Chocolate Vanilla Yule Log Cake from The Daily Meal, Courtesy of Imperial Sugar
Courtesy of Imperial Sugar

What Is A Yule Log Cake? And How To Make It For This Holiday Season

An old tradition that deserves a comeback
Chocolate Vanilla Yule Log Cake from The Daily Meal, Courtesy of Imperial Sugar
Courtesy of Imperial Sugar

For many families, there are different types of holiday traditions that get passed down from generation to generation. Some families leave Christmas cookies out for Santa Claus, while others build and decorate gingerbread houses. And then there’s the tradition of eating a cake shaped like a log on Christmas.

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What is a yule log?

Yule logs, also known as bûche de Noël, are rolled sponge cakes filled with cream and covered in chocolate buttercream to look like tree bark. People often decorate these sweet logs with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly and more.

Why do we make yule log cakes on Christmas?

The roots of this tree-inspired dessert can be traced back to before the medieval era in Europe when families would burn actual logs decorated with holly, pine cones or ivy during the winter solstice to bid goodbye to the previous year and welcome spring. The log’s ashes were then kept for medicinal purposes and to help guard against evil. Fast-forward a few centuries, and people’s hearths were smaller and better suited for baking cakes than burning huge logs.

The evolution of this tradition from log-burning to cake-baking may have begun as early as the 17th century, but it wasn’t popularized until the 19th century when Parisian bakers began creating intricate designs for their Yule log cakes and made them très chic.

How to make a yule log cake

If you’re looking for a new baking project to tackle, a yule log cake is a fun one to try around the holidays. (And since most gatherings will be much smaller this year, there’s less pressure to get it picture-perfect.) The basic steps are not complicated: Bake a sponge cake in a jelly roll pan (basically a small rimmed baking sheet) and make buttercream. The challenge comes from rolling the buttercream-frosted sponge cake without breaking it. The good news is that it’s easy to cover up any cracks with more frosting, so as long as the cake doesn’t totally fall apart, it should be salvageable.

The following may not be a traditional yule log recipe (it flips the script with a chocolate spongecake, vanilla buttercream and white chocolate curls), but there are many variations that have been developed using different kinds of decorations and flavors — part of the fun is getting creative with it. A yule log may be a tricky dessert to make, but it is one that will definitely impress your guests (or your social media followers from a safe distance). This can be one old tradition that you and your family revive — or adopt — for the holidays. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop baking those delicious holiday pies you make every year.

Chocolate and Vanilla Yule Log Recipe

Ingredients

For the cake:
Butter, for greasing the pan
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra fine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites (no egg yolk traces)

For the moistening syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup extra fine granulated sugar
1/4 cup liquor (such as dark rum, Amaretto or Grand Marnier) or concentrated orange juice

For the buttercream:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) very soft butter
1 1/2 cups extra fine granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup evaporated milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the chocolate shavings:
8 ounces premium white chocolate

For the pecan praline topping/sauce:
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup pecan halves

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 410° F.

Line a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Butter parchment paper and dust evenly with flour. Shake off excess flour and set aside.

Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together. Set aside.

Using a stand or handheld mixer whisk eggs and yolks until combined.

Add ½ cup of the sugar and whip until the mixture is very light and foamy (like hair mousse) for at least 12 minutes.

Add vanilla extract and salt. Stop whipping.

Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of flour/cocoa mixture delicately into whipped ingredients. When nearly combined add remaining flour/cocoa mixture and combine.

In a clean bowl, whip together egg whites and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to soft peaks.

Fold into above using a spatula.

Using a metal cake spatula, spread mixture onto prepared pan and place in the oven for about 10 to 11 minutes.

The cake is done when it slightly shrinks away from edges and bounces back when lightly pressed with a finger.

Flip the cake upside-down onto a sheet of parchment or a kitchen towel, leaving the jelly roll pan on top of it while it cools.

For the moistening syrup:

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a full boil. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Pour in a cold bowl and place in the freezer until completely cold.

Add liquor or juice; set aside.

For the buttercream:

Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream with paddle attachment until light and fluffy, at least 3 minutes.

Add salt and gradually add evaporated milk in 2-3 tablespoon amounts, mixing at least a minute before adding more.

Add vanilla extract.

If desired, a lighter buttercream can be obtained by adding another 1/4 cup of evaporated milk.

(NOTE: If the butter and evaporated milk are not both at room temperature, the buttercream may have a curdled appearance. If this happens, you can slightly warm the buttercream mixture. To do this, either set the bottom of the bowl in lukewarm water for a few seconds and stir or whisk well, or using a hairdryer you can gently warm the outside of the bowl while continuing to mix. In no time the cream will become glossy and smooth.)

Remove the cake pan from the cake and peel away the parchment paper.

Brush liquor syrup evenly onto the surface of the cake, then spread 2/3 of buttercream evenly on top.

Starting on the narrow (10-inch) side of the cake, gently roll the cake into a cylinder.

Transfer to a serving tray and put in the refrigerator, uncovered.

For the chocolate shavings:

Put a marble pastry board (or, in a pinch, a baking sheet) in the freezer.

Chop chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl.

Melt chocolate in 7-second increments in the microwave, stirring in between heating, until the chocolate is just melted.Remove the board from the freezer and rapidly pour on the melted chocolate in a very thin layer .Return the board to the freezer for at least an hour.

Using a metal cake spatula, lift up pieces of chocolate and roll and fold into curled shapes.Repeat with remaining chocolate, making sure to wipe off any condensation on the surface while making curls.

For the pecan praline topping/sauce:

In a saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, excluding pecans.

Stir and boil for 5 minutes, ensuring that the mixture does not boil over.

Remove from heat and add pecan halves, set aside to cool.

To finish assembling the cake:

Once all curls are made and the pecan praline topping has cooled, remove the yule log from the refrigerator.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the surface, then decorate with chocolate curls. Spoon pecan praline topping over and serve.

Related

The cake can be stored in the refrigerator, but remove it at least 2 hours before serving.