Bûche de Noël is a traditional French yule cake.
The origins of this most famous and delicious of French pastries can be traced back to the ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the winter solstice. On this day, the shortest of the year, the Celts would search for a large trunk of either oak, beech, elm or cherry and would burn it. The burning log was a symbol of the rebirth of the sun as well as an offering of thanks to the sun for returning to the earth.
This pagan tradition was not snuffed out by the Catholic church and during the middle ages the logs and the ceremony of the burning log became more elaborate. The logs themselves would be decorated with ribbons and greenery. Then the youngest and the oldest member of each family would carry the log to the hearth and set it ablaze. It would burn through the night and the ashes would be collected the next day to be used during the year. They were thought to help cure various sicknesses and protect the house from storms, lightening and the evil powers of the Devil.
The tradition of actually burning the log began to disappear with the arrival of small stoves and the disappearance of large hearths. The big log was replaced by a smaller branch that was set in the middle of the table and surrounded by little "friandises" (sweets, delicacies) that were given as treats to guests. It is this branch that was eventually transformed into the cake we know as the Bûche de Noël. Whether it was a Parisienne or Lyonnaise creation is still the subject of a heated debate. It is first mentioned and described in 1879 and since that time is has become "THE" dessert served at Christmas dinners.