The bûche de noël, or Yule log, is a show-stopping Christmas dinner finale especially popular with people who aren’t crazy about the traditional Christmas dried-fruit-and-booze-laden cakes and puddings. Made of cream-filled sponge cake, covered with chocolate icing and fancifully decorated, it’s sure to impress—and to taste much better than the original wooden version.
Historically a fixture at pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations in Britain and Europe, the burning of the Yule log symbolized the return of the sun, new beginnings and good luck. When Christian tradition took over, it came to symbolize the birth of Christ. As stoves and furnaces began to replace fireplaces, however, the tradition began to die out. A French chef replaced the tree branch with a fanciful version made of cake and candy, and a new tradition was born.
Today, Yule log recipes abound in cookbooks and on gourmet websites, so it’s possible to cater to just about any taste. Think about what you and your guests will enjoy the most, and you can probably find a recipe—or fine tune one—to suit your purposes.
The cake is usually a sponge cake, or genoise, flavoured according to your preference and baked in a jelly roll pan, about the same size as a cookie sheet but with higher sides. Once baked, the cake is turned out and rolled up before it cools—this makes it easier to roll once it has been filled.
Possible fillings include custard, buttercream or fruit. Unroll the cake and spread on the filling, leaving a border around the top edge and sides of the cake to allow for overflow. Re-roll the cake and place it, seam side down, on a serving platter. Slice ends diagonally and position the cut pieces on the log to resemble branches. Ice the cake with a rich chocolate icing or ganache, and drag the tines of a fork through the icing so it resembles tree bark.
Embellish your yule log with a dusting of powdered sugar, real holly leaves and berries, sugared fruit and leaves, fanciful marzipan fruits, or the traditional accompaniment, mushrooms made of meringue and chocolate. After all your hard work, consider putting the cake to work too—a masterpiece like this can easily serve double duty as centerpiece and dessert.
Check out www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/104507 for a basic Yule log recipe.