Long before I called a sheet pan a sheet pan, it was a jelly roll pan. I think it almost certainly stems from my mom making a Yule log regularly throughout my childhood.
I had no idea why my mom made the Christmas cake annually or what a log has to do with Christmas, and a quick perusal of Wikipedia doesn’t offer any clear answers to the latter.
Mom tells me she started making it for her dad, my Papa, and he liked it so much, she kept doing it. Wikipedia also says the cake originated in the region that includes his ancestral home of Belgium, but apparently that’s a coincidence.
Which is fair, it’s just a damn good cake.
The Yule log, also called a buche de Noel, has few ingredients but they’re used to make three separate parts that make it time-consuming if not difficult. There’s the eggy chocolate cake. There’s the vanilla cream filling. There’s the mocha buttercream frosting. And then, there’s the assembly.
Despite the difficulty, though, my sweetie rightly describes it as similar but easier tiramisu.
And besides, it’s a Christmas cake, so you make it just once a year. That makes it totally worth it.
Here’s what I did following Mom’s recipe:
- 5 eggs, separated
- 2/3 c. sugar
- 3 T. unsweetened cocoa
- 2 T. flour, plus more for sheet pan
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1 T. confectioner’s sugar
Mocha buttercream frosting
- 1 c. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing sheet pan
- 1/2 confectioner’s sugar
- 1 T. unsweetened cocoa
- 1 T. instant coffee
- 1 t. warm water
- Confectioner’s sugar
- 2 T. finely-chopped pistachio nuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15 x 10 x 1 inch jelly roll (sheet) pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease and lightly flour paper, tapping off excess flour.
Beat egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form.
Separately, beat egg yolks in a large bowl at high speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until mixture is thick and pale in color. Beat in cocoa and flour at low speed.
Fold beaten egg whites into yolk mixture until no streaks of white remain.
Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven when cake springs back to a light touch
Let cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the pan.
Mocha buttercream frosting
While cake bakes, prepare the frosting. Beat the softened butter until fluffy in a small bowl. Beat in sugar and cocoa.
Dissolve coffee in water, and beat into butter mixture.
Store in cool (but not cold) place as you don’t want the butter to melt, but you don’t want the frosting to get too solid to spread.
When cake is cool, remove it from the pan by inverting onto a towel or *carefully* lifting using parchment paper.
Cut off 1/2 to 1 inch from the edges of all four sides of the cake (to remove the crunchier bits) and reserve for later use.
Beat heavy cream until thickened. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until stiff enough to spread.
Spread mixture evenly across the cake. Roll up the cake, starting with one of the shorter sides. Place cake roll seam-side down on a serving tray.
Frost the cake roll all over (including ends) with the mocha buttercream frosting. Roll up some or all of the reserved cake ends and set onto the frosted cake (these are supposed to look like cut-off branches). Frost these well.
Run a fork across the frosted cake to mimic bark lines. Use the fork to create the same lines along the sides of the “branches” to create “age rings” in the center of these “branches.”
Press some of the chopped pistachios into the “cut” ends of the log (ends and the circular “branches) to mimic some moss/lichens.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar (to mimic dusting of snow). Enjoy and Merry Christmas/happy holidays to all who celebrate the season.