It is a wet and rainy day in the Eastern Bay of Plenty today – perfect baking weather. If fruit cake is not your thing this Christmas and you are looking for something that looks impressive, how about a Yule log or bûche de Noël for your dessert table?
The Yule Log is a log-shaped, rolled genoise or other sponge cake. It is covered in chocolate and decorated to resemble the Yule log which would have traditionally been burned in the hearth of a family home in Europe and the UK at Christmas.
Before we get to baking, here is a little history on the Yule log. Yule logs have a long history; there are written accounts of them being used throughout Europe and the UK dating back to the early 1600s.
Although there are several variations on the tradition, there are enough similarities for me to generalise here to give you the idea. Traditionally a male from the household would take his axe and venture into the forest in search of the right oak, elm of pear tree. He would cut it down and bring it home, carrying it on his shoulder. In some traditions the remnants of log from the previous year would be used to start the fire and then the new log would be placed on top. It was thought that the burning of the Yule log would bring prosperity to the family and protect them from evil. In some older pictures of Father Christmas he is seen carrying a Yule log.
As with a lot of family traditions, the industrial revolution changed the way we lived and so the burning of the Yule log was almost lost. Smaller hearths in houses and the advent of the nuclear family meant that there was not the place to burn the Yule log or the people to share in the tradition.
Around the beginning of the 1900s the Yule log cake started to appear and has been gracing Christmas tables ever since.
While in New Zealand we often serve a rolled sponge for afternoon tea, we have not really incorporated the Yule log into our Christmas – maybe we could start now.
Kia makona – Mawera Karetai x
6 large eggs (separated)
150 grams caster sugar
50 grams cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not essence)
5 teaspoons icing sugar (to decorate)
175 grams dark chocolate (chopped)
250 grams icing sugar
225 grams soft butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (not essence)
- Preheat your oven to 180°C
- In a large, clean bowl whisk the egg whites until forming soft peaks. Add in 1/3 of the caster sugar and continue whisking until the whites forming stiff peaks.
- In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining caster sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Add the vanilla extract, sieve the cocoa powder over, then fold both in.
- Carefully fold in the whisked egg whites, a third at a time. Go slow and gentle to avoid losing the air.
- Line a Swiss roll tin with baking paper. You need to make sure to paper extends up and sides and out of the tin to prevent sticking and also to make it easier to remove once cooked.
- Pour in the cake batter and bake for 20 minutes. Let the cake cool a little before turning it out onto another piece of baking paper. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel.
- To make the icing, melt the chocolate using a double boiler or in a microwave, whichever is your preference, then allow to cool a little.
- Add in the butter, sieved icing sugar and vanilla. Mix together making sure the icing sugar is all incorporated.
- Trim the edges of the Swiss roll. Thinly spread some of the icing over the sponge, covering the top right to the edges. Start rolling from the long side facing you. Roll the sponge tight from the beginning, and roll up to the other side. Press against the baking paper, rather than the cake, makes this easier to roll and less likely to break.
- Place the Swiss roll on a board. Cut a piece from each end, on an angle to represent a cut branch. Use a little icing to attach the cut piece along the side, to look like a branch coming off the log.
- Spread the yule log with the remaining icing, covering the cut-off ends as well as the branches. Create a bark-like texture by marking along the length of the log with a skewer. Remember to create concentric circles at the ends to represent tree rings.
- Since this is a Northern Hemisphere tradition, finish off with a dusting of icing sugar to look like snow.