Ma Bûche is In the Weeds

There’s a phrase that’s used in restaurant kitchens, in the weeds, which means that basically, you’re sunk. It’s when the orders are coming up too fast and you’re behind, or that you’ve taken on more work than you can chew and you can’t keep up.


A few weeks ago I volunteered to make a Bûche de Noël for the Christmas dessert. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but this morning, I’m not so sure.

I should’ve known something was askew when I began making meringue mushrooms yesterday and I couldn’t find any of my plain pastry tips, and my bag was all dried-up and cracked from spending too much time crammed into the back of the cabinet. (You can tell how often I use my pastry bag.) So in the midst of meringue madness, I hopped on a bike and rode to a restaurant supply store near Oberkampf, which is not all that far from me. Being Paris, of course they had everything one could ever want for pastry-making…except the one thing I desperately needed—of course: a plain pastry tip.

pastry bag and tips

Speeding over to Les Halles, I knew that MORA would have everything I could want, if I was willing to pay the price. And at that point, no price seemed to great. However in retrospect, I do think the equivalent of fifty dollars is a bit excessive for a plastic bag and a couple of plastic tips. In their defense, I did buy an extra tip, a star one, since I knew that someday I’d have another emergency and I should just bite the bullet and get one now while they were pointing right at me.

(Although in the recurring theme of stores having everything you need…except the one thing you’re looking for, in the enormous wall of pastry and cookie cutters at probably the best pastry supply store in the world, you’d think they’d have at least one star cookie cutter. I mean, how do they expect anyone to make Zimtsterne around here?)

However I did manage to knock out some quick chocolates with salted candied peanuts and cocoa nibs.

holiday chocolates

So now I’m back at home, up to my elbows in billows of egg whites, fresh ricotta, sticky candied peel, and of course, plenty of chocolate. And dishes. But I do hope to be done by tomorrow morning, when someone informed me that he’d like blinis to go with the salmon he’s curing. I won’t mention any names, but his initials are R-o-m-a-i-n. And because I’m such a good person, or not very bright, I said “Oui.”

steamy cheese

Since there weren’t any star cookie cutters, I’m off the hook for making Zimtsterne, for now, and I did manage to knock out a whole bunch of Persimmon Cakes to distribute as gifts.

Except I forgot that I don’t have time to deliver them. Merde…

persimmon cakes

Anyhow, I have a ton of stuff to do to get ready so I’d better get going. I hope whatever you’re doing is fun and doesn’t involved sink-loads of dishes. (Or a multi-layered, complex cake with various kinds of fillings, frostings, and all sorts of other doo-dads. Plus frying up a couple of hundred blinis, too.)

I taught a few European friends a new word the other night: stay-cation. They didn’t quite get it, but that’s okay, I think the concept is universal. So if you’re home, enjoy time with friends and family, and if you’re not, have fun wherever you are. I don’t know if I’m “home” or “traveling” here in Paris, but I’m determined to have some fun even if I haven’t been able to put a neat definition on my life. As for having fun, though, I think that’s going to have to wait until after the festivities when me, and my büche, are safely out of the weeds.

Bonnes Fêtes Everyone!

Never miss a post!


  • Nancy
    December 24, 2008 7:48am

    The NYTimes had an article this morning about buche de noel…I guess you don’t want to buy one. Holiday baking is supposed to be soooo relaxing. Have a wonderful day tomorrow with whom ever gets the cakes and blini and a Happy New Year, too. We all, your faithful readers, have been having wonderful days reading your blog!

  • December 24, 2008 8:16am

    ahhaha! that sink does say.. in the weeds… at least you didn’t go down.

    joyeux noel

  • Jess
    December 24, 2008 8:39am

    where do you buy your wooden bread bakers?! :)

    Thanks! Happy Holidays!

