“...Christmas is much more than a yule log, holly, or a tree.” -Francis Spellman
For Epiphany or Little Christmas, if you will, I made a special yule log. Baking a yule log for epiphany has been a tradition that my mother has always done. Her usual recipe is a chocolate cake with vanilla pudding in the middle. My own take on the yule log is inspired by a recipe in the cookbook Bake From Scratch by Brian Hart Hoffman. It is a cocoa cake that has a fluffy mascarpone filling, surrounded by meringue that is torched to look like a birch wood branch, and finally is garnished with sugared rosemary stems.
If you are reading this and think that this cake is a lot of work I am here to tell you that yes, yes it is a lot of work. This cake takes time and is stressful. Several things can go wrong when making a yule log cake, particularly with the rolling process. When the cake is taken out of the oven it needs to be rolled in a towel while it is still hot. It is important to get the roll tight, but without cracking or splitting the cake.
After the cake has completely cooled it is time to unroll it and get it off the towel. I have made the mistake of not putting enough powdered sugar on the towel so then my cake was sticking to it. Learn from my mistakes, don’t be shy with the powdered sugar. Once the filling has been spread evenly but used sparingly, it is time to reroll your flatten cake to create the magic that is the log.
Another tricky part of this cake is the decorating. Making meringue isn’t too hard. But spreading it evenly so that there is an abundance at one end and very little on the other takes practice. Also using a torch can be somewhat intimidating. I used one to get the browned look on this yule log, which I believe makes it look more birch tree log. But the meringue does burn easily and it is best to not tip the torch, as this can result in a meringue that tastes slightly of butane.
There are frustrations with making this dessert. Cake splitting, filling spilling out, or a towel deciding to become one with the cake and get stuck. But let me tell you this cake is worth it. Whether this cake is to be eaten for a Christmas celebration or for a winter festivities a yule log will bring everyone to gather around the table.
A version of a classic that will look beautiful on the table. Serves about 8-12 slices
Ingredients for Cake
1 large egg
¾ cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
¾ cup of all-purpose flour
⅓ cup of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoon of sour cream
¼ cup of vegetable oil
Ingredients for Whipped Vanilla Mascarpone Filling
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
⅔ cup of confectioners' sugar
8 oz of mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Ingredients for Meringue Topping
3 large egg whites
½ and ⅛ cups of sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Ingredients for Sugared Rosemary
1 cup and 1 Tablespoon of sugar
½ cup of water
4 to 6 rosemary branches
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 17 ½ x 12 ½ jelly- roll pan and line the pan with parchment paper or a jelly roll silicone mat. (Note: a jelly-roll pan is the same as a cookie sheet with raised sides.)
In a large bowl beat eggs and sugar until thick and pale for 5 to 7 minutes, then beat in vanilla bean paste.
In a medium bowl sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Fold flour mixture into the egg mixture.
In a small bowl whisk together sour cream and oil. Fold in the sour cream mixture into the egg mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl to fully incorporate.
Spread batter into the pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately run a sharp knife around edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn out cake on a tea towel lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
After parchment paper or mat is removed dust the cake with additional confectioners' sugar and roll up the cake lengthwise in the towel to let cool completely about 30-45 minutes.
While the cake is cooling make the filling by beating the cream, powdered sugar, mascarpone and vanilla bean paste with a whisk until stiff peaks form (2- 3 minutes).
Unroll the cake and spread the filling then reroll the cake to form a log. Place log seam side down in a serving platter. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (if doing beforehand keep in the fridge until ready to frost, up to 4 hours before serving.)
While the cake is chilling make the meringue toppings by bringing a medium saucepan of water to a simmer. With a whisk combine all ingredients, then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cook mixture, whisking constantly until sugar is dissolved, for about five minutes. Take the bowl off the heat and beat at high speed until stiff glossy peaks form about 5 to 8 minutes.
After the cake is done in the fridge, trim 3 to 4 inches off one end of the cake diagonally. Place cut section at an angle and attach with the meringue topping and spread the remaining topping over the cake.
Create a bark pattern using a spatula. Then with a kitchen torch brown the meringue.
To create the sugared rosemary stems bring a ½ cup of water and ½ cup of sugar to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes and let cool for 10 minutes. Place the remaining ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons of sugar in a shallow dish dip each rosemary branch in water mixture (simple syrup) and roll in sugar. Let dry for 5 minutes before drying.