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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.
Yule Log Cake
- 1 stand mixer with a balloon whisk attachment and/or hand mixer
- half sheet pan
- kitchen towel
- parchment paper
Chocolate Sponge Cake:
- 4 large eggs
- 100 g granulated sugar ½ cup, divided
- 2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil such as extra-light olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 65 g all-purpose flour ½ cup + 1 tablespoon
- 20 g unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder 2 ½ tablespoons
- 20 g unsweetened natural cocoa powder 2 ½ tablespoons
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 30 g powdered sugar ¼ cup, for dusting
Ricotta Cream Cheese Filling:
- 56 g salted butter ½ stick or 2 oz., or plant butter, at room temperature
- 85 g cream cheese 3 oz., at room temp
- 85 g strained ricotta 3 oz.
- 120 g powdered sugar 1 cup, sifted
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest from 1 orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Coconut Milk Ganache:
- Preheat oven to 350˚F/175˚C. Grease a half sheet pan and line it with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper.
- Separate egg whites and yolks.
- Whip egg whites in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until foamy, about 3-4 minutes, then add 25 g (2 tablespoons) of the sugar and continue whipping until they form stiff peaks, about 3-4 more minutes. Set them aside.
- In a separate bowl beat egg yolks until they turn pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Then add the remaining 75 g of sugar and beat until they leave a ribbon that holds for 3 seconds before melting back into the mixture, about 4-5 more minutes.
- Add oil and vanilla to the egg yolk mixture and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Sift flour, cocoa powders, and baking powder into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture. add the kosher salt then mix to incorporate everything, about 1 minute.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter in 3 batches. You may lose some of the air during the first folding because the batter is stiff. Once the first ⅓ of the egg whites are fully incorporated, fold the remaining batches more gently, being careful not to over mix, or the egg whites will deflate.
- Spread the batter into the half sheet pan with a small offset spatula, making sure to get it all the way into the corners in one even layer.
- Bake for 8 minutes at 350˚F/175˚C until the cake springs back and the edges start to come away from the sides. Be careful not to over bake the cake because it is so thin.
- Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the edges.
- While the cake is still warm dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar in one even layer. Lay a kitchen towel over the top of the cake followed by an inverted cooling rack. Now grab the sides of the pan and cooling rack tightly (use pot holders if it is too hot to touch) and flip them over so that the cooling rack is on the bottom and the sheet pan is now inverted on top. Remove the sheet pan then peel off the parchment paper and dust the now exposed bottom of the cake with powdered sugar.
- Starting from a short side of the cake fold the edge of the kitchen towel over the edge of the cake then roll the cake so that the kitchen towel gets rolled up with the cake. Let it cool to room temperature in the towel.
- Make the filling while the cake cools. Cream softened butter in a mixer, about 1 minute then beat in the cream cheese and strained ricotta until incorporated for about 1 minute.
- Add sifted powdered sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla extract, and salt and mix until thick and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- When the cake is cooled, unroll it and spread the filling over the cake in one even layer. Roll it back up using the kitchen towel to help guide it. Keep it wrapped in the kitchen towel and move it onto a sheet pan then refrigerate the cake to let the filling set, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap if refrigerating overnight.
- Make the ganache while the cake chills. Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
- Heat the coconut milk and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until the milk just starts to bubble on the edges. Don't let it boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth and glossy.
- Pour the warm ganache into the bowl of a stand mixer or a mixing bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the ganache and refrigerate until the ganache is firm, about 2 hours or up to overnight. I just refrigerate it for the same amount of time as the cake.
- Once the ganache is firm whip it with a balloon whisk attachment until it is fluffy and smooth, like frosting.
- To frost the cake, unwrap it from the towel. Transfer the cake to a cake stand or whatever you will use to serve it before decorating it because it will be hard to move after it is decorated.
- Cut a small piece of the log at a diagonal and move it to the side to create a branch if you want, or leave it as a straight log.
- Spread the ganache evenly over the cake with an offset spatula and use a fork to create the texture of the bark by dragging it in organic lines over the surface of the ganache.
- Decorate the cake with matcha dust and orange zest to mimic lichen. Stick sliced almonds into the cake to mimic wood fungi. Add sugar cookie mushrooms and spread chocolate wafer/Oreo cookie crumbs around the cake to mimic soil. Add greenery or herbs and whatever else you'd like to use as decorations.
- Slice to serve.
- Keep refrigerated and enjoy within 3 days.
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