    Hi Jess: I got mine at Bovida, in Les Halles. I was shocked to see them in the window, since I’ve been looking for ages for paper loaf baking pans or something similar. I have no idea why they’re not available, since they’re great. (I suppose I could find them online…) But I think it may be because with all the bakeries around, people here don’t do all that much home baking.

    They only carry two sizes, though. The size I got, and smaller. Don’t know why they don’t have a standard loaf size. Perhaps they didn’t want to veer from the theme of having everything in stock—except the one thing I’m looking for!

  • Cat B.
    December 24, 2008 8:43am

    Only in Paris….I keep hitting up all my American friends for the cookie cutter shapes I need. Your chocolates look divine! I just ran down to my local bakery to pick up my buche and the line was out the door so I’ll be making a return trip but bet there is nothing like a home-made one! Joyeuses Fêtes!

  • December 24, 2008 8:44am

    My friend and veterinarian uses that term “in the weeds” when he is covered up in animals at the clinic and can’t talk to me.

    Have a wonderful holiday David – and keep those posts coming! I love reading them.

  • December 24, 2008 8:45am

    Those chocolates look fabulous – and the buche de noel will be wonderful once it’s done (and the dishes washed).

    A stay-cation is just the thing, and since it’s raining cats and dogs here…we’re staying in by choice and necessity.

    So from our messy kitchen to yours – thank you for everything this year. I made a lot of ice cream and some other things based on the blog (and I asked for your Perfect Scoop book for Xmas, so we’ll see). Everything was a smashing success, and I’m grateful.

  • Mona
    December 24, 2008 8:50am

    Oh, I love how you write, I always have such a good time visiting your blog. :-)

    My husband would probably run over some poor soul in order to get some hand cured salmon. I know it will be delicious!

    May you have a very wonderful Holiday Season. Stay-cations are wonderful…..please enjoy yours to the fullest, as I know you will.

  • December 24, 2008 10:26am

    Merry Christmas David! Thank you for a year of inspiration and smiles.

  • December 24, 2008 10:45am

    Oh, I have been in the weeds for days. Meringue flying, water spilling, piping bag in storage, an oven with a bad temperment and the damned snow storm thwarting my every move.

    Happy Holidays!

  • elizabeth
    December 24, 2008 11:19am

    Merriest Seasons Greetings!

    Well it all looks divine. Isn’t that the way it is sometimes, serving people something without them knowing all of the background panic that went into it? There are television shows like that here in The Nederlands that show the plan, the prep, the panic and then finally – the dinner, dessert and judging.

    A perfect description of what can occur, and it does seem to hit me lately in the kitchen. I love being there, baking/cooking concocting – but there are moments of feeling awash in what I felt was a minor panic attack feeling. Good to know the terminology that I can now alert my family to – loudly of course, and for them to know to clear out! ;-)

    All the best!

  • December 24, 2008 11:41am

    I would have predicted that so many things would not fit in your apartment, never mind your sink. I got depressed looking at it. Must go drink whisky.

  • Susan
    December 24, 2008 11:59am

    Happy holiday, David.

    Those persimmon cakes look wonderfully grandma-ish! (Like Pioneer Woman’s prune cake today from her G-ma) Fruited cakes and breads so appeal to me in winter. My dear grandma once told me they were a part of the sweetner and fat replacement when sugar and dairy wasn’t plentiful for their own use on the farm.
    Whatever! They were good enough to outlast earlier hard times, much to my delight, though we don’t use them as a replacement for sugar, flour, fat and flavor..or do we?

  • December 24, 2008 12:21pm

    Oooh i can’t wait to see your buche de noel — mine took forever and I didn’t do the meringue mushroom caps (genius!)… I hope you and Romain have a lovely Christmas and are having a wonderful Hannukah!

  • Marta
    December 24, 2008 12:41pm


    It’s Christmas Eve here (well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve just about everywhere), and I just found your site — what a gift!

    Reading your entries, my spirit is warmed.

    My father was a baker of Mexican pastries, and you just touched on so many memories for me.

