debate.
Last week, I judged a Buche de Noel competition at Sofitel on the near north side, and I was amazed to see range of interpretations of this dessert. Some of Chicago's finest pastry chefs competed in an event titled Holiday Rock n' Roll (get it, roll?) in support of Share our Strength, a charity committed to ending childhood hunger. The range of edible yule logs was truly remarkable, with one looking like a chocolate version of Superman's Fortress of Solitude and another like charred logs laying on a forest floor.
Honestly, I'm not even much of a dessert person, but it was fascinating to see how this traditional holiday cake was re-imagined – the visuals were as interesting as the taste.
Sugar Fixe is still taking orders for Buche de Noel that will be delivered on Christmas: one will run you $60, but it feeds $20, and believe me, with a cake this rich, you don't want more than a little piece.