Call me old-fashioned, but I just had to make one of these retro yule logs for Christmas! There’s something terrifically homely and comforting about the look of these cakes – it puts me in mind of a white Christmas, complete with sleigh bells, a roaring fire and roast turkey. The fact that I live in the southern hemisphere where Christmas is celebrated in the height of summer, is neither here nor there.
This yule log was part of a heaving table of Christmas fare and, frankly, after all the eating we did I didn’t think anyone would have any room left for it. But, surprisingly, we all did (LOL)! And, may I say, it was everything you want in a chocolate cake – in fact, some declared it was the “best” chocolate cake they’d ever eaten. I would have to agree – it’s a flourless dark chocolate cake (chosen for the gluten-free members of the family) made with high quality organic eggs and Dutch processed cocoa – the result being the softest, lightest, most flavoursome sponge I’ve ever made, or eaten, for that matter.
The icing, while sweet, was a nice compliment to the dark chocolate cake, though I did find it to be quite soft when at room temperature; so, if you make this in warm weather, I’d suggest you refrigerate the cake or else you might find the ‘bark’ melting off! Otherwise, use your own favourite icing recipe.
I had enormous fun decorating the cake and was amazed at how easy it was to create something that did, in fact, look tree-like. It received a raft of ‘wows’ when I presented it, which is always gratifying! So a big ‘thumbs up’ to Nigella Lawson for this great recipe – I’ll be making it again next Christmas, though it’s so scrumptious that, in the interim, I can see me making it as a simple roulade (sans bark and branches) with a chocolate or fruit based cream filling. Watch this space!
Bûche de Noёl (Yule Log)
For the cake
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- 1/2 cup high quality cocoa powder (I use Dutch processed)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 tsp icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar, to decorate)
For the icing
- 1 cup dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa, chopped)
- 1 2/3 cup icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
- 2 sticks soft butter
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350ºF). Line a Swiss roll tin (23 x 33cm / 9 x 13 inch) with baking parchment, leaving a generous overhang at the ends and sides (I used a roasting pan of similar sized dimensions, which worked really well). Place another piece of baking parchment on the kitchen bench or a large board or tray and dust with icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) – you’ll be placing the cooked cake on this later.
- In a large, clean bowl beat the egg whites until thick and peaking, then, still whisking, sprinkle in 50g (¼ cup) of the caster sugar and continue whisking until the whites are holding their peaks but not dry.
- In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and the remaining caster sugar until the mixture is moussey, pale and thick – a good couple of minutes. Add the vanilla extract, sieve the cocoa powder over, then fold both in.
- Lighten the yolk mixture with a couple of dollops of the egg whites, folding them in robustly. Then add the remaining whites in thirds, folding them in carefully to avoid losing the air.
- Pour the cake mixture into the Swiss roll tin and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean and the surface is firm and spongey. Let the cake cool a little before turning it out of the tin onto the baking parchment you prepared earlier, and peel off the baking parchment. Cover the cake loosely with a clean tea towel.
- To make the icing, melt the chocolate – either in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave and let it cool.
- Put the icing sugar into a processor and pulse to remove lumps. Add the butter and process until smooth. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and the tablespoon of vanilla extract and pulse again to make a smooth icing.
- You can trim the edges of the cake if you like, however I left it as is. Spread some of the icing reasonably thinly over the sponge, going right out to the edges. Start rolling from the long side facing you, taking care to get a tight roll from the beginning, and roll up to the other side. Pressing against the parchment, rather than the tender cake, makes the process easier. If the cake cracks while you’re rolling it, that’s pretty normal, though I had no such issues.
- Cut one or both ends slightly at a gentle angle, reserving the remnants, and place the Swiss roll on a board or long dish. The remnants are to make a branch or two; you get the effect by placing a piece of cake at an angle to look like a branch coming off the big log.
- Spread the yule log with the remaining icing, covering the cut-off ends as well as any branches. Create a wood-like texture by applying the icing with a narrow spatula. On the ends, create swirling patterns to represent tree rings.
- I then put the cake in the fridge to harden the icing (this was necessary given the summer heat). Once it set I took the cake out of the fridge and dragged a fork back and forth along the length of the cake to ‘roughen’ up the icing to look more like bark. I then got a skewer and etched out the ‘tree rings’ on the cake ends. I returned the cake to the fridge to keep the icing firm and lightly covered with plastic wrap.
- When you are ready to serve the cake, and if you’re storing it in the fridge, take it out to sit at room temperature. Dust some icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) over top to represent freshly fallen snow (if the weather’s too warm, you might find the icing sugar dissolving into the icing, so leave it to the last minute). Serve with softly whipped cream and fresh fruit to balance the sweetness.
- Make the Yule Log up to 1 week ahead and store in an airtight container in a very cool place or the fridge (particularly in a warm climate). If storing in the fridge, take it out and let it come to room temperature before serving.
- You can freeze the cake in a rigid container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in a cool room and store in an airtight container until needed.
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