HOLIDAY RECIPE: YULE LOG
You've probably heard the term 'Yule Log' before and for some of you it may mean something as simple as a literal log that you burn in your fireplace on Yule or Christmas Eve. Traditionalists of the Pagan paths may know this term to refer to a special decorative piece, which can also be burned if desired, often hand crafted as part of the Yule celebrations by adorning a nicely shaped log with bits of evergreen sprig, holly, pinecones, and ribbons. For this foodie, however, the term conjures images of delicious ganache covered cake and if you've never eaten a Yule Log, you're in for a treat!
I will confess that this is a somewhat time-consuming snack but well worth the effort! I suggest making the mousse filling first as it will need at least 6 hours to chill. Once the mousse is made and set in the fridge, however, you can begin making the cake straight away if you'd like as it will also need some time to cool complete. If you're planning on decorating your finished log with pieces of candy or silk flowers and leaves (etc.), I would suggest preparing your decorations before making the ganache as your window of opportunity with it before it thickens will be narrow. With each stage of the recipe, I recommend preparing your ingredients in advance and having them pre-measured in small bowls or dishes near your work station if at all possible as timing can be finicky with this cake.
THE MOUSSE FILLING
- 1 Tsp unflavored gelatin
- 2 Tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ Cup granulated sugar
- ½ Cup whole or 2% milk
- 1 Cup special dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 2 Cup whipped cream (or 1 cup whipping cream if you prefer to make your own)
- Combine the sugar and gelatin together in a small saucepan, then add the milk and let rest for 2-3 minutes for the gelatin to soften.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pot from the stove as soon as you notice the first signs of boiling.
- Add the chocolate chips and stir until they're completely melted, then mix in the vanilla.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Combine all of your whipped cream in a large bowl with about 1/3 of the chocolate mixture once it's cooled and gently fold them together until they're well mixed. Add ½ of the remaining chocolate mixture and gently fold it in. Finally add the rest of the chocolate mixture and gently fold it in as well. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours or even overnight.
- Powdered sugar (1/2 cup or less)
- 4 Eggs, separated
- 1/8 Tsp table salt
- ¼ Tsp baking soda
- 1 Tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 Cup filtered or bottled water
- ½ Cup flour
- ½ Cup granulated sugar + 1/3 cup extra
- Preheat your oven to 375 F
- Line a large sheet cake pan with generously greased tin foil (approx. 15x10 inches)
- Prepare a clean, lint free linen towel (or I've also found that clean pillow cases work well) on a table or extra counter space by laying it out flat and dusting it generously with powdered sugar.
- Beat the egg whites alone in a large bowl until soft peaks form, add the ½ cup granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form (just like meringue). Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks and the vanilla and whip together for 3 minutes, then add the 1/3 cup granulated sugar and mix thoroughly for another 2 minutes. Set aside.
- In the third bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Combine about 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture into the egg yolk mixture and mix on low speed, then add about 1/3 of the water and mix. Repeat this process until all of the dry ingredient mixture and water have been added to the egg yolk mixture and the batter is smooth but be careful not to overmix it.
- Gently fold this new mixture into the large bowl of egg whites until thoroughly combined and then spread the batter over the greased tin foil in your pan.
- Bake 12-15 minutes or until the top springs back after a light touch. You don't want to overbake the cake and cook times can vary by ovens (and altitude) so I suggest checking it periodically to be sure.
Wearing protective mitts or gloves (because you need to do this while the cake is still very hot) immediately turn the cake pan upside down on the powdered sugar dusted towel leaving a few inches of exposed towel at one end. Carefully remove the pan (the cake and tin foil should remain on the towel) and set aside, then gently peel off the tin foil and set that aside as well.
Working quickly but carefully, fold the few inches of exposed towel over the cake like a flap and, at this end, begin rolling the cake and towel together like you would a sleeping bag or a cinnamon bun. You must do this while the cake is hot and pliable as waiting for it to cool will cause it to become brittle and more likely to split or break. Also, don't try to roll the cake without the towel or it will stick to itself when you try to add the filling. The towel should be rolled up with the cake so that, when viewed from either end, you can see alternating cake/towel/cake/towel layers.
