Eggnog Yule Log (1 large cake)
Every Christmas, hardcore pastry chefs assemble these super abstract Yule Logs to celebrate the season. While I appreciate the work involved and admire their artful design, I’m a sucker for the cheesy faux realism of chocolate bark, cocoa dirt and Meringue Mushrooms.
Go ahead, take away my toque.
What I don’t appreciate is the process. Rolling a sheet cake up with a powdered sugar dusted tea towel may be the universal approach, but it’s suuuuper messy.
You’re flipping sheet trays this way and that, peeling off parchment, slinging powdered sugar and cake crumbs everywhere, then rolling and unrolling just to prepare the cake for assembly. And none of it’s a guarantees the cake won’t crack anyway. If this simple little trick worked so well, the phrase Cracked Roll Cake wouldn’t turn up twelve million cries for help.
I’m not convinced the rolling part does anything. I think the real trick is that the towel traps heat and moisture, steaming the cake into submission. Thus whether the cake succeeds or fails depends on the towel itself, explaining why so many people get such different results from the same recipe.
I put this theory to the test by covering my cake with tinfoil as soon as it came out of the oven. Clearly, if trapping steam was the important part, foil would do a way better job. Once the cake cooled, I rolled it up with some pastry cream to what would happen.
Nothing happened. No cracks, no mess.
It wasn’t exactly a scientific study, but I’ve done it three times without any problems. I don’t know if the Tinfoil Trick works with other recipes, but I suspect it will. If anyone decides to give it a whirl, I’d love to hear how it works with other cakes.
You can fill a Bûche de Noël with almost anything, but I like creamy custards. They’re sturdy enough roll up with the cake, but won’t turn rock hard in the fridge like buttercream. Whatever you choose, make it the day before. Not only does this spread out the work, it ensures your filling will be thoroughly set and easy to roll.
While you’re at it, knock out the ganache and Meringue Mushrooms in advance too. That way, when you’re ready to make the Yule Log itself, you can focus on the fun stuff: baking and decorating a cake.
Eggnog Yule Log, about 12 servings
6 ounces all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 large eggs
6 ounces light brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
2 ounces safflower oil (don’t use solid fats like coconut oil, butter or shortening)
1 1/2 ounces rum, bourbon, brandy, or your favorite Eggnog-type booze
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
optional: 2 ounces rum, bourbon or brandy
2 cups filling, such as Pastry Cream or Pumpkin Custard (unwhipped)
16 ounces Buttercream or ganache
3 ounces dark chocolate
Meringue Mushrooms and Matcha Moss
Making the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350° and trim a large sheet of parchment paper to fit a half-sheet pan (a jelly roll style baking sheet). Wax paper will not work! Lightly grease the parchment and sides of the baking sheet with pan spray.
You’ll also need two large sheets of aluminum foil set aside for later.
Sift the flour into a medium bowl, then add the baking powder, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. Whisk to combine.
Fill a 2 or 3 quart pot with a few inches of water, then set over medium-low heat. Combine the eggs, brown sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, and place it over the water. Gently whisk until the egg-mixture feels warm to the touch, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the mixture looks foamy and light. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the eggs are ribbony and thick; another 5 minutes.
Reduce the speed to medium, then drizzle in the oil, followed by the booze and vanilla. Immediately shut off the mixer and remove the bowl. Sprinkle the flour over the top, and use a balloon whisk to gently incorporate the dry ingredients. If you feel more comfortable using a flexible spatula to fold, that’s fine!
Once the flour has disappeared, scrape the batter into the prepared baking sheet, gently spreading it into an even layer. Don’t spread it around more than necessary, as this will deflate the egg foam.
Bake until the cake feels firm to the touch, though still steamy and moist; about 15 minutes. If you suspect your oven runs hot, check on the cake around the 12 minute mark. An overbaked cake will crack no matter what, so keep an eye on it.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven (I’m talking immediately), cover it with the prepared aluminum foil. It can be a bit tricky, but try to tent the foil slightly so it doesn’t touch the cake itself. Use your oven mitts to crimp the foil around the baking sheet, sealing the cake as completely as possible. Cool until no trace of warmth remains.
Filling and shaping the cake:
Once the cake has cooled, have your filling on hand and warm the ganache or buttercream to a spreadable consistency.
Remove the foil from the cake. If the edges on the short side seem brittle or crusty, trim them off with a knife. If you like, brush the cake with your booze of choice to give it a bit of that Eggnog Nip.
Spoon the filling onto the cake, spreading it into an even layer. Leave a 1” margin all the way around the edges. You may feel 2 cups of filling isn’t quite enough, but any more and it’ll squish out the sides as you roll.
You’ll want to roll the cake starting from the long side, otherwise you’ll wind up with a Yule Stump rather than a Yule Log.
Grab the parchment on the long side of the cake to get things rolling. As you roll, you can naturally peel the parchment away. Position the rolled up cake seam-side down on the baking sheet. Use half the buttercream or ganache to cover the surface, including the exposed ends. It won’t be a thick layer, more of a crumb coat.
