Paris Christmas Cakes Monday, Nov 26 2012 

It’s nearly December and the start of la période des fêtes (the holiday season) in France. The holidays are one of my most favorite things about the country, not least because of the Christmas eve and New Year’s eve dinners. The French spare no expense in pulling together the tastiest and most beautiful flavors of the season for these convivial moments, and the traditionally served bûche de Noël Christmas cake tops off the holiday meal in a perfectly festive and French way.

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Stylized bûches de Noël from Dalloyau in Paris

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Mini ’bûchettes’ – small yule logs sized for one

The bûche de Noël, or yule log, harkens back to the tradition of burning an enormous hardwood log in French farmhouse fireplaces on Christmas eve. The log needed to burn through the night until Christmas morning, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the cake version replaced the wooden yule log. In the traditional recipe, the yellow sponge cake is rolled up to resemble a log and frosted with chocolate buttercream icing. Fork tines are often dragged through the frosting to imitate bark, powdered sugar is sprinkled about to look like snow, and sprigs of greenery and meringue mushrooms add a forest-like effect. One bûche de Noël typically serves 6 to 12 people depending on its size.

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Homely bûches de Noël from an outdoor market in southwest France

These days, however, the bûche de Noël goes far beyond the basic model of yore. Parisian pâtissiers (pastry makers) have turned these Christmas cakes into an art form. Much like the current competitive craze for the most original almond macarons, yule logs have turned into a pastry fashion frenzy all their own. With every passing year, the top Parisian sweets designers try to outdo each other in imagination and creativity. Their goal? To come up with the most extravagant, exotic and often witty gâteau of the season.

Here is a sampling of some of the Christmas yule logs on offer this holiday in Paris – pastry couture at its finest…Take a tour and vote for your favorite edible jewel in our comments section. And if you will be in Paris to order your Christmas cake, do note that they are very easy on the eyes but sometimes less easy on the pocketbook!

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Dalloyau’s milk chocolate, hazelnut & caramel marvel

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Pierre Hermé’s realistic yule log – sumptuous chocolate with white meringue

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 Dark chocolate & red berries in a package ‘très design’ by Lenôtre

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 Citrus mousse & seasonl fruit compote enrobed in white chocolate by Eric Kayser

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Mountains of white chocolate enveloping black currant mousse & quince compote at Fauchon

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Arnaud Delmontel’s white peaks – chocolate & raspberry heaven

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Stars galore from La Maison du Chocolat – dark chocolate, caramel milk chocolate & touches of citrus fruit

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 Chestnut, pear and hazelnut bûche de Noël from Hugo & Victor – gluten free!

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Another gluten free beauty from Hugo & Victor – passion fruit, mango, pineapple, papaya, ginger, coconut & pistachio

So which one would you serve as the grand finale to your holiday dinner? Weigh in and tell us your choice in the comment section below. And if you are in Paris this December, snap some photos of your favorite bûches and send them to us to post here (info.french@frenchaffaires.com) . The more the merrier. Joyeuses fêtes (happy holidays) to you and yours!

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Another bûche de Noël from Lenôtre - I think this one is my favorite this year!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

"Christmas in France: A Celebration of the Holidays French Style" on December 4 at SMU in Dallas, Texas

France is festive at any time of the year but especially around the holidays. Join Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz of French Affaires for a visual tour of the sights, sounds and tastes of Christmas done the French way. In addition to the unforgettable images and stories of Paris and France at holiday time, the event includes a sampling of authentic French Christmas carols. And our holiday evening would not be complete without tasting les bûches de Noël, the traditional French Christmas dessert. Get into the holiday spirit and experience ‘Christmas in France!’

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D Home Magazine featuring "Christmas in France" in its latest issue

Date:  Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Time:  7 to 9pm

Place:  SMU main campus in Dallas, Texas

Registration:  To sign up for "Christmas in France," please contact SMU at 214-768-2273 or by clicking here.

Garden Decor Indoors Wednesday, Nov 7 2012 

In France, the word “château” conjures up visions of large stone castles with turrets located out in the countryside. (By contrast, a ‘château-like’ building in a city such as Paris is known as a palais, or palace.) These grand château residences all over France often have deep historical roots tied to the nobility or high bourgeoisie who owned them. And too, châteaux were typically surrounded by large domains, or terres (lands), reflecting the wealth and stature of their owners.

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The Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley is a picture-perfect example of the fairytale French castle surrounded by beautiful gardens and woodlands – with a colorful historical past to boot. At every visit, I am always astounded by the refined architecture and exquisite interior rooms of the château. In fact, I could spend hours taking in the beautiful furniture, ornate moldings, wondrous stone fireplaces, magnificent kitchen rooms, and more. In addition, the sumptuous formal gardens outdoors provide infinite views of beauty and horticultural creativity.

But on my recent visit to Chenonceau a few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly éblouie (dazzled) by the ‘indoor gardens’ inside the château. I had forgotten that all year round, visitors are treated to gorgeous floral arrangements in every room. The idea is to make the castle seem comme une demeure habitée (like a lived-in dwelling).

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To that end, a team of fleuristes (floral designers) creates stunning arrangements twice a week from the cutting gardens and greenhouses located on the property. The outdoor gardens are brought indoors, so to speak. In my opinion, the best way to visit Chenonceau is to build suspense and first walk through le potager des fleurs (the cutting gardens), then continue through the formal gardens and finally enter into the château itself. By following this itinerary, you experience the exquisite harmony between man and nature as only the French know how to do.

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The abundance of floral possibilities in the cutting gardens means that every arrangement is color coordinated with the room it inhabits…

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One of my absolute favorites was the spray of pampas grass blooms set in front of an antique woven tapestry. The colors and textures enhanced each other so well that it was hard to look away. When traveling, it’s amazing how the simplest vision can be incredibly memorable.

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Chenonceau’s private chapel was also a picture of simplicity with its floral creations of white and green.

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Another favorite was the small library which displayed all manner of prints, sketches and illustrations of Chenonceau throughout the centuries. The fireplace mantel was embellished with a horizontal masterpiece of flowers, greenery and natural decorative elements. Even the container was a work of art with local chestnuts, leaves and lichens arranged upon it. I had never seen luscious brown chestnuts used in this way – c’était vraiment magnifique!

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And if you’re in need of a lily fix, then the Château de Chenonceau would be a must. The entry room to the castle was awash with multiple arrangements of pink lilies. The largest arrangement alone must have contained more than 300 blooms. Of course, the scent was heavenly.

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And it’s hard to go wrong with white lilies on their own…

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All this to say, Chenonceau is a definite destination stop in France – for the castle and for the outdoor gardens. But since the indoor garden decor is as stunning as the rest, I would visit the château any day just for that.

For more information on visiting the Château de Chenonceau, please click here.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

The floral studio at Chenonceau is a treasure trove of inspiration. Materials and flowers are at the ready for bringing blooms indoors. I wanted to spend a week there just observing the floral team at work.

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If you’re in need of a ‘French floral fix,’ then consider joining the French Affaires’ summer trip to the Loire Valley next June. We’ll take in the most beautiful of French gardens and châteaux including Chenonceau. Our trip dates are June 7 to 14, 2013. For more information about this special France travel opportunity, please email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com .

And the next time you are in Paris, you might consider taking a floral arranging class offered by La Belle Ecole. While the classes are conducted only in French, it would be worth the visual experience just to attend. For more information on their offerings, please click here.

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