Bûche de Noël is a French Christmas cake shaped to look like a Yule Log
Way back in the mid 90’s I was the French Club president of my high school. I sometimes tell people this just to get a few laughs — the only think dorkier to be at that age might have been being Latin Club president. In all honesty, I got the role because no one else wanted it. I didn’t raise my hand in class to nominate myself and when no one else showed interest another student suggested that I should take the role. Then everyone said that I should. I didn’t say no and secretly I was really pleased that my peers thought I’d make a good President. There’s a 99% chance that I was blushing at the time.
You’d think that after becoming little miss French club that I would definitely have had the chance to make a cake for class. I vividly recall learning about Bûche de Noël, a French Yule Log cake, and our teacher suggesting that a student make one for Christmas. Twenty-two years on I also remember the opportunity was only offered to the boys. Our teacher told us that the French believe that men are the best chefs and so a boy should try making it.
Sexism and Christmas Cake
All those years on and I still feel the weight of that decision. I love baking and making desserts and the idea that I couldn’t was heartbreaking to my teenage self. I’m sure that our teacher didn’t think that the exercise would be remembered, let alone affect any of the students for years to come. It must have been her way of trying to shake things up and get a male in the kitchen. I wonder if it ever crossed her mind that her way of reversing our own society’s gender roles was by by using the sexist tradition of another’s. The irony.
I’ve delayed making Bûche de Noël
Even though I really wanted to try, I’ve delayed making a Bûche de Noël ever since. It sounds silly but I felt like maybe I couldn’t do it. Actually I think the feeling was more like that I shouldn’t. I write those words and know they sound ridiculous.
I’m trying to work out in my own head why it affected me so much and I think this is it. The girl who was too shy to volunteer herself for club president would have happily raised her hand to try making this cake. My hand stayed lowered in one case out of insecurity and it stayed lowered the next time out of sexism. A seemingly harmless exercise kept a sensible adult woman from making a silly cake for over two decades.
I’ve finally made one
I started writing today because I finally made the cake. I worked from this recipe, adapting it a bit, and when the cake was finished I felt pleased enough to share a photo on Facebook. From it I had a few requests to share the recipe and this is how my fingers started typing today. I suppose the bigger idea that was still going on in my mind was why I made the cake rather than how. It somehow seemed like a hurdle — albeit a slightly fussy and chocolately one. Now that I’m over it, I wonder why it took me so long.