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[whitespace] Yule Love This Tip

'Tis the season to relish baked treats

By Christina Waters

BACK IN THE MISTS of the mythic past, Scandinavians honored their mighty Gods--Odin, Thor, et al.--by burning a huge, totem pole-sized log--enter the Yule log. When the Scandinavians converted to Christianity, the Yuletide ceremony became part of Christmas celebrations. Then all the Europeans got into the act, the yule log being especially popular in France and Italy from the 12th century to the very end of the 19th century. Modernization put an end to the colorful, if labor-intensive tradition. The vanishing of the logs coincided with the replacement of great hearths by cast-iron stoves. Soon the Yule log was reduced to a centerpiece garnished with evergreen boughs, holly and candles. Eventually, bakers got into the act and the dessert version of the Yule log--notably the French Bûche de Nöel --was born.

La Baguette Bakery specializes in preparing lavishly frosted Bûche de Nöel cakes during the holiday season. Sam Chea, the chef at La Baguette, turns his Yule logs into veritable shrines to chocolate--chocolate sponge cake, dark and white chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache.

La Baguette Bakery sells about 450 Yule log cakes throughout the month of December, manager Marie Delemontex informs us. Located since 1979 in the Stanford Shopping Center, La Baguette is now owned by the Brunello family, who also bring us the terrific Le Boulanger stores. I was in my local Le Boulanger picking up a loaf of sourdough last week and noticed the gorgeous panettone--traditional Italian Christmas yeast breads loaded with eggs, anise, raisins and candied fruit. Le Boulanger makes these in huge high rounds or individual-sized cakes. Nice hostess gift idea. There are terrific last-minute gift basket items at Le Boulanger, teaming up sweet breads with jams, and hearty fresh-baked loaves with olive oils and vinegars. You know where your neighborhood Le Boulanger is--run on down and see what's shakin'.

In the Nick of Time

You haven't finished your shopping--you haven't a clue and time's running out. Sweat not. Make your way to the handsome HomeChef headquarters in Westgate Mall (Saratoga and Prospect streets) and go crazy. Anybody who cares about food, cooking or baking will be thrilled with anything from this gala culinary emporium. The truly hip will want to stuff stockings with some designer wild salt like Fleur de Sel ($13), the very cream of mineral-rich sea salt from Brittany. Grab a bag of aromatic, dried porcini mushrooms from Urbani Porcini ($7.95) for the gourmet on your list, or some Red Pepper Jelly ($7.50) from Stonewall Kitchen. Truly a no-brainer great gift--a tiny chocolate bar ($2.25) from Scharffenberger. OK, two or three. Over at Oakville Grocery in Los Gatos, you can check out conserves, honeys, jams galore for the foodie on your list. The Spiced Pumpkin Butter from Swan's Touch ($5.50) is a luxurious and yummy way of improving on the idea of apple butter. Or play big-time Santa and present your family with a cured ham--all natural, utterly the very best--from Niman Ranch (at $7.95 a pound, a sizeable ham will run you $35-$40). 'Tis the season to be generous! Enjoy it.

Also, we strongly suggest you create your own quickie gift basket using glorious imported Italian specialties you can find by the billions at A.G. Ferrari (295 Main St., Los Altos; 650.947.7930; www.agferrari.com). Iranian caviar has just come in at Dean & DeLuca (www.deandeluca.com), for those who are extremely serious about their New Year's Eve celebrations. And if Draeger's doesn't have it, it might not exist. Just head over to the downtown Menlo Park emporium (1010 University Dr.; 650.688.0677; www.draegers.com), open your eyes, and gifts will jump into your shopping cart. ... New Year's Eve hits the glamorous Fairmont with a reception and two gala dinners, including a multicourse Asian extravaganza created by Hong Kong-trained chef Jimmy Lo and served in the opulent Pagoda Restaurant. For details and reservations contact the Fairmont at 408.998.3962. And days of auld lang syne!

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From the December 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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