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Posted by on Nov 26, 2017 in CRPS / RSD | 1 comment

Log rolling lesson (26.11.2017)

Log rolling lesson (26.11.2017)

Well, it’s less than a month until Christmas now, so that means… holiday baking! Not only for Christmas, but also for my Jewish and Muslim friends, and for quite a few other holidays. For friends who don’t celebrate anything over during the holiday season (except for having time off from school or work!), I bake New Year’s goodies ‘-)

Can you tell that I love to bake? This year & last, though, I’ve had quite a challenge for my baking. It’s called CRPS, but often referred to by its old name; RSD. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome; or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Under either name it’s a rare and very painful neuro-inflammatory disease; it generally affects the limbs, and in my case it’s my (dominant) right hand and arm. It started back in March 2016, triggered by a broken arm (a Colles’ fracture, or snapped radius, near the wrist joint).

This nasty disease has caused joint issues in each joint of every finger, as well as in my wrist. It’s usually fine for me to use a keyboard & mouse, which is great as I work at a computer all day! What’s really difficult are the fine motor skills and coordination needed for baking, craft work, sewing, and a lot of other activities I’ve always loved.

For baking, the CRPS makes it very challenging to fold egg whites into a melted chocolate mixture, to decorate fancy cupcakes, to stir melting sugar into butter while simultaneously scraping the pan… all those things that are such an integral – and for me, instinctual- part of baking.

Last year I wasn’t able to bake very much; I was accepted as a patient at a large university medical centre in late November 2016, so was in the midst of starting an entirely new treatment regimen during the holiday period. So the only recipes I baked for the holidays last year were:

  • Almond-orange cookies, with chopped candied fruit
  • Apple-cinnamon buttermilk muffins
  • Chocolate cupcakes, topped with dark chocolate ganache
  • Chocolate torte
  • Cranberry-apple muffins
  • Crustless mini-quiches
  • Irish soda bread
  • Vanilla cupcakes, with lemon frosting
Photo of a man serving a Christmas cake

Photo: Sandra Woods

So this year, despite still not having (for baking purposes!) a fully functional right hand, I wanted to bake something special. So I decided to try to make a Yule log, for the first time ever! This type of rolled cake is called a called a “bûche de Noël” in French, and is very popular in the Montréal area.

As an admitted chocoholic, I had a great-looking recipe in one of my many baking books – for a chocolate bûche. Before planning to serve it for our New Year’s Day family dinner, though, I wanted to test the recipe.

It came out really well; these photos just don’t do it justice! But my CRPS caused 2 problems. First off, the cake wasn’t evenly rolled. I couldn’t use my right hand properly to roll the cake, so the right side of the cake wasn’t rolled as tightly as the left side; the entire cake rose a bit towards the right.

The other problem was more serious. By the time I finished icing & rolling the cake, and then adding the chocolate ‘bark’, my hand and wrist were in agony.

My chocolate ‘log’ cake was “excellent” according to my husband; I figured he might be biased, so wanted some other opinions! I brought the leftovers to my physiotherapy clinic, where I seem to spend most of my time (outside of home and my office!), and everyone there loved it.

Photo: Sandra Woods

The cake was delicious, and very pretty, so I was disappointed that it didn’t seem that I’d be able to make it again… I’m not willing to cause myself that level of pain for the sake of baking a cake. But when I re-read the notes for the recipe, I realized that this “bûche de Noël” can be made in 4 separate stages – some of them up to 48 hours in advance.

So my new plan for New Year’s Day supper is to bake the “bûche de Noël”, but in 4 stages this time around:`

  1. Make the chocolate ‘bark’; slowly melt – while stirring – 8 oz of bittersweet chocolate, and then spread it thinly onto a 10″ x 15″ sheet of parchment paper (can be kept in the fridge for up to 48 hours, before breaking the thin sheet of chocolate into narrow strips that are meant to resemble tree bark)
  2. Bake the cake, which has to be rolled into a (clean!) tea towel while it’s still warm (can be made up to 24 hours in advance)
  3. Make the icing using an electric mixer; then v-e-r-y carefully unroll the cake & remove the tea towel, spread icing over the entire surface of the cake, re-roll it into a ‘log’, and then spread icing over the exterior and edges (can be stored for up to 24 hours at this stage)
  4. Decorate the ‘log’ with the chilled chocolate pieces, so that it looks like ‘bark’ on a tree (at this point, it has to be served within 8 hours or so…)

Why am I posting about baking with CRPS? Because I learned an important lesson about this rare neuro-inflammatory disease today. Or at least about something I can do to try to limit pain flares from over-using my right hand & arm (although the pain flares often seem to be random; without any discernable cause & effect relationship).

The lesson? To try to find ways to do things in stages; whether making a recipe or doing any other activity that requires me to use my hand. Wish me luck when I make this “bûche de Noël” again, but in stages, starting on December 29th!

My best wishes to you & yours for  the holidays; whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or just the New Year!


For more on the holidays, read My favorite Christmas story (15.12.2007).

1 Comment

  1. I’ve been inspired by this story. It’s rare to see a nice weblog like this one, about things a person can do and not only focusing on what someone can’t do. Thanks for this.

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