Yule is a winter festival associated with the winter solstice celebrated in northern Europe since ancient times. Its Christianized form is called ” Christmas”, which is essentially the symbology and traditions of Yule with the Christian story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth superimposed upon it. Yule traditions include decorating a fir tree, burning a Yule log, the hanging of mistletoe and holly, giving gifts, and general celebration and merriment.
A Yule log, sometimes known as the Great Ashen Faggot, is a large log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in some cultures. It can be a part of the winter solstice festival or the Twelve days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night.The Yule Log came to represent life, prosperity, warmth, protection and light during the dark winter.
The expression “Yule log” has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as “chocolate logs” or “Bûche de Noël“. Bûche de Noël (Yule log) is a traditional dessert served during the Christmas holidays in France and Quebec. As the name indicates, the cake is generally prepared, presented, and garnished so as to look like a log ready for the fire. The traditional bûche is made from a Genoise or other sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow jelly roll pan, frosted, rolled to form a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside. Bûches are often served with a portion of one end of the cake cut off and set on top of the cake to resemble a chopped off branch, and bark-like texture is often produced in the buttercream for further realism. These cakes are often decorated with powdered sugar to resemble snow, tree branches, fresh berries, and mushrooms made of meringue.
For our Daring bakers challenge for the month of December, this is exactly what we had to rustle up…a Yule log,( chosen by the founders of this amazing group, Ivonne and Lisa), befitting the festive season. I loved the challenge, mainly because, I have never made genoise before ( well, no part of this cake , actually ) and was really very satisfied with the results … the genoise was as soft as can be, and rolled up perfectly and I’m really pleased with myself….now, was there a repetition here? Well, can’t help it…that’s how happy I am! Check here to see how the others have fared.
Of course, I made a few changes to the original recipe, things that we were allowed.
- For starters, I had downsized the recipe to two- thirds and it worked out just fine.
- My pan was smaller-9 and 1/2 x 12 inches.
- I made a light chocolate flavoured genoise instead of a plain one.
- My filling was mascarpone cheese.
- Instead of the coffee , I added a little cocoa powder and some melted chocolate to the buttercream and it gave a nice dark colour. I also avoided the booze.
- Also seived a little icing sugar over the log to give that wintery touch.
- I made the marzipan mushrooms instead of meringue ones ( we could choose any).
The following is the basic recipe that we had to follow…we could choose our own filling , any of the two mushrooms, the shape of the log, the flavour of the genoise and decorate it in any way-(Source : Perfect cakes Nick Malgieri and The Williams- Sonoma Collection-Desserts
Makes for 12 servings.
The plain genoise-
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour – spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)…(1C cake flour = 1C plain flour-2tblsp)
¼ cup cornstarch
one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again
- Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
- Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
- Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger – it should be warm to the touch).
- Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
- While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
- Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
- While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
- Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.
The coffee buttercream-
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy
- Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
- Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.
a) The meringue variety
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
- Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
- Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.
b) The marzipan variety-
8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
- Combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
- Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.
- Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.
- Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.
- Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.
- Smudge with cocoa powder.
Filling and frosting the log-
- Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
- Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
- Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
- Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
- Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
- Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
- Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
- Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
- Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
- Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
- Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.
- Serve in slices along with the mushrooms ( of course, I famously forgot to add them to the slice on the plate while taking the pictures!)
Although this was quite a lengthy recipe, once I got the hang of it, it seemed a breeze. Apart from the mushrooms, I did not make any other decorations and kept it simple. It did satisfy the palate a great deal, as my tasters would vouch for it. I am definitely going to make similar cakes in the future.
That’s it…another challenge successfully completed. Now time to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas… enjoy, but do go easy on the belly