Refrigerate until the buttercream or ganache has hardened. The cake is easier to handle when cold, so don’t rush it! Take the cake from the fridge, and use a serrated knife to cut a 3 or 4” piece off one end (cut on a bias).
Loosen the bigger portion of cake from the baking sheet (where the ganache or buttercream may have hardened against the baking sheet), and use a metal spatula to transfer it to a serving platter. Position the smaller piece wherever you like, to create a stubby branch.
Use the remaining ganache or buttercream to smooth the pieces together, and to cover any exposed bits of cake. At this stage, you’re still not decorating, just forming the foundation of the bark. It’s okay for it to look a little rough!
Refrigerate until the outside of the log is firm.
Decorating the cake:
Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds to prevent scorching, until it is fluid and very warm. Use a small, clean paint brush (I used a brand-new eyeshadow brush that I bought for this very purpose) to paint the melted chocolate over the log using up and down motions.
I took a quick video on my cell phone, if you want to click through and see how I painted on the base layer of chocolate.
Once it’s covered, keep painting until you’ve used up all the chocolate. Instead of evenly coating the whole cake again and again, focus on building up patches here and there to give the bark a rough, scaly appearance and deep grooves. Some people do this with a fork, but I love the more natural look of rough brushstrokes.
Don’t worry if the chocolate begins to clump on the brush as you paint. The messier the brush, the rougher and more realistic the bark itself.
Because the chocolate’s untempered, once the bark sets up it will have a very irregular color. Splotches of dark brown, tan and the occasional blush of gray. This is totally natural and not a sign of spoilage. It’s not a look you’d want on a posh torte or candy bar, but it’s perfect for a tree bark.
Use a hot, damp rag to wipe the serving platter clean, then decorate your Yule Log with a light dusting of cocoa powder, Meringue Mushrooms and Matcha Moss.
Dec 19, 2013 · 3:05 AM
Gorgeous cake, Stella! I think you’re on to something with the foil trick. Rose Levy Berenbaum recommends something similar in The Cake Bible—rather than roll the cake up while warm, she just instructs you to cover it with a slightly damp towel while it cools. I admit I’ve had 50-50 success with her specific trick but it might also depend on the cake recipe—I’m looking forward to trying this one!
· Elizabeth @ SugarHero.com · www.sugarhero.com
Dec 19, 2013 · 8:08 AM
I’m another person who has wrestled with sugary towels and hot cake tins while rolling cakes up. Going to give your way a try this time.
· Silver Magpies · Http://www.silvermagpies.com
Dec 19, 2013 · 9:43 AM
@Elizabeth, oh that’s interesting! I guess I’m on the right track, then. I imagine that would still be hit or miss depending on the “gauge” of the towel, so to speak. Breathable linen or heavy cotton would each steam the cake quite differently.
@Nan, I’ll be curious to hear if it works with your recipe!
Dec 19, 2013 · 10:06 AM
I just made a pumpkin roll that cracked as opposed to making yule logs for the last three years that never have. My observation is that the powdered sugar/towel combo dries out the cake. I always bake my yule sponge on parchment and then roll up the parchment instead of rolling it in a towel. I did not do that for the pumpkin roll. I just baked it and turned it out into a powdered sugared towel, and when I unrolled it after cooling it had cracked. I will try the tinfoil trick but I will definitely never use a sugared towel again.
Dec 19, 2013 · 11:07 AM
Recently discovered your site and am loving it! I’m hoping I can convince my 12yo to join me in making a yule cake – I think she’ll especially like the idea of making those mushrooms. Now – is the buttercream you used here chocolate?
· MzPen · www.thatcherthebook.com
Dec 19, 2013 · 4:18 PM
I’ve used Jacques Pepin’s recipe for flourless chocolate roulade for years … it stays nice and moist, one of the easiest I’ve found to roll w/o the dreaded cracks!
· Janice Mansfield · realfoodmadeeasy.ca
Dec 19, 2013 · 11:09 PM
@JR, absolutely agree! The powdered sugar soaks up the cake’s moisture and turns into this horribly clumpy, crusty mess. A lose-lose situation all around, drying the cake and creating a mess.
@MzPen, I hope you convince her, it’s such a sweet holiday tradition. I filled the cake with spiced pastry cream, covered it in a layer of white chocolate ganache, and then did the outer coating in melted dark chocolate. If you look at the video, the ganache looks so dark because I roasted the white chocolate beforehand.
@Maria, hey you. Thanks for poppin’ by, Merry Christmas!!
@Tesei, happy baking!! Let me know if you have any questions or troubles along the way.
@Janice, oh nice! I’ll have to look that recipe up, I haven’t baked anything Pepin’ in ages.
Dec 20, 2013 · 4:00 AM
Yay I am doing a happy dance right now -thank you Stella you have just solved my Christmas dessert dilemma.