Set the rolled cake on a baking rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
FILLING THE CAKE
Once the cake is fully cooled, gently unroll it, and the towel, onto your work surface.
Remove the mousse filling from the fridge and stir until it becomes a good spreading consistency.
Spread the mousse filling evenly over the exposed surface of the flattened cake, being sure to cover it from edge to edge all the way around. Immediately begin rolling the cake once more being sure to roll in the same direction as before. Use the towel to lift the starting edge and begin the rolling as trying to pick the cake up directly with your fingers could result in breaking or crumbling. However, once the cake starts to roll over on top of itself, keep the towel out of the way (you can't eat the towel, after all).
With the cake fully rolled, place it on a large flat platter or cookie sheet, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge to cool for several hours.
Decorating a Yule Log cake can be as simple as adding the ganache and letting the sentiment speak to itself, or as complex as carving lines into the ganache for a bark-like texture, airbrushing highlights and shadows with edible paint, and making marzipan holly berries – how complex you want your finished Yule Log to be is entirely up to you. A natural artist I am not and for this reason, I prefer to aim somewhere in the middle. Here are a few of the ideas that you can use all together, none at all, or mix and match as you like as well as incorporating your own ideas!
Use a dab of chocolate frosting to affix a miniature donut to your Yule Log before adding the ganache. Make it off center and slightly closer to one end and use additional frosting to create a nice smooth slope between the donut and the cake. After the ganache is added, fill in the center of the donut with more frosting to make it look like a knot in the limb where a branch has been removed from the log.
Purchase a few sprigs of silk holly or poinsettia flowers from your local craft store. Cut the stems off about 1 inch from the blossom and wash them thoroughly, but gently, with hot water. Once the ganache has cooled, stick that ½ inches of stem into the cake at various locations until the back of the blossom just touches it.
Use a sturdy freezer bag or linen bag and a heavy rolling pin to pulverize candy canes or peppermints and sprinkle lightly over the ganache while it's still warm.
Wait for the ganache to cool fully and dust lightly with powdered sugar or edible glitter.
As previously stated, decide in advance how you want to decorate your Yule Log. Prepare the decorations and have them sitting at the read before you make your ganache.
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 12oz bag special dark or semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 Large mixing bowl with a lid that makes a good seal
Before you begin, remove your cake from the fridge, remove the plastic wrap, and have it resting on either the large flat platter, cookie sheet, or finely vented baking rack if you don't want to have to trim away the excess ganache (but if you use a baking rack, be sure to have something else under it like tin a cookie sheet to catch the drips).
- Place the chocolate chips in the large mixing bowl and set aside.
- Warm the whipping cream in a sauce pan on the stove using medium heat and stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
- As soon as you see the cream begin to simmer, remove it from the heat and pour it over the chocolate chips. Swirl the mixing bowl a few times to ensure that all of the chocolate chips have been exposed to the cream, then put the lid on the bowl to trap the heat and leave it on the counter for 5 minutes.
- After a full 5 minutes have passed, remove the lid and, starting at the center, begin whisking the mixture in small circles at first, gradually increasing the size and, thus, working your way toward the edges of the bowl until the contents are thoroughly mixed.
- Let the ganache sit at room temp for about 15 minutes before pouring it over your cake. This will allow it to thicken enough to get a good coating on your cake but not so much that it becomes frosting-like. You can pour all of the ganache over the log if you like and then scrape the drips from the cookie sheet below to use for the next step, or you can pour only as much ganache as you need for good coverage and save the rest.
OPTIONAL: If a good log-like texture is desired, you can simply let any leftover ganache rest for an additional 10 minutes or so until it thickens into a more frosting-like consistency and then spread it over your Yule log with a butter knife or frosting palette. You can frost the entire log and then use a butter knife or cake carving tools to get that barkish texture mentioned earlier, or you can add bits of the ganache in bark-like ridges. How you decorate your cake is entirely up to you and may take some practice if you're not used to working with frosting and cake decorating but it's fun and no matter how it looks when you're finished, it's going to taste amazing and that's the most important part!
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