Eggnog Yule Log (one 15" roulade )
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, googling 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 (for 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.