In 1886, in a patisserie on the Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, pastry chef Pierre Lacan from Maison Seurre invented the Yule log. His creation was a tribute to the wooden logs gifted by guests for the fire at Christmas dinners during the Middle Ages. In 2011, pastry chef Sébastien Gaudard took the reins of this culinary institution with a single objective in mind: perpetuating the traditions and flavors of the past.
A trained ice-cream maker, confectioner, and chocolatier, the Lorraine-born chef honed his craft in Paris at the Hôtel de Matignon, the French prime minister’s residence, before working at the renowned, luxury Fauchon delicatessen alongside Pierre Hermé. Raised at his father’s patisserie, Sébastien Gaudard champions simple, intergenerational recipes that go against the trend of hypercreativity. Served in a deliciously outdated décor of candy-blue colors, his desserts take diners on a trip back through time and revive the delicacies of French childhoods, including saint-honoré cakes, rum babas, fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs (which he calls by their historical name, “duchesses”), and a range of candies, ice creams, and sorbets.
The winter holidays are a big moment for Sébastien Gaudard. Working with a group of other Lorraine natives, the pastry chef organizes an annual parade in homage to Saint Nicholas, a bishop from the region whom Coca-Cola used as inspiration to create the image of the chubby-cheeked Santa Claus. Accompanied by his donkey, the saint gives well-behaved children candies and gingerbread, while his assistant, Père Fouettard (“Father Whipper”), scolds any naughty girls and boys! In December, chocolates and Advent calendars also appear in the patisserie’s windows. Along with Yule logs, of course! This dessert is available in several flavors – hazelnut, almond and cacao, chestnut cream and vanilla meringue, and salted butter caramel – but always keeps its traditional shape and the colors of a beautiful forest as first designed by Pierre Lacan 135 years ago.
To round off your meal in style and impress your guests with a little French touch, read on to discover Sébastien Gaudard’s recipe for a chestnut and pear Yule log! “To create a more complex flavor profile for this dessert,” he says, “I recommend adding a little pear brandy into the syrup before soaking your sheet of almond sponge cake!”
Chestnut and Pear Yule Log
For the pears poached in vanilla
– 3 red Williams pears (including half a pear for decoration)
– 13.5 fl. oz. water
– 4.4 oz. superfine sugar
– 1 Tahitian vanilla pod
– 1 lemon (juice only)
For the almond sponge cake:
– 4 eggs
– 4.4 oz. superfine sugar
– 4.4 oz. flour
– 1.4 oz. butter
– 1.8 oz. ground almonds
For the chestnut cream:
– 17.6 oz. chestnut paste
– 8.1 oz. chestnut cream
– 7 oz. butter
A candied chestnut (for decoration)
The day before, peel two of the red Williams pears and season them with the lemon juice. Mix the water and sugar and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways to remove the small black seeds. Put everything into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Put the lemony pears into the boiling syrup and reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. Check the pears are cooked with a small, pointed knife. There should only be a slight resistance. Remove from the heat and put the pears and syrup together in a recipient at room temperature.
1. Preheat your oven to 428°F. Sieve the flour. Melt the butter until it becomes creamy. Break the eggs into a stainless-steel recipient and add the sugar. Use a bain-marie to heat this mixture while whisking vigorously until it reaches 140-149°F.
2. Remove the preparation from the bain-marie and whisk until cold. Stir two spoonfuls of this mixture into the melted butter.
3. Sieve the flour and ground almonds into the rest of the mixture, then the butter, gently stirring with a wooden spatula. Using a stainless-steel spatula, spread the batter over a silicon baking sheet measuring 16 x 10 inches. Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes.
4. Mix the chestnut cream and paste together. Add the butter then whisk until the mixture turns white. Keep 10.5 oz. of the mixture in the fridge for decoration.
5. Drain the pears and set aside the syrup. Cut the pears into 0.4-inch cubes (around 10.5 oz.). Using a brush, soak the sponge cake with a little sugar syrup. Spread a regular layer of chestnut cream over the sponge before adding the poached pears. Roll the sponge into a cylinder around 10 inches long. Put in the fridge for 2 hours.
6. Next, brush the log with the rest of the chestnut cream then use the back of a spoon or a spatula to recreate the texture of tree bark.
7. Cut the remaining half-pear in two and season a slice with lemon juice. Place it on the log along with a candied chestnut to decorate.