Jacky Lichtenthaler puts the finishing touches on a Yule log at L’Artisan. (Andy Bronson/ The Herald)

Jacky Lichtenthaler puts the finishing touches on a Yule log at L’Artisan. (Andy Bronson/ The Herald)

Everett’s master French baker shares his Yule log secrets

Jacky Lichtenthaler gets about 300 “buche de Noel” orders at L’Artisan French Bakery in Everett.

On frosty December mornings, as the holidays near, you may very well see a crowd gathering in front of a bakery in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Everett.

They’re like children staring in wonderment at a department store window at Christmastime. Except they’re not looking at toys — they’re watching a master pastry chef at work.

The master is Jacky Lichtenthaler, who draws on his 50 years in the field to create a special once-a-year confectionery: a Yule log, or as Jacky, who was born in France, calls it, “buche de Noel.”

As Christmas approaches, orders for the seasonal specialty flow in like an avalanche — as many as 300 customers count on having the rich but oh-so-light delicacy for their celebrations.

“At Christmas it’s like 32 hours straight,” he said, “and we’ve got cakes and pastries to do. People say: ‘You’re crazy!’ ”

He smiles, though, as he tells the story of crowds standing at the window to watch him work.

“Everything is done from scratch,” he said. “We use the best ingredients.”

The bakery specializes in traditional French favorites: pastries, croissants, tarts, cakes, breads, turnovers and eclairs, as well as lunchtime sandwiches. Customers have been known to linger in front of the display cases, nearly overwhelmed, as they gaze at the choices.

Layla Acghazly, of Mill Creek, said it is one of her favorite places for a mother-daughter date, a time to reconnect with 13-year-old Cookie. Peach tarts, croissants and the bakery’s brie sandwiches are some of their favorites.

Fae McLean, also of Mill Creek, said she and longtime friend Yvonne Endicott, of Snohomish, have been meeting regularly at the bakery for about seven years. They have coffee, croissants and sometimes more. “Their cakes are superb,” Endicott said.

Laura Ortiz, of Everett, said her reason for stopping by the bakery is simple: “It tastes so good.”

Lichtenthaler, 63, began his culinary studies at age 14, learning the intricacies of making pastry, bread, chocolate and ice cream at a French technical college for five years before moving to the United States. He worked at French bakeries in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where he said Kennedy family members were customers, and then New York City, where he said he helped cater some of Donald Trump’s parties.

“Over there, if you want something, you spend the money,” Lichtenthaler said. “(Trump) wanted a special cake, he spends the money.”

Lichtenthaler moved to the Seattle area in 1992, just as the economy here was beginning to boom.

He brought the French pastry baking tradition, and his expertise at making the multi-step Yule log, to L’Artisan French Bakery, which he opened in 2004.

In France, the making of a Yule log is an annual tradition. “The whole family used to help,” he said. “It was fun.”

Yule logs are genoise cakes baked in a large, shallow pan, which are then iced with chocolate buttercream, rolled to form a cylinder, and iced again to resemble an actual Yule log.

For those making a Yule log for the first time, Lichtenthaler’s advice is: “Have fun.”

It’s obvious he follows his own philosophy. It’s easy to catch him grinning as he decorates the log’s chocolate frosting with buttercream snowflakes and holly leaves.

“We’ll play around,” he said.

It’s a good attitude to have when about 150 of those 300 Yule log orders are scheduled for pickup on Christmas Eve.

L’Artisan French Bakery’s Yule Log

For the genoise cake batter:

4 eggs, room temperature

⅔ cup sugar

2 teaspoons lemon zest

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup cake flour

For the chocolate buttercream:

7 egg whites

⅓ cup granulated sugar

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups plus 3 tablespoons butter, softened

Making the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 10-inch by 15-inch pan with a 1-inch lip and line it with parchment paper. Butter the parchment or spray it with cooking spray. Set the pan aside.

Beat the eggs for 5 minutes, until they turn thick and foamy. Add the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla extract and salt to the eggs, then continue beating for 2 minutes. Fold the flour, a few tablespoons at a time, into the whipped egg mixture. Once the flour is incorporated into the batter, stop mixing. Do not overmix or the cake will have a tough texture.

Gently spread the batter into the prepared pan. There will be peaks of batter; gently smooth them over, but do not press the batter down. Bake the cake for 10 minutes, until the cake is just set. Invert the baked cake onto a clean, dry kitchen towel and peel off the parchment paper. Wait 3 minutes and then gently roll the cake, still in the towel, starting at the 10-inch end. Allow it to cool completely.

Making the chocolate buttercream: In a clean, completely dry bowl, beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and ⅔ cup water to a boil. Allow it to boil until it has reduced into a slightly thickened syrup. Begin beating the egg whites on high speed again, and pour the hot sugar syrup into the eggs in a slow, steady stream. Pour the melted chocolate and vanilla extract into the egg whites, and continue beating them until the meringue has cooled completely, about 5 minutes.

Add the softened butter to the meringue, 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating on high speed, until all the butter is incorporated into the frosting. If the buttercream becomes runny at any time in this process, refrigerate the meringue until it has chilled through, and continue the process of beating the butter into the meringue.

Making the Yule log: Unroll the cake and set aside the towel. Evenly spread 2 cups of the chocolate buttercream on the inside of the cake and, following its natural curve, gently form it into a cake roll. Cut off the ends of the cake on a diagonal.

Spread the exterior of the buche de Noel with enough chocolate buttercream to cover it. Gently pull a butter knife or small, offset spatula through the frosting to give the appearance of rough tree bark. Add Christmas decorations, such as raspberries with chocolate leaves and chocolate shavings.

If you go

L’Artisan French Bakery, 11419 19th Ave. SE, Suite B103, Everett, is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 425-379-8401 or go to www.lartisanfrenchbakery.com for more information.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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