· Karen @ Lemon Grove Cake Diaries · lemongrovecakediaries.wordpress.com
Dec 22, 2013 · 4:49 AM
I think that this is the prettiest log cake that I’ve seen online yet – and I love that you’ve filled it with an eggnog custard – so much nicer than the traditional chocolate buttercream. For what it’s worth – I usually use a double sheet of clingfilm to roll mine – it works really well and eliminates the need for messy icing sugar
Happy Christmas! x
· Skye · www.frommydiningtable.com
Dec 24, 2013 · 8:01 AM
OMG – This is gorgeous – Would love to share with all my social media foodies – If you’re interested, just submit to FoodFotoGallery . com
· Food Foto Gallery · http://www.foodfotogallery.com
Dec 26, 2013 · 8:46 AM
Thanks for reminding me about Yule Log cakes! Brought one to a party last night and people were confused thinking I put real mushrooms on a cake. The cocoa powder really steps up the game on meringue shrooms. I also went totally Martha all over that log and made a spun sugar bird nest with a few white chocolate eggs in it. Seriously OMG.
Dec 26, 2013 · 4:20 PM
@Karen, I hope your Yule Log turned out amazing!!
@Doreen, @Skye, great minds think alike, huh?! Love to know I’m not the only one who’s sick of that silly towel.
@Food Foto Gallery, so glad you’re enjoying Sarah Jane’s work. I’ll have to send her your way.
@Salty, aaaaand you just won Cake of the Year. That spun sugar nest sounds amazing, I hope you took lots of pictures!!
Dec 26, 2013 · 9:44 PM
I just wanted to let you know that I used your wonderful instructions to make this cake to bring to Christmas dinner. It tasted and looked great!
I think everyone was the most impressed with the mushrooms – everyone had to do a second look to figure out if they were real or not.
· Cher · crazyworldofcher.blogspot.com/
Dec 29, 2013 · 12:47 AM
I love the whole look of this hard core cake and the cute little Meringue Mushrooms on the side. Sometime next year I’ll make this and make every family member drool. Thanks!
· ice · spillovercoffee.com
Dec 29, 2013 · 6:42 AM
This dish is really new for me. I have a question that Can you use premade eggnog?
· Logan · www.bestfoodprocessorguide.net/
Dec 29, 2013 · 7:43 PM
Hi Stella, Just to let you know I did make it and it was fabulous. I changed it up a little and did a chocolate sponge with a Pear liqueur flavoured diplomat cream. I used your technique of using the foil – that worked brilliantly so much better than the old tea towel dusted with sugar trick. I think the mushrooms ended up being the star of the dish, everyone loved them.
· Karen @ Lemon Grove Cake Diaries · lemongrovecakediaries.wordpress.com
Dec 30, 2013 · 1:21 PM
@Cher, ahh! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and even happier you whipped up some trickster mushrooms too. Thanks for letting me know how it went!
@Logan, sorry to reply so late. This recipe doesn’t use eggnog at all, or even milk for that matter, so I’m not sure where you’d want to incorporate it? Let me know how you’re interested in using it, and maybe we can think of something.
@Karen, oh, that’s awesome! I’m actually super excited you used a different recipe, it’s great confirmation to hear the foil trick works with other cakes. Thanks for taking the time to come back and report in!
Dec 30, 2013 · 10:10 PM
I made this cake…it was gorgeous. The “painting” of the chocolate was a brilliant touch that I will use again. Not only pretty, but gave an extra kick of firm chocolate. I think in the future I’ll use buttercream filling though. The family is used to it and didn’t love the pastry cream filling—thought it was “too soft.” All in all though, a big success. My husband is French so a buche is required every year. This one was a great change of pace from the usual chocolate with chestnut butter cream. Thanks for the inspiration! Oh, and this is the first time ever my cake didn’t crack. Magic!
Jul 06, 2014 · 5:40 PM
Hi Stella, just to let you know I made a chocolate roll using another recipe, based on a velvet cake with a little buttermilk and vinegar but similar ratios of egg:fat:flour. Anyway, after several previous tantrum-inducing attempts (at one stage my husband banned all roll cakes from our kitchen!) I tried the foil trick and it worked perfectly, not a single crack. I think the steam/ moisture theory must be right as it was noticeably more moist when I went to roll it. I also was a lot more careful with cooking times, taking it out when it was only just done which also helped. I would really like to perfect a flour less chocolate version but they seem so much more fragile, going to try the foil and see if it helps!
Jul 06, 2014 · 5:47 PM
Also, I filled the roll with your German buttercream flavoured with dark chocolate. Oh my goodness. It was like a moussey awesome melted chocolate ice cream, worthy of eating straight out of the bowl. The first time I made it I used a milder chocolate, maybe only 40-50% and the flavour really didn’t cut through the pastry cream and butter. So I added quite a lot of 85% and it was lovely, some of the chocolate ‘chipped’‘ as I mixed it in which I was initially annoyed with but actually the occasional little nib of super dark chocolate amidst the sweet cake and buttercream was fantastic!!!
Jul 07, 2014 · 4:39 PM
Hi Meredith! I’m so glad to hear this trick helped with your other recipe, and that you could finally escape the Cracks of Doom!!! And I love hearing that you tried the chocolate German buttercream, though it does take quite a bit of chocolate to overcome all that milk and butter. But it is so much like ice cream, I just love it. Thanks again for taking the time to report back on your success!