A Bûche de Noël (also known as a Yule log) had its orgin almost 1000 years ago in Europe. It started as a pagan tradition celebrating the winter solstice, but Christians have continued it as a Christmas eve tradition that was thought to bring good luck in the coming year. A family would burn the largest log they could find in their fireplace, using ambers from the prior year's log to help light it. Over the last couple centuries, most people have moved from hearths to furnaces, and consequently, the Yule log has undergone some changes.
My first introduction to this fun desert was when a high school classmate (Christina Stephanides) convinced me that we should enter our French Club's Bûche de Noël contest for extra credit. I'd never seen one before, but since I was working at the public library (after school), I had the advantage of knowning exactly where to learn all about this cake. After picking through a few recipes and figuring out what it's supposed to look like (a log), we managed to bake a cake that did more than earn us extra credit, we won the contest.
A Yule log is sponge cake baked on a jelly roll pan, filled with flavored whipped cream, then rolled up and further assembled to look like a log. This recipe is a little different than most recipes because I became facinated with the sponge cake used in a recipe on the Food network. In this recipe, they replaced the traditional sponge cake with a variation of a genoise, a type of Italian sponge cake that increases the fluffiness by heating the eggs before beating them. Either type of sponge cake will work.
Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)
Genoise-like Sponge Cake:
3 eggs (yolks and whites)
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 Dutch processed cocoa (or, regular cocoa with 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons instant coffee
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar (sifted)
+/- 2 teaspoons cocoa
1/4 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweeted chocolate
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar (sifted)
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon vanilla
Baking the Sponge cake (30 (+ cooling) minutes):
Preheat oven to 400 degress farenheit. Line a 9X15 inch jelly-roll pan with wax/parchment paper and butter the liner.
Mix eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together with mixer 30-45 seconds. Then place mixing bowl over double boiler (pan of simmering water), and wisk mixture until it becomes just warm to touch (approximately 100 degree farenheit for those who like to measure). Move the bowl back to mixer and whip on medium-high to high until the mixture has cooled somewhat and has doubled to tripled in volume. In the interim, combine flour, cornstarch, and cocoa in a separate bowl. Then slowly sift the dry ingredients (in 3-4 small divided portions) into the whipped mixture and gently fold together. Be sure to thoroughly fold with addition.
Pour the batter into the buttered jelly-roll pan and evenly distribute across the pan. Bake at 400 degress for 10 minutes, or until it has risen and firm to touch. After removal from the oven, immediately turn out cake onto tea towel. Gently peel off wax paper. Fold edge of tea towel over cake approximately 2-3 inches and then roll up cake, with tea towel rolled into middle to keep cake from sticking to itself (and to create a space for jelly). (You can also use extra wax paper for this is you are wierded-out by lint, but I warn you, it sticks a little). Cool for at least 30 minutes.
Making the cream filling (15 minutes):
Beat the cream, instant coffee, cocoa, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar until stiff (it will double to triple in volume). I recommend doing this first (and then refrigerating it) because it will stiffen easier in a cool room.
(Of note, you could replace the coffee and vanilla with Grand Marnier for an orange flavored filling).
Making the icing (15-20 minutes):
Chop chocolate in smallish bits and butter into pats. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together, stirring every few minutes until completely melted and mixed together. In the meantime, whip confectioner's sugar, sour cream, vanilla, and Kahlua together in a mixer. Add chocolate mixture into sour cream mixture and whip until smooth, scraping the edges intermitently. Dish into storage containers and refrigerate until ready to use. Will spread best a room temperature (or slightly warmer).
Constructing the Bûche de Noël (Yule Log):
Once the cake is cooled and the cream filling and icing are prepared, begin by unrolling the cake.
If you used extra wax paper during rolling, gently peel it off. Notice that the cake will not lay flat after it's been unrolled, this is okay.
I like to apply a thin layer of icing to the inside of the cake before applying the cream filling. I think of it as a barrier between the cake and cream filling (kind of like peanut-butter serving as a barrier to jelly in a PB&J). It also makes for a nice contrast between the cake and filling, especially is you make a non-chocolate sponge cake.
Next evenly spread the cream filling all over the iced inside part being sure to spread all the way out to each edge.
Now gently re-roll cake. Be aware that the filling will likely squish out everywhere, but it makes for fun tasting for everyone watching.
A lot of recipes tell you to cut off the edges before you apply the filling, but I always cut the edges off at this point because it makes for a prettier presentation. Cut off 1/2 inch at one end and 2-3 inches at the other end. Cut on an angle to make it look more like the edge of log.
Next make a little branch (or knot if you prefer) for the cake. Take the 2-3 inch end you just cutt off and cut off 1/2 inch from the other side so that both ends are cut clean. Take the angled edge and apply it the side of the cake with a little icing.
Now apply icing all over the cake where there would normally be tree bark on log. Be very careful not to apply icing to each end of the cake (there should be three now) or you won't be able to see "the rings" in your "log."
I think gently streaking the icing with a fork makes the cake look a little more authentically like a log. You will remove a lot of extra icing this way too, which no one seems to mind sampling.
A lot of people like to decorate the log using marzipan to make mushrooms, and maybe, if I get ambitious, I'll do that tommorrow. (I've also made mushrooms with large marshmallows and food coloring in the past). I usually sprinkle a little sifted confectioner's sugar on just before I serve it to look like freshly fallen snow.
That's all! I won't claim it doesn't take some time, but it's a fun and relatively easy activity to do this time of year. It would be a great activity to do with older children.