    Thanks to all those mornings waking up to my dads baking, (when he’d come home from the bakery, feeling, I guess, that he needed to bake something fresh for us before we woke up and were off to school), I could almost smell your descriptions, and your pictures are beautiful.

    You crack me up with your frequent ‘bang out,’ as in “I did manage to bang out some …” From where I stand, baking is never “banging out”, but I guess when it’s what you do best, and you love it, it’s exactly what you do, bang out pastries: my father was like that. He’d make Pan de Huevo, then, turn around and make galletas, then because he was up, bang out the dough for pizza, while he was at it, why not the entire pizza later for dinner. He was always up for baking something. I love it.

    You even gave me a website to browse — MORA – which is my family name; this was the ribbon on the gift.

    Thanks for you wonderful site.

    Feliz Navidad!!

  • December 24, 2008 12:58pm

    What’s the matter, R-o-m-a-i-n ne peut pas faire la vaisselle? Is he trainable?

  • December 24, 2008 1:07pm

    radish: Actually I was looking at your buche the other day (the one on your site…) and thought it looked great. However being OCD, I had my planned since August, so I couldn’t switch midstream.

    Barbra: He’s good at la vaisselle, but he puts everything away in the wrong place, and does things like put my knives in the dishwasher and leaves the wet sponge in the sink (see…I told you I was OCD…) But he is on his way over to finish them up. So I’m going to sit on the couch with a cool glass of Aligoté.

  • December 24, 2008 1:22pm

    I feel like I’ve been in the weeds since the start of December. I just can’t seem to clear my sink of dirty dishes.
    I can’t wait to see the finished buche. I have a feeling you’ll knock it out of the park. Have a lovely holiday!

  • December 24, 2008 1:41pm

    Bon courage, et joyeux Noël :)


  • December 24, 2008 2:35pm

    The piping bag is the thorn in my side today, too! I have to run out and find one, or end up spreading the cream cheese frosting onto my red velvet cupcakes with a blade – gasp!!

    I bought a new hand mixer this week, and it came with a perfect stainless Zimsterne star (right size with rounded tips and all) along with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. I have several of both already, and was wondering what I was going to do with them.

    Just say the word, and I’ll be happy to ship them (or just the star) your way.


    ~ Paula

  • Linda H
    December 24, 2008 2:44pm

    Merry Christmas!
    I made a buche de noel one time only. Considering the effort and mess I found that it should have been more fantastic tasting. Now I make mille crepe cakes and get roughly the same awed reaction with less work on my part

  • December 24, 2008 2:59pm

    Bonnes Fêtes !

  • December 24, 2008 3:07pm

    “So now I’m back at home, up to my elbows in billows of egg whites, fresh ricotta, sticky candied peel, and of course, plenty of chocolate. ” –If I’m going to be in the weeds, these are my kind to be in. Hope you have a wonderful holiday in your new Parisian home. Merry Christmas!

  • December 24, 2008 5:51pm

    That does look like a nice pastry bag, is the bar code on it supposed to be stylish? It’s such a nice bright white, I’d love to see it after piping some ganache.

  • December 24, 2008 9:50pm

    How would you say “Staycation” in french? Something like Les Restances?
    :) Bonnes Fetes David! I look forward to another year reading your blog.

  • December 25, 2008 3:58am

    Haha! Just looking at those dishes is giving me a headache @_@. At least I’m sure the Buche de Noel will be delicious.

    Happy holidays!

