My Yule Log Cake Hack Is a Total Showstopper — And Requires Zero Baking

published Dec 15, 2023
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Decorated yuletide log cake.
Credit: Cory Fernandez

Every year, once December rolls around, I find myself searching through lots of fun Christmas cookie recipes — from traditional snowball cookies to peanut butter blossoms and beyond. After thinking a bit, though, I remember that, amongst all of the festive cookies, there are plenty of fun holiday cakes to make, too. This is where the marvelous yule log cake comes in!

What Is a Yule Log Cake?

Yule log cakes, which resemble the logs that are lit during the holidays and are traditionally meant to symbolize the birth of Jesus, are a beloved Christmas dessert. Today, yule log cakes are commonly made with a cake roulade that is filled and covered with frosting. The frosting on top is typically chocolate, in order to look like bark. It’s common to use the tines of a fork to create ridges on the top of the cake to make it look more realistic. Lastly, yule log cakes are often dusted with powdered sugar to look like freshly fallen snow. 

Why Is a Traditional Yule Log Cake Difficult to Make?

As amazing as a yule log cake is, it can be challenging to make — especially if you’re not a professional baker. Typically, a yule log cake requires a particular type of baking sheet, such as a jelly roll pan, which is not always available at popular stores.

Additionally, yule log cakes require you to very carefully roll the cake once it’s baked and out of the oven. This step is usually done with a kitchen towel, which helps keep the cake flexible. You then unroll the cake, spread the inside with frosting, re-roll the cake, and chill it to help it set. Then, you’ll have to cut a small portion of the “log,” cut one end off at a diagonal, and attach it to the side of the large roll. This is to create the “branch” and further make the cake more realistic. 

Lastly, you have to frost the outside of the rolled cake with chocolate frosting with a rubber spatula or offset spatula. Then use the tines of a fork to make the outside look “bark-like,” and then finish everything off by sprinkling with powdered sugar. The end result, although it took quite a bit of effort, is usually great, but it’s not always worth the time spent putting everything together.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

How to Hack a Yule Log Cake: Make an Icebox Cake

To make the whole idea easier, I like to use an approach that is similar to a traditional icebox cake. In other words, you just need a few ingredients — namely, sweetened whipped cream and lots of (preferably thin) cookies. Here’s everything you need.

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Thin, store-bought cookies, such as Pepperidge Farm’s “Thin & Crispy” Cookies
  • 2 small, 6×3.5×2 loaf pans (disposable is fine) 
  • Chocolate frosting (store-bought is fine)

How to Make a Yule Log Icebox Cake

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Line the loaf pan with plastic wrap: This is to make the cake easy to remove from the pan once it’s time to frost it later on. Just tear a small sheet of plastic wrap and line it on the bottom and sides of each of the loaf pans, leaving a few inches of overhang on the sides.

Make the whipped cream: You’ll want to start with a large amount of whipped cream so you can work quickly to build the cake. Add 1 1/2 cups heavy cream and  1/4 cup granulated sugar to a mixing bowl and mix until medium to firm peaks form.

Line the bottom of the pan with whipped cream: Add a couple of spoonfuls of the whipped cream to the bottom and sides of one loaf pan and the bottom and sides of half of the other loaf pan. This will act as the “glue” to help the cookies stay together.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Top the cookies with whipped cream: Take one cookie and top with a dollop of whipped cream (a couple of tablespoons) and place it right-side up in one loaf pan so that the side with the whipped cream is facing away from the the end of the pan. Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies so that the entirety of the loaf pan is filled with cookies, each one with whipped cream in between. 

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Add a few more cookies to the top and edges of the pan and fill in any gaps, using whipped cream to keep everything together. Top the cookies with a layer of whipped cream. After you’ve completed one loaf pan, continue with the other loaf pan, but only fill it halfway — this will be the branch that we attach to the side later on.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Chill the cake: Chill the cake for at least eight hours or overnight to allow the cookies to soften and meld. It’s also important to use thin cookies to make sure they will soften in the refrigerator.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Frost the cake: Remove the cakes from the fridge using the overhang on the sides to lift it out. Carefully flip the full cake onto a serving plate. Remove the half-cake the same way, but flip it onto a cutting board. Slice one end of the half-cake on a diagonal and attach the cut side to one of the sides of the full cake.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Add the store-bought chocolate frosting to a bowl and mix it with an electric hand mixer for about a minute — this will make it easier to frost. Use a rubber spatula or offset spatula to carefully spread the frosting all over the top and sides of the cake. Be sure to work quickly, so the whipped cream doesn’t soften too much. Once the cake is entirely frosted, immediately put it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Use a fork to decorate the cake: Remove the cake from the fridge and carefully run the tines of a fork down the top and sides of the chocolate frosting. Don’t scratch it too far down, as it will then show the whipped cream underneath. 

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Dust with powdered sugar: When you’re ready to serve the cake, add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar to a fine-mesh sieve and carefully place it above the cake and move it back and forth against the palm of your hand to sprinkle it over the cake. If you want, decorate the cake with fresh cranberries and mint leaves or rosemary.