Name a stranger Christmas tradition than eating food specifically made to look like a dead tree, I’ll bet you’ve never even thought about it before but our classic Yule log (or bûche de Noël) is full of symbolism from it’s ritualistic past. The history of Yule log dates all the way back to before the medieval era. The Celts & Gaelic Europeans would gather to welcome the winter solstice. It was a time of feasts & celebration of the days becoming lighter & longer (perhaps its my heritage to blame for my dislike of the winter months?) .
To usher in the spring, they would burn massive logs, often decorated with holly, pinecones & ivy or anointed with wine & salt. They believed that burning the logs would vanquish the darkness, both literal & figuratively, associated with winter & cleanse the air of the previous year’s events (we’re gonna need a really big bloody log for 2020!).
With the advent of Christianity, the Yule log remained a festive tradition, albeit on a much smaller scale. As hearths became smaller in the home though, it became impractical to burn such massive logs. Those smaller hearths, however, were perfect for a spot of baking. Soon, cakes began to appear on medieval tables in the shape of wooden logs, often decorated with marzipan & meringue.
These days, Yule log is light, airy sponge made by whipping up eggs, filled with either fresh, whipped cream or chocolate buttercream before rolled up & smothered in even more chocolate. My memories of Yule log are that of my mams. Every Boxing Day, we starve ourselves all day in preparation for her festive buffet (one which has to be seen to be believed, it’s the highlight of my year). After a ridiculous amount of pastry, quiche & cheese, we all save room for desserts (plural), one of which is, of course, Yule log.
She doesn’t make her’s from scratch, it’s always made from half a chocolate Swiss roll & half a jam & cream Swiss roll, stuck together in the classic Yule log shape. The whole thing is then covered in a ganache made from half Galaxy chocolate & half Cadbury’s chocolate (because who can even decide between the two?!) & scored with a fork for decoration.
You have to be quick to secure the best slice (obviously the more chocolate covered ends) & drizzle over a little extra double cream for good measure. I’ve definitely taken a little influence from my mam in my own recipe for Yule log, I like to use a mix of both dark & milk chocolate for my ganache & will forever use a fork to create that all important bark-like texture.
(makes one large yule log)
For the sponge:
- 4 large eggs
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g self-raising flour
- 40g cocoa powder
For the filling:
- 284ml double cream
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the ganache covering:
- 284ml double cream
- 185g dark chocolate (70%)
- 100g milk chocolate
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- A sprig of holly
- A couple of cranberries
- To make the sponge, place the eggs & sugar into a large, clean bowl & beat together using a hand mixer or whisk until the mixture becomes frothy, light & pale in colour
- Place a sieve over the bowl & sift over half of the flour & cocoa powder before using a large spoon or spatula to carefully fold into the whisked eggs
- Sift over the remaining flour & cocoa powder , again carefully folding though until fully incorporated & no pockets of dry flour remain
- Pour the mixture into a 40cm x 27cm Swiss rolls tin, greased & lined with baking parchment
- Carefully use a spoon or spatula to tease the mixture into the corners & edges of the tin
- Bake the sponge on the middle shelf of the oven at 180C for 10-12 minutes, until well risen & springing back when pressed lightly with a finger
- Whilst the cake is baking, measure & cut out a piece of baking parchment slightly larger than your sponge, lay it out flat & sprinkle all over with 2 tbsp of icing sugar
- Once baked, remove the cake from the oven & immediately invert it out onto the sugar sprinkled parchment
- Remove the original lining from the cake & use a sharp knife to score a line 1 inch from the long edge of the cake all the way along the length (be careful not to fully cut through the cake though)
- Starting with your scored edge, begin to roll up your sponge with the sugar sprinkled parchment, rolling it up inside of the cake as you go
- Place the rolled up cake, seam side down onto a cooling rack to cool
- Whilst the cake is cooling, make the filling by placing the cream, sugar & vanilla into a large, clean bowl & whip up using a whisk or hand mixer until it becomes stiff enough to hold its shape
- Once the cake has completely cooled, slowly & careful unroll it (it doesn’t need to roll out flat, just enough so that you are able to spread the cream inside)
- Next, spread the whipped cream over the sponge in an even layer, going right up to the edges of the sponge
- Starting with the same edge you originally began rolling from, carefully re-roll your cake, trying not to press down too much to avoid squeezing out any of the filling
- Use a sharp knife to trim off the edges of the roll for neatness & make a diagonal slice two thirds of the way down the log
- Place the largest roll at a slight angle onto your serving dish before placing the smaller piece halfway along to create a sort of ‘Y’ shaped log, like a branch coming away from the trunk
- Next, make the ganache topping by gently heating up the cream in a small saucepan, it need to be warm but not so hot that you can’t place your finger comfortably in the warmed cream
- Once warmed, remove from the heat & add the chocolate into the pan
- Stir the two together until everything is melted & glossy
- Leave to cool to room temperature before popping in the fridge to firm up for a while (about half an hour – 1 hour)
- Once the ganache has thickened, use a small palette knife to spread it all over the cakes, using is as a glue to seal the two pieces of log together & covering the exposed ends
- Once covered use the palette knife to rough up the texture a little to create a bark effect, you can also use a fork for some finer lines if you prefer
- Finally, dust the log with the icing sugar & garnish with a sprig of holly & some berries