OR. Christmas Yule log with chestnut cream.
My friend and neighbor Nancy has baked many a delicious Yule log cake in her day, and generously offered to share her recipe and techniques on this here blog in honor of the Winter Solstice tomorrow. When I dropped by her home last weekend to help decorate the cake, she had already baked the chocolate genoise sheet cake, prepared the chestnut buttercream, layered the cream on the cake and rolled it up, and chilled it in the fridge to firm up before I’d arrived.
This is clearly not a dessert you just whip up at the last minute. Like all great holiday traditions, the time and little extravagance that goes into the preparation is as important as the final product itself. It’s about slowing down during the busy holiday season to create something magical.
So here is Nancy, in her own words, sharing her Christmas tradition with us. She’s a DC-based graphic designer, and you can learn more about her on her website. She’s also new to Instagram – give her a follow! Enjoy, and the happiest of holidays to you and your loved ones this year.
One of my favorite holiday traditions as kid was the mesmerizing bûche de noël. This cake would arrive from a French family friend via a Washington suburban French bakery in the shape of a log with layers of thick frosting and adorned with candy trimmings and little plastic woodland creatures. For an artsy kid with a sweet tooth and a penchant for pretending to be classy, this was pure delight.
As an adult I’ve started to celebrate the winter solstice and what better way to celebrate than with lit candles, hot cocoa, and a bûche de noël. Around the 12th century it was common in Europe for huge yule logs (sometimes whole trees) to be burned in the hearth of homes to celebrate the winter solstice, good promises, and the sun and warmth on its way. Around 1870, as Europe became more populated and the homes shrank in size and fireplaces were more rare, the French began to replace the real logs with thinly rolled sponge cakes filled with jam or cream, covered with buttercream icing, and decorated with meringue mushrooms — clever French!
This week I shared this tradition with my friend Jess and spared her the laborious tasks. She joined in the fun at the last and best stage — decorating the log! As it turns out she has a hidden talent for sculpting marzipan pine cones and we both got nostalgic, as playing with the marzipan was much like playing with play-doh as a kid (only it tastes better).
GAME PLAN (pace yourself):
3–30 days ahead: Make sure you have a jelly-roll pan, parchment paper, and all of your ingredients. Chestnut cream can be hard to find and it’s a pain to make from scratch from raw chestnuts (trust me!), but you can order a can from Amazon. I’ve also given a recipe below for clementine zest frosting.
2–3 days ahead: Make the meringue mushrooms if you’re feeling Martha Stewart like. Alternatively, skip this step. Your cake will still be awesome with lots of flare. (This is what I told myself after I stayed up late one night trying to make these mushrooms, which came out resembling meringue splatted bird bombs.)
1–2 days ahead: Prepare the buttercream frosting and frost the inside and outside of cake, roll up, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
Day of: Invite a friend over for the fun part – decorating!
CHOCOLATE GENOISE SHEET CAKE:
3 eggs (separated)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup dutch process cocoa
10 by 15-inch jelly-roll pan, buttered and lined with buttered parchment
Set rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Bring a medium pot about half full of water to boil then reduce heat to simmer.
Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together in a large metal bowl. Place bowl in the pot of simmering water and whisk gently until egg mixture is just lukewarm (test with your finger). Remove bowl from heat and whip on medium-high speed with electric mixer (preferably with whisk attachment) until it is cooled, light in color, and tripled in volume.
Stir together the flour, cornstarch, and cocoa in small bowl.
Sift the flour mixture in 1/3 batches over the beaten eggs and fold in using a rubber spatula.
Pour batter into the prepared jelly-roll pan. Bake the genoise for about 8 to 11 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
Use a knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Flip cake over to a flat surface. Let cool a few minutes then slowly remove the paper. Place a piece of moist cheese cloth or cotton tea towel over the sheet to keep soft and let cool another few minutes. Replace cloth with a piece of plastic cling wrap and gently roll up. Don’t worry if the cake cracks a bit (it will be covered by frosting). Cake can be stored in fridge for a few days (single wrap entire cake in plastic wrap or in the freezer for up to a month (double wrap in plastic wrap).
Yield: 1 (10 by 15-inch) sheet cake or 2 smaller thin cakes for making mini logs (Great for gifts!)
2 cups crème de marrons/sweet chestnut cream
1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
cognac, hazelnut kahlua, or rum (or liquor can be left out)
Beat butter until smooth with electric mixer (preferably with whisk attachment on medium speed until soft and light (about 2 minutes). Mix in chestnut cream until smooth (about 4 minutes). Then add the liquor and mix for another minute.
CLEMENTINE FILLING/FROSTING (optional):
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon clementine zest (or orange)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed clementine juice (or orange)
2 tablespoons rum, brandy, or cognac (or liquor can be left out)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in a metal bowl. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (test with finger). Remove bowl from heat and whip with electric mixer (preferably with whisk attachment) on medium speed until cooled. Switch to a paddle attachment and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add one tablespoon of clementine or orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice and mix for one minute.
Tube of marzipan (about 1/3)
red and green food coloring
optional additions: cinnamon stick, sugared cranberries, meringue mushrooms, chocolate shavings
Kneed a few drops of red food coloring into marzipan and roll into balls for the berries. Kneed a few drops of green into the marzipan, flatten and cut holly leaves. Combine the red and green marzipan to make brown for acorns, pine cones, or mushrooms. Mushroom caps can also be smudged with cocoa.
Place the génoise on a piece of plastic wrap and flat surface. Gently unroll. Evenly spread the chestnut cream filling all over the génoise. Gently roll up the génoise. Spread the frosting all over the bûche/log, run a fork through the frosting in a wave like pattern to resemble bark texture. Slice off an end of the roll. Stick the end on the top or side of the log to resemble a stump. Dust with cocoa. Wrap up in plastic and put in fridge overnight or start to decorate. Decorate with marzipan holly leaves and whatever else you like. Dust with powdered sugar to resemble snow.