Happy Winter! Christmas is over. New Years is over. Now we can fully enjoy the peace and stillness of Winter, since we still have two and a half months in this glorious season! Hold the horses on Valentine’s and Spring. This is the time of year to really embrace all that Winter has to offer us. And one of the ways I like to stay present is by baking seasonally. For example, this Bûche de Noël (Yule Log cake) is traditionally made at Christmas. But just look at it – it’s totally fit for any day of Winter! ❄⛄
History of the Yule Log
Yule log cakes are an internationally popular cake around Christmas. But many believe that this cake originated from an actual log of wood that was burned in the fire. Centuries ago in Norway, the Norse would burn a special log, usually made of birch. This log would be burned in the fireplace on the Winter Solstice, which is the longest night of the year. The burning log would symbolize the sun’s hopeful return in the following months, bringing light and warmth back to the world. The sun was central to the Norse people, since it provided daylight for working outside and warmth for their crops and animals to thrive. Without the sun, life would cease to exist. Therefore, during the darkest night of the year, a burning yule log would symbolize hope and life.
In some traditions, a piece of last year’s yule log would be saved and used to kindle the current yule log, as a symbol of continuity. Sprigs of holly, yew, fir and ivy would be used to adorn the yule log as well. Over the years, the tradition of burning a yule log spread to other European countries. In England, a massive yule log made of oak was burned for the twelve days of Christmas, from December 25th to January 6th. And in France, they came up with a way to enjoy an edible yule log.
How a Wooden Log Became a Cake
Over the years, fireplaces became smaller or completely nonexistent in homes. Those who wanted to keep the tradition of yule logs would sometimes hollow out pieces of a wooden log and stick candles in it. This could be set at the center of a table, adorned with evergreen sprigs, to be enjoyed by all. But then in France, some pastry chefs created an edible yule log made of rolled-up cake. This gained popularity quickly, since you didn’t have to light anything on fire. And you got to enjoy a sweet and decadent cake! In France, this cake is known as a Bûche de Noël, which translates to “Christmas log” in English.
Bûche de Noël Decorations
You can decorate your Bûche de Noël (Yule Log cake) however you like! It doesn’t have to look like a brown wooden log. It can be candy cane or gingerbread flavor. If you don’t want to roll it into a log, just stack cake layers for a layer cake.
I decorated my Bûche de Noël cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Then I used a fork to create uneven lines in the frosting, to look more like the bark of a wooden log. I used a pairing knife to gently create rings on the edges of the log, to look like the inside of a tree.
I had leftover buttercream frosting from the miniature gingerbread layer cake I made for my family. So I just added cocoa powder to the vanilla buttercream and voila! Chocolate buttercream!
I made meringue and piped it into the stems and tops of the mushrooms. Then I melted some chocolate chips and used that as the “glue” to secure the tops and stems together for each mushroom. Since they are all different shapes and sizes, I think it makes them look more realistic. And they are super delicious to eat!
Making candied cranberries is so simple, and it adds such a festive pop of color and tart flavor to any dessert. You can follow my recipe here for candied cranberries!
The sprigs of fir and cedar add such a magical realness to the yule log cake. I just cut a few sprigs off of our holiday wreath and arranged them on the wood cake stand. You could also forage for evergreen sprigs in nature – just be sure to wash them thoroughly and allow them to dry fully before using them as decoration.
I made a chocolate roulade sponge cake and rolled it up with fresh whipped cream. The recipe is from Food52 and it turned out quite well. I think I let the cake cool too long though (about 8 hours) and it cracked in about seven different places. But you’d never know, after being slathered in buttercream frosting!
Bûche de Noël (Yule Log Cake)
Yule Log Cake
- 1 batch of a roulade sponge of your choice (I used the chocolate roulade recipe from Food52)
- 1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- ¾ cup butter (1½ sticks) softened to room temperature
- 1½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
- ¼ cup cocoa powder, sifted
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 1½ cups fresh cranberries
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg white (best straight from the fridge, since egg whites whip up easier when they are cold)
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp chocolate chips, melted
Make the Roulade Cake and Frost It
- Bake the sponge cake according to the recipes instructions. While it's hot out of the oven, roll it up tightly, starting from a longer end. Allow it to cool to room temperature, about an hour.
- Add the heavy whipping cream in a mixing bowl and use an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment to whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until it forms medium peaks.
- Gently and carefully unroll the cooled sponge cake. Spread the whipped cream all over the cake in an even layer. Gently roll it back up, with the whipped cream filling inside.
- Place the cake in the fridge to chill while you make the buttercream frosting.
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or in a mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, beat the softened butter until it is pale and soft, about five minutes.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl and sift in the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Continue mixing on a medium to high speed until it is creamy.
- Trim the edges off your cake, if desired. You can also cut a two or three-inch piece off one end of the roulade and stick it onto the side of the cake, to look more like a tree log.
- Spread the chocolate buttercream over the cake and on the sides. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. The more bumps and imperfections, the more the cake will look like a wooden log. Use a fork to draw slightly squiggly lines in the frosting to look more like tree bark.Use a pairing knife to gently draw rings in the buttercream on the edges of the cake. Chill in the fridge again until the buttercream is firm.
Create the Decorations and Add Them to the Cake
- To make the candied cranberries, rinse and dry the cranberries.In a small sauce pan, add ½ cup water and ½ cup of the sugar. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Stir in the cranberries to fully coat them for about 2 minutes.
- Drain the cranberries from the syrup. Spread out the cranberries on a baking sheet to dry for at least one hour, or overnight.
- Roll the cranberries in the remaining ½ cup of sugar. Add more sugar as necessary to full coat the cranberries. Set aside.
- To make the meringue mushrooms, first wipe down your mixing bowl and whisk attachment with vinegar. This will clean off any residual fats, which prevent egg whites from whipping up. Preheat the oven to 200°F.
- Add the egg white to the mixing bowl and whisk on low until it is frothy. Add the cream of tartar and mix on a medium-high speed until it forms soft peaks.
- Add the sugar one spoonful at a time, then add the salt. Continue whisking until it forms stiff peaks. Now you have meringue!
- Add the meringue into a piping bag with a relatively small round tip and prepare to pipe on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Pipe the tops of mushrooms by creating thick discs. Pipe the stems by piping the meringue out as you slowly pull the bag up, to make a tower of meringue.
- Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, until the meringue is dry and sounds hollow when you tap the mushroom tops. Let cool completely.
- Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave on 30 second intervals. Use the melted chocolate to stick the mushroom stems and tops together. You can also use the melted chocolate to stick the meringue mushrooms and candied cranberries to the yule log cake. Enjoy!