The French colonizers brought many things to Vietnam – Catholic churches, potatoes, veston, coffee and rubber tree plantations, to name a few – but perhaps their baking recipes have left the sweetest memories. Some of those recipes were modified, like the baguette with extra leavening became the crisp and light banh mi, or the croissant with extra butter which is crisp at the two horns (to match its Vietnamese name – “water buffalo’s horn”), golden and shiny at the bottom, more substantial inside, subtly salty, and smells delicious from several feet away. Some names have mysteriously disappeared from the world wide web of delicacies and can only be found in Vietnamese conversations, Vietnamese bakeries, and Vietnamese food blogs – the pâte chaud falls into this category. But many stay true to their origin, like the choux à la crème, the gâteau, and the buche de Noel.
There’s the frosting. It can be white chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, even durian flavor, but the traditional dark chocolate ganache is best in my opinion. There’s the middle layer to resemble tree rings, chocolate again is great but pineapple jam if you like it fruity but not too sweet. There’s the layer of spongy génoise, soft, light, plain, a levee to keep the palates from a sugar flood. As for decoration, powder sugar would make a good snow, meringue mushroom to look more botanical, a couple of icing roses, branches, or pine trees to be Christmasy, some fresh raspberries for a little tart.
The Vietnamese keep the tradition of a strictly European réveillon even after the French left, no member of spring rolls, rice noodle, sticky rice, sweet bean paste and the gang are allowed, but goose is extremely welcome and buche de Noel is a must. Then we crossed the sea and here in America although Christmas desserts are overwhelming – fruitcakes, gingerbread, pumpkin pies, mince pies, banana bread, candies and cookies – la buche de Noel doesn’t exist. Why is that? We brought over the turkey, the ham, the Christmas tree, even the actual Yule log to be burnt in the fireplace, why is the edible and delicious Yule log left behind?
Anyway, our little homesick craving has been found in a Vietnamese bakery northwest of Houston. Made by preorder, each log costs $29 at Xuan Huong.
Address: Xuân Hương Bakery
13480 Veterans Memorial Dr. Suite D
(in the same shopping center with Hong Kong Market #3)
Houston, TX 77014