Festive desserts are integral to holiday celebrations—even the most diet-conscious among us can’t resist a confection or two during this high season of feasting. It’s an occasion for Isabelle and Vincent Koenig, of Isabel et Vincent, to bake up something sweet, traditional, and special. The buche de Noel, or Yule log, is a mouthwatering rolled cake that seventh-generation baker Vincent crafts each year in increasing numbers, as word of its deliciousness spreads. Isabelle says there have been various permutations of the traditional French recipe that, along with the shop’s famous candies, pastries, and baguettes, keeps Vincent in the kitchen nearly around the clock in the holiday season.
The most popular flavors are vanilla and chocolate, filled and frosted with chocolate butter cream and decorated with meringue mushrooms and hand-made chocolate pieces cut into holiday shapes, such as leaves, Santas, and snowmen. Frostings are also made in praline and coffee flavors, depending upon customer preference. Festive and surprisingly light, the cake makes a perfect conclusion to a holiday party, and the Koenigs turn them out throughout the month of December.
“For New Year’s Eve, we will decorate with horseshoes and dice, for luck in the coming year,” says Isabelle. The couple, who opened Isabelle et Vincent after moving from France in 2007, provide tables and chairs for lingering over coffee and one (or more) of the bakery’s treats, and for an opportunity to savor the heavenly aromas that emanate from the kitchen. For many locals, it’s an oasis in an otherwise hectic day. The owners’ constant, cheerful, and solicitous presence is the perfect complement to their delectable products.
“Last year, I think we made around four hundred buches de Noel,” notes Vincent. “But the numbers don’t matter. When my customers come back with smiles on their faces, that is the best thing.” Isabelle et Vincent, 1903 Post Road, www.isabelleetvincent.com
Deck the Halls
Peter Stephens and Chris Lennon, who run Fairfield’s Elegant Effects in Floral Design, have a portfolio that’s long on creativity and flair. If you want decorations beyond mums for Thanksgiving and poinsettias for Christmas, Stephens is here to help.
“I think you should always use materials that are seasonal and indigenous to where you live, so they relate to the environment,” he says. “I like to mix evergreens—pine with southern magnolia leaves is one example—for nice contrast and texture. I also love different kinds of berries to add color.” He mentions red winterberries holly berries, privet and ivy berries for their aubergine color. “Big vases of mixed greenery at the entry or the gate look great, as do centerpieces with greens and berries.”
Speaking of wreaths, Stephens suggest, “Think in three dimensions and give them a loose quality that emphasizes their fullness and texture. As to decorations, a beautiful ribbon, of course, but no gilt or glitter, or silver balls, even on a contemporary home. Use cones, vines and twigs for a beautiful, natural look.” eleganteffectsfloral.com
Nothing sets the mood for a holiday evening like a glowing hearth, and some of Fairfield’s most lovely fireplaces are graced with custom accessories by iron artisan Jozef Witkowski, who works in iron and bronze, with his own foundry in nearby Bridgeport, where he crafts fencing, gates, stair railings, range hoods and fireplace screens and tools on commission from area home-design pros and owners who want something unique. “A screen takes from two to four weeks to complete,” notes Jozef, “depending upon our work load.” His most complex project is a screen and tool set of hammered iron that resembles rustic branches, shown here. Jozef Custom Ironworks, 250 Smith Street, Bridgeport, www.custom-ironworks.com.