Recipe: Yule Log Cake

Recipe: Yule Log Cake

Dec 7, 2016
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Yule log cakes have been a classic Christmas confection since the 19th century, so we decided to do our own take. Essentially just a dressed-up jelly roll cake, this show-stopping roulade will shine brightly on any dessert table. Using edible garnishes and decadent chocolate frosting, the cake is made to resemble a tiny tree log. Dress it up or keep things simple, this fast and fancy dessert is delicious decoration for your holiday table.

A mix of holiday elegance and rustic decadence, our take on the classic Yule log uses simple shortcuts to get the job done quickly and effortlessly, delivering a dessert that tastes as delicious as it looks.

We weren't kidding when we said this Yule log was "fast and fancy" either. The cake bakes up in less than 20 minutes! There is a bit of waiting involved while the cake cools and sets up in the fridge, but we are certain you can make great use of this hands-off time by trimming the tree, wrapping gifts, or simply enjoying yourself during this busy holiday season.

For something so impressive, this recipe actually starts off pretty simple. A basic sponge cake is baked in a shallow jelly roll pan before being rolled up with jam or frosting (or both!). We found that a boxed angel food cake is just as springing and light. Rolling it up can be daunting, so we advise dusting everything – the top of the cake, the dishtowel you're using to roll it, the bottom of the cake once it's inverted – with lots and lots of powdered sugar so things don't get too sticky. If you roll it up while it's still warm, it won't crack – though of course you can always cover up any blemishes with delicious frosting!

A traditional Yule log is typically made from a genoise cake or a yellow sponge cake and iced with chocolate to look like tree bark. We've switched it up a bit by adding cocoa powder to basic angel food cake before rolling it up with both raspberry jam AND whipped vanilla frosting. The cake itself is not overly sweet, so when paired with the double filling and decadent chocolate frosting, the flavors are perfectly balanced. The jam helps keep the sponge tender and the frosting seals in the moisture, so the Yule log may be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator while staying fresh and not drying out.

(Image credit: Rikki Snyder)

Cut into this cake to reveal a festive swirl, but the real fun part comes with the decoration! Using just the tines of a fork, create a pattern that resembles tree bark (can you see where we added a 'knot'?).

Yule logs are typically embellished with edible details that play off the woodland theme. For added texture, shave a bar of chocolate with a vegetable peeler straight over the top of the finished cake so that the curls fall on and around the cake. Or, toss on crushed pistachios or shredded coconut to resemble the forest floor or a fresh showering of snow. Add fresh rosemary and cranberries or raspberries to represent holly. And if you're feeling extra festive, make some marzipan or meringue mushrooms!

Just before serving, a simple dusting of confectioner's sugar adds contrast and simple drama, and brings out the texture of your "bark." Don't sprinkle too soon, though, because it will melt into the frosting. Feel free to play around a bit and make this dessert truly your own!

Yule Log Cake

Serves 8 to 10

For the cake:
1 box angel food cake mix
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups cold water
Powdered sugar, for dusting

For the filling:
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 (16-ounce) can prepared vanilla frosting
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate frosting:
14 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Generous pinch salt

For decorating:
C
hocolate shavings, powdered sugar, fresh rosemary, fresh cranberries or raspberries, crushed pistachios, and/or shredded coconut

Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Grease, then line a half sheet rimmed baking sheet (18 by 13-inches) with parchment paper; set aside.

Place the cake mix in a large bowl. Sift the cocoa powder over the mix and stir to combine. Add the water and mix on medium-low speed with an electric hand mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. (Alternatively, use a stand mixer and paddle attachment.)

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is set and the top springs back when gently touched, 17 to 22 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large, lint-free clean kitchen towel on top of a large cutting board. (Both should be larger than the baking sheet.) The cutting board will give you something to hold on to while the cake is being inverted.

Once the hot cake comes out of the oven, place it a heatproof work surface. Dust the top liberally with powdered sugar. Carefully invert the towel/cutting board and place over the top of the pan (with the towel between the cake and cutting board). Using oven mitts or dry towels while handling, carefully flip the baking sheet upside down. Place the cutting board on the work surface and remove the baking sheet, leaving the cake behind. Gently peel away the parchment paper. Completely cover the bottom of the cake with another generous dusting of powdered sugar.

While the cake is still hot/warm, start from one long end of the cake and use the kitchen towel to gently roll it up tightly into a log (the towel will stay rolled up within the cake). Position it seam-side down and cool completely.

Fill the cake: Once the cake has cooled, gently unroll it. Carefully lift and place the cake on a cutting board or large serving dish.

Spread the raspberry jam on the inside of the cake roll, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edges.

Add the vanilla to the canned frosting and stir to combine. Spread the vanilla frosting on top of the raspberry jam, again leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

Carefully re-roll up the cake (without the towel this time), and position it seam-side down. Refrigerate while you make the chocolate frosting.

Make the frosting: Place the chocolate chips and butter in a large heatproof bowl; set aside.

Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Once hot, pour the cream over the chocolate and butter. Let stand for 1 minute, then whisk until smooth.

Place the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator until cool, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cool, remove from the refrigerator and whisk in the sugar and salt.

Remove the chilled, rolled cake from the refrigerator. Trim the ends using a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. If you'd like, cut the end off of one side at an angle and attach it with a bit of frosting to the side of the log to resemble a tree branch.

Spread the chocolate frosting on the chilled cake with an offset spatula, completely covering the top and ends. While the frosting is still soft, use the offset spatula or spoon to create a swirl on the ends of the Yule log. Use the tines of a fork to create a tree bark pattern on the top and sides of the Yule log. Keep the cake refrigerated until ready to decorate and serve.

Decorate the cake: Sprinkle the cake with chocolate shavings, powdered sugar, crushed pistachios, and/or shredded coconut. Decorate the base with fresh rosemary and fresh cranberries or raspberries.

Recipe Notes

  • The powdered sugar dusted on top of the cake will begin to 'melt' over time, so dust just before serving.

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