Though hardly anyone still bothers to burn a Yule Log, at one point in America the Yule Log was a firmly entrenched Christmas tradition. The reality is that the whole Yule Log thing is kind of a pain in the butt. You have to keep a piece of last years log for this years. That piece needs to be stored under your bed for a whole year. The log has to ignite on the first try, you have to burn it for 12 full hours…By the way I read there is a tradition of a “Yule Goat” I will not be participating in the Yule Goat tradition.
That is why I like the idea of a Yule Log cake. It might be a pain to make, but at least you get to eat it when it’s done. The Yule Log, or Buche de Noel was first created by a French pastry chef in the late 1800’s. Since then, Yule Log cakes have been served around the world as a Christmas desert, that helps carry on the tradition of the Yule Log, but in a much tastier way.
A Yule Log cake can be made a variety of different ways, but the recipe below is the one I use. It involves flourless chocolate sponge cake that is more like a flourless souffle than a cake, home made merigue mushrooms, which can be made in advance, whipped chocolate cream filling, and icing that you need to sculpt to look like bark.
Yule Log: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 17 x 12 inch (43×30 cm) baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and then butter and flour the parchment paper.
While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover and bring to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and cool.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) place the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about five minutes). (When you slowly raise the beaters, the batter will fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.) Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat only to combine.
In a clean mixing bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold a small amount of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula or whisk. Fold in the remaining whites just until incorporated. Don’t over mix or the batter will deflate. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is puffed, has lost its shine, and springs back when gently pressed, about 15 – 17 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Cover the cake with a clean, slightly damp towel.
Chocolate Whipped Cream: In a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, sugar, and cocoa powder and stir to combine. Cover and chill the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator for at least one hour so the cocoa powder has time to dissolve. Beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Once the cake has cooled, spread with the cream (set 2 tablespoons aside) and then gently roll the cake, peeling off the parchment paper as you roll (the cake may crack). Trim one end of the cake at an angle and set it aside. Then place the cake, seam side down, on your serving platter. Take the slice of reserved cake and, using the reserved whipped cream, attach it to the side of the cake. Cover and chill until serving time. Just before serving remove cake from fridge, dust with confectioners sugar and decorate with mushrooms.
From “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy. William and Morrow, 1988.