  • Gena Kliewer
    December 25, 2008 4:31am

    I am very interested in hearing how your Buche de Noel turned out. I’m particularly interested in seeing what you used for the filling. This is my first Christmas in Paris (I’m from San Francisco) and the small expensive Buche de Noel’s that I purchased yesterday from three well-regarded places in the 16th were covered and filled with some sort of whipped shortening-like or lard concoction. They looked great but tasted like the frosting on those god awful Safeway Bakery birthday cakes. There wasn’t even a hint of butter in the “buttercream” frosting. Is this the norm now for a purchased Buche de Noel?
    Also I am curious as to whether there is any Christmas music in France? I find myself strangely missing it. I don’t hear it played anywhere—-not even the major department stores. Is this not a French tradition?
    And finally, what is with the black, purple, and pink highly flocked Christmas tress? Even Monoprix’s Christmas decorations are a mobile with square black boxes surrounding a hot pink ballon. Are these colors seen as simply Winter decoration while the French keep to the nativity scenes for actual Christmas decoration?
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I read it every day and really enjoy your writing and sense of humor.

  • December 25, 2008 10:28am

    I’ve never used one of those cloth piping bags. I’ve always stocked up on plastic disposable ones in 3 sizes. 12, 16 and 19 inches. Sturdy enough to refill throughout the day or two, then easy clean-up. I can’t imagine the headache of cleaning a piping bag after pouring buttercream or Italian meringue icing in them. Cheap enough at about USD 1.50 a dozen for the large one, retail price. But I have paper liner envy right now… I usually only see plain white ones. Colored or fancy ones costs almost as much as a cupcake!

    Hey, if you decide to visit Manila, I’ll take you to where you can stock up on everything cheap! (Ateco or Wilton tips at USD1.50 or so.)

  • December 25, 2008 10:42am

    Re: Killer App Candied Peanut Recipe

    Would adding a bit of butter near the end help in keeping the nuts from clumping?

  • Cliff
    December 25, 2008 11:26am


    Happy Holidays! All of them…. including your birthday in a few days. Make those blinis for him but ask for a Boston Cream Pie for the 29th in return.


  • December 25, 2008 12:26pm

    Joyeux Noel and all that! I made my first Yule Log aka Buche de Noel last week and was pleasantly surprised how easy the meringue mushrooms were to make look like mushrooms…and yes I have to admit my plain tip was in easy reach so that did smooth the way…ha ha!! The thing I am most glad about though is to see another sink full of dirty dishes….my kitchen looks like a tornado site when I am cooking, nice to know I am in such stellar company!!! Merry merry…Patricia

  • Katie K
    December 25, 2008 12:42pm

    I hope you post pictures of your completed buche. A few years ago I tried to make one from a Jaques Pepin recipe. It will always be remembered as my fallen log (it tasted great, though).

    Anyway, you are obviously a wonderful person making all those delicious gifts for your friends. Have a fabulous New Year!

  • December 25, 2008 5:34pm

    Romain is a very lucky guy and you are a complete sweetheart to make blinis-made-to-order on top of everything else you’ve got going. Hope you do get the chance to get some rest soon!

    Merry Christmas and thanks for all the joy you bring with your baking, creating, thinking, writing, and photographing!

  • Margie
    December 25, 2008 8:13pm

    Leave the dishes for R o m a i n, no doubt that once he enjoys the blinis he will feel indepted and most gracious.

    Happy holidays, David. Thanks so much for all the fun and frivolity. You give us food and laughter; we are blessed!

  • Karen
    December 26, 2008 12:22pm


    I hope you enjoyed your Christmas dinner. I love to make buche de noel and I think my favorite part is making mushrooms (or marzipan pine needles) … I always make tons of extras because they get eaten like popcorn. Anyway, whenever I am stuck without a pastry bag and a plain tip I use a large ziplock bag with the corner cut off to the size I need. You can also use a pastry tip with the bag. I’ve done mushrooms this way and many other things. Not quite as much control as a pastry bag, but much cheaper than $50. (Mostly I use this technique when I am visiting and hadn’t expect to bake anything.)

    Thanks so much for helping to make this an interesting year and I look forward to your adventures during the next.

    Have a Happy New Year.

  • December 26, 2008 1:05pm

    I feel your pain. Were I closer, I’d offer to wash some of those dishes in exchange for some of those chocolates. Alas, the ocean separates us. All the best to you in 2009!

