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I finally made a Yule Log Cake or Bûche de Noel. It's something that's been on my want list for years. And, oh man, it was so fun to make and so delicious! I didn't get to take any process photos because I did a lot of it after dark, but I'm going to try to walk through each step and link to the recipes I adapted my version from. I will share the recipe for the sugar cookie mushrooms, which adorn the cake, in a separate post and will add process photos for that.
The first step to making a yule log cake is to make a chocolate sponge that you can roll up without cracking. As an avid fan of the Great British Bake Off show, I looked to the great Mary Berry for a sponge cake recipe. Sadly, the results were not very good. My first attempt cracked and did not taste very nice. So I adapted Mary's recipe a bit and used some different techniques from a Delish recipe video.
Neither recipe called for any fat, but I added a tiny bit of a neutral-tasting oil ( I used extra light olive oil), which really helped with the texture and added much-needed moisture to the cake.
A key technique for preparing the cake batter is to separate the eggs and whip the whites to stiff peaks and beat the yolks to a pale creamy ribbon stage, separately. The video I linked above shows each step in detail. I used cold eggs because it is easier to separate them without the yolks breaking.
I used both Dutch-processed cocoa and natural cocoa as they do in the Delish recipe because my first attempt with all Dutch-processed cocoa was lacking in flavor. Natural cocoa gives the cake an old-fashioned chocolate taste and the Dutch-processed cocoa gives it a nice dark chocolate color.
The Right Roll
It is important not to over bake the sponge cake or it will become too dry and will most likely crack when you try to roll it. The cake is very thin so only takes 8 minutes to bake at 350˚F/175˚F. It will spring back when you press it and the edges should just start to come away from the sides of the sheet pan when the cake is ready to pull out of the oven. It is also important to spread the batter evenly in one layer and make sure to get it fully into the corners of the pan so it bakes evenly. A small offset spatula is really helpful to spread the better evenly.
Once the cake comes out of the oven you need to work quickly and roll it while it is still warm, which will also help to avoid cracking. First, run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. I found the easiest way to do this next step is to sift a light even layer of powdered sugar over the top of the cake while it is still in the pan. Then lay a clean kitchen towel over the cake, followed by an inverted cooling rack that fits a half sheet pan. Holding the sides tightly flip the entire kit and kaboodle over so now the cooling rack is on the bottom and the cake is upside down on the towel. Then lift off the sheet pan and peel away the parchment paper lining. Dust the exposed bottom of the cake with another thin layer of powdered sugar, so that both sides are now lightly coated in the sugar.
Now comes the rolling. You just have to go for it. Take a breath and do it. Roll from the short side of the cake. First, tuck the edge of the towel over the edge of the cake and then roll it so that the towel gets rolled up with the cake. Let the cake cool to room temperature rolled up in the towel. Don't put it in the fridge right away because the temperature change is too drastic and might cause cracking.
Unroll the cake when you are ready to fill it and after you spread the filling use the towel to help roll it back up. I kept the cake rolled and wrapped in the towel after I filled it and then refrigerated it overnight so everything set and became firm before decorating the cake.
You can fill the cake with anything you like. Lots of recipes call for whipped cream, but buttercream, mascarpone cream, cream cheese frosting, etc. would all be yummy. I had some ricotta that needed to be used up so I just made up a ricotta cream cheese filling on the fly. Think cannoli filling. I added orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla for flavor and it was delicious with the chocolate cake and dark chocolate coconut ganache I used as a frosting.
If you decide to do ricotta filling then make sure to strain the ricotta in a coffee filter for a couple of hours in the fridge to drain off some of its liquid and thicken it. Have the butter (or plant butter) and cream cheese at room temp. I made the filling as the cake cooled then spread the filling on the cake and rerolled it. Some of the filling oozed out as I rolled it up so I chilled the whole cake overnight which helped the filling set and firm up. Letting the cake chill overnight also helps merry the flavors of the sponge and filling and improves the overall taste of the cake.
There are lots of ways to create the "bark" of your yule log cake. One of the more traditional methods is to frost the cake with buttercream or whipped ganache. I opted for my whipped coconut milk ganache. I prefer whipped ganache to buttercream because it is much less sweet, but also super-rich and decadent. It's basically a chocolate truffle filling.
To create the texture of tree bark I ran a fork in organic lines lengthwise down the cake to create rough raised ridges in the ganache. You can also add chocolate shavings to create texture or spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on parchment paper and run a fork over it as it is setting up to create texture, then let it set completely and break it into shards. Stick the broken up chocolate pieces over the frosting for another tree bark effect.
Forest Floor Magic
I wanted to add some extra details to the bark, like lichen and fungi, after getting inspired by all of the mossy fallen logs I'd seen on my forest walk that morning. To create the lichen effect I dusted some matcha powder over the bark in a couple of sections then added a bit of orange zest over it to mimic the green and orange lichen that grows on trees in my area.
Sliced almonds stuck into the cake created the perfect little wood fungi. Stick them right into the cake in a few short rows to mimic turkey tails or oyster mushrooms.
Crushed chocolate wafers or oreo cookies make the perfect edible soil. I spread the cookie crumbs around the whole cake and sprinkled a few on top to make it look as realistic as possible.
I made 3-D cookie mushrooms with vanilla sugar cookie dough and used the extra coconut ganache to glue the caps and stems together. I will share the recipe for these cookies in a separate post.
A few other adornments include whole walnuts and chestnuts to make it seem like they had fallen to the forest floor and some fresh holly I cut on my walk. Holly is not edible and is just used as decoration. Remove any inedible plants or greenery before slicing the cake. You could also use herbs such as rosemary or mint to add some greenery to the scene.
To create a snowy effect simply sift some powdered sugar over the cake. It will settle on everything like freshly fallen snow and adds a little touch of wintry magic to the cake.
That pretty much covers all the steps to create this yule log cake. I will try to shoot some process photos the next time I make one and update this post with more images showing the key steps. If you have any questions about anything please reach out in the comments, by email, or on Instagram and I will do my best to reply promptly.
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