For my family, this year will be the beginning of the Bûche de Noël or the Yule Log Cake tradition.
Since my third grader is in a French dual immersion program, I have visions of adding French traditions to our family’s holiday celebrations each year. Baking is a natural, low-risk way for me to test these traditions out. Because really – who doesn’t like chocolate cake?
The short version is this – The Pagans chopped down a huge tree, brought it home on the winter solstice to burn big and bright, celebrating the rebirth of the sun. If you were Christian, you could do the same thing to celebrate the birth of The Son. Whether for prayers or protection, burning a Yule log was a tradition by the late 1800s.
How do you end up with a cake made to look like a log? Rumor has it that Napoleon was afraid all Parisians would die from disease and ordered chimneys closed so germs wouldn’t get out. What do French people do when there’s no real log to burn? Make a cake that looks like one!
For our first year, I decided to skip the elaborate decorating and meringue or marzipan mushrooms. Snowy powdered sugar on a dark chocolate sponge cake is what you’d find in my back yard if you were chopping down a Yule log, so that’s how I decorated it. I’d love to see your original decorating styles.
Here’s the recipe to get you started-
Yule Log Recipe
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ cup flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup water, divided
4-6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ½ cup whipped cream or Cool Whip
Preheat your oven to 350º F. Prepare a jelly roll pan (aka 11” x 17” cookie sheet or half sheet cake pan) by spraying the Pam Baking Spray or generously greasing and flouring and lining with wax paper.
In a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate chips in 30 second increments, approximately 1 minute. Stir until smooth and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat the eggs on high for 5 minutes until golden and frothy. While still mixing, gradually add the sugar. Next slowly add the chocolate mixture and lower the speed on the mixer. Mix until blended. Sift together flour and baking soda. On the lowest speed setting, add flour and water alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix just until flour is incorporated. Over mixing at this point will break down the nice fluff you made when beating the eggs.
Spread evenly in your prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until cake springs back to the touch.
While cake is baking, prepare a clean dish towel by generously sprinkling with powdered sugar.
Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn out onto the dish towel. Starting from the short end, roll up the towel and cake together. Allow to cool completely.
Prepare the filling by beating cream cheese for 5 minutes on high. Gradually add the powdered sugar until well blended. Finally, fold in whipping cream or Cool Whip topping. Gently unroll the cake and towel. Spread filling to cover cake and roll up. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
A traditional Yule Cake is often decorated with ganache, or buttercream frosting with fork marks, marzipan or meringue mushrooms, berries, and a piece of the cake cut from the end and attached to the side, all to make a realistic wood look.
Baking Notes: I’ve made this cake using just one pan and using two pans. If you like a thick cake and aren’t afraid of a few potential cracks on the inside curls, stick with one pan and just watch that it doesn’t bake over the edge. The half-sized versions are thinner cakes and bend more easily, but you’ll need to make double the filling recipe. You’ll have a second cake to make branches on your log.
We hope your family love trying new traditions too. Who knows? Next year I may venture into making mushrooms out of meringue.
More Holiday Treats