  • December 26, 2008 2:14pm

    Being “in the weeds” definitely takes me back to my waitressing days, and especially days like Mother’s Day, the worst of all restaurant days and one when you are guaranteed to spend the entire day hacking your way through the weeds…..

    Hope your buche turned out well– I made your cheesecake brownies for Christmas brunch, doubled the recipe in a 9×13 pan and they were a huge hit!

  • December 26, 2008 5:08pm

    I am right now reading this blog to avoid a similar scene in my own kitchen. I don’t know why I feel compelled to make 30-40 homemade items for the holiday when I don’t have a dishwasher and/or willing helper. Restraint is not a virtue I have.

    Incidentally, one of those items was the Altoid Brownies you recently posted about and those things are so beyond good. Awesome recipe!

  • December 27, 2008 10:21am

    David, I love the term “in the weeds” and all its variations. At my last food-industry job, we would declare ourselves “weedified”, “ weeded beyond all repair”, “breathing weed killer”, etc.
    I love the idea of your salted peanuts in chocolates – but how did you get your chocolates in those neat circles? Did you use a mold or cut them after chilling? I make mine in mini muffin cups as cutting seems messy – but yours look perfect. Please share your secret!

  • December 27, 2008 10:53am

    Ellen: While I’d love to say I have “perfect-circle” accurancy, here’s my secret…

  • Sunny
    December 28, 2008 7:56am

    long time lurker, first time poster… :O I LOVE your WTF moments…how very, very true they all are!

    Thanks for your blog — between you and Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, I made it through all my baking for our first Christmas in France. (Viergoise, cassonade, melasse, Type 45/55/65, etc., etc., etc.) I even made a buche — it came out absolutely gorgeous, and WAY cheaper than buying one of those tiny ones from the patisserie covered in plastic junk. (ours was chocolate genoise with Frangelico Swiss buttercream, real butter only, and frosted with dark-chocolate ganache)

    Only thing I didn’t attempt was the Peanut Butter Blossoms, only because I didn’t think I could sell the car fast enough to be able to buy that much peanut butter. (Yike.)

  • Gia'da
    December 28, 2008 8:38am

    Maybe I have a dirty mind but that title made me grin…

  • t. nguyen
    December 29, 2008 5:20pm

    david, did you know that “in the weeds” is an american adaptation of the french “dans la merde” ? i’ve worked in several restaurant kitchens and was curious about the expression so i looked up it’s origins. do you know if your french friends use this expression anymore? i always laugh a little when people say in the weeds at work now….

  • December 29, 2008 6:37pm

    t. nguyen: Ha, that’s pretty funny. I guess they both mean the same thing…but the French aren’t so polite about it!

  • Fiona
    January 4, 2009 12:32pm

    Must concur with Judith In Umbria about the photo; reminds me of the less-fun parts of the three days’ prep I did for this year’s xmas lunch. Happily I had five non-cooks around on xmas day, who were more than happy to take on the burden of les vaiselles in thanks for all the food (little did they know that I would MUCH rather toil away making delicious things to eat than do dishes!).

    The lunch was capped off by two dessert courses, each accompanied by ice cream (cranberry, and rum & vanilla). Happy to report that your basic ice cream recipe was the BEST I’ve EVER used, and I am absolutely *maniaque* about ice cream. My birthday’s right by yours, so let’s blame it on that, shall we hmm?

    Thanks for your consistently hilarious, excellent and inspiring blog!

  • January 11, 2009 5:44pm

    Je regrette vrailment de ne pas maitriser l’anglais car je viens de parcourir votre blog que je trouve vraiment extraordinaire
    Est ce que vous êtes un professionnel ?
    Bravo pour toutes vos merveilleuses réalisations

  • January 11, 2009 5:59pm

    question stupide : bien sur que vous êtes un vrai pro !
    je viens de lire votre biographie
    excusez moi