Why did I start making yule logs? Because they are hilarious. (Bûche de Noëls, on the other hand, are beautiful, French, and fine and not hilarious at all.) The idea of taking this wonderfully airy, yellow sponge cake, a delicate whipped filling and a rich, decadent chocolate frosting, and turning it all into a cake make to look like a rotting log covered in fungus is simply one of the most marvelous holiday traditions of all time. If you aren’t dead on your feet yet (if so, sorry! Just skip ahead to the drink at the bottom of the page!), grab your friends, and log away.
What You Need:
- 1 15” X 10” X Whatever Pan. (Most yule log recipes insist on a 15” X 10” X 1” sheet — commonly called a jelly roll pan, but as a founding member of No More Baking Pans of Annual Use — lookin’ at you, Bundt cake — I call bull on this. Regular roasting or lasagna pans are the same length and width, just maybe an inch or two taller AND you can buy cheap, disposable aluminum versions of them.)
- 1 Very Clean Dish Towel
- 1 Electric Mixer (There is a lot of stirring in this recipe. You may be dumb and stubborn like me and want to hand whisk everything, but it’s nearly 2013 and your wrists are precious to you.)
- 1-3 Friends/Roommates/Loving Companions Standing Around (For decorating/holding the electric mixer while you refill your drink.)
- A holiday soundtrack, (Look, by the time you’re making a yule log, you’ve gone All In on the Holidays. I recommend this one by my friend Joel.)
- A Drink (See below for recipe. Is it a party now? I think so!)
- 3 Eggs + 1 Egg Yolk
- 1 Cup Sugar
- ½ Cup Cold Water
- 1 Cup All Purpose Flour (If you have it lying around, use cake flour, but don’t add the baking powder.)
- ¼ Tsp. Salt
- ½ Tsp. Vanilla
- ½ Cup Powdered Sugar
- A Dash of Grand Marnier If That’s Lying Around Because Hey, It’s The Holidays
- 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
- 2 Scant Tbsps. of Instant Espresso (Instant coffee works as well, but I like the finer grain of espresso.)
- 2 Heaping Tsps. of Sugar
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- ⅓ Cup Unsweetened Baking Cocoa
- ½ stick Unsalted Butter (Always unsalted with baking! I will fight you on this!)
- 2 Cups Powdered Sugar
- 1 Tsp. of Vanilla
- 2 Tsps. of hot coffee
1. Are you listening to me? Do you hear my low, Okie-accent tinged voice in your head as you read this? Okay, here it is: PREHEAT YOUR OVEN TO 350 DEGREES. (And now you never have to think about it again!) Also get your half cup of water and pour it over ice and stick it in the freezer, along with an empty mixing bowl.
2. Now get your pan out and line it with foil or parchment paper, then spray that down with baking spray. Yes, you’re essentially double-bagging your cake sheet, because that’s how irritating shaking an upside-down pan until your cake comes half way out and then breaks is.
3. Crack the three eggs + 1 yolk into the bowl (suggestion for the extra egg white: half a batch of meringue mushrooms for final decorations), and beat with the mixer for five minutes. See why I told you to buy an electric mixer? Also right now is great for when you grab those nearby people I suggested and get them to either mix you up a drink or pass off the bowl while you make one yourself. Hard work, I know. The eggs should be this lovely, daffodil yellow and really thick by this point. Beat in, on low speed, your 1 cup sugar until completely mixed in, then gradually pour in your ice water from the freezer (see first paragraph!) and vanilla (and optional booze, of course!). Keep blending until it’s all consistently smooth and one color. Gradually add flour, baking powder, and salt until totally smooth. Pour the batter into your double bagged pan, tipping it this way and that until evenly spread to all corners.
4. Place cake pan into oven (oh, that’s where it goes!) and let it bake for about 13 minutes, and with 12 of those minutes, you can dance to three songs, watch someone else smoke a cigarette, check basketball scores, or call your mom and let her be SO proud of you for making such a complicated cake! (Her words, not mine.)
4.5 But before that final minute, lay down your Very Clean Dish Towel, and sprinkle your ½ cup powdered sugar all over it. Rub it around, covering every inch of the towel surface with the sugar. And like that, the time should go off on your cake. Take a knife and run it around the edges of the pan, and immediately invert the cake onto the prepared dish towel. Remove pan. It should look like the following image.
5. And now what you’re going to do, in front of your very impressed audience (they will be, watch), is take the short end of the towel and then start rolling up that towel — with the cake — like a carpet. Do it with great confidence. And boom! Rolled up cake in a towel! To remain perfectly moist until ready by which I mean 30 minutes until cool at least!
6. Take your chilled bowl out of the freezer, pour in your cup of heavy whipping cream and two tablespoons of sugar. Beat with your electric mixer until you can tell it’s thickening. Add your instant espresso or coffee and continue to beat until it’s very, very stiff. You know, like whipped cream. Put the whipped cream back in the fridge until you’re done/cake is cool.
7. In another bowl (a lot of dishes are used in this! But hey, don’t you have people just standing around? Tell them to get scrubbing if they want cake), we start our buttercream frosting. Beat your baking cocoa and unsalted butter on low until 2 become 1. Beat your powdered sugar into the frosting mix with the bowl pointed away from your face. You know why, Mrs. Doubtfire. Stir in vanilla and hot coffee until smooth and very, very, tantalizingly frosting-y. Put into fridge until needed.
8. By now, either your cake is cool enough for the filling and frosting, or else you can do one of things I listed above. So, unroll your cake from the towel and spread the whipped cream filling on. Leave either a half-inch border filling-less, or darn, eat whatever filling oozes out if you don’t. Roll back up without the towel.
9. Now you’re going to make your little log stump! It’s the cutest thing about this entire process! And so easy: Just diagonally cut off two inches of your log.
10. Now attach it back on to the side of your log with your buttercream, like you’d trowel mortar to a brick (I guess, I’ve never built my own wall. You should write that article), until it looks appropriately log-like.
11. Frost the whole thing with the rest of your frosting, reminding yourself that unlike most social situations, you can never lay it on too thick.
12. Now it’s up to you. Either stuff yourself with cake immediately or continue the process of making your log cake the most loggish it can be. I have the following suggestions for decorations:
1. The aforementioned meringue mushrooms.
2. Flaky chocolate bark.
3. Edible leaves (lemon, grape, etc.) dipped in chocolate.
4. Chopped pistachios used to simulate mold (hahaha, I love this cake so much).
Here’s my new favorite recipe that I got from my step-mother, but a little Googling tells me it originates from NYC bartender Phil Ward. You may not need it while baking the cake, but oh man, are you gonna love it when you’re done.
THE COOPER UNION:
(Optional) Rinse glass with Scotch
Pour into an ice filled shaker:
- 2 oz Irish whiskey
- ½ oz plus a touch more St. Germain
- Dash of Orange Bitters
Strain into tumbler filled with ice. Garnish a lemon peel (Oops, no lemon? Guess you’ll just have to drink it then.)
Previously: How to Throw a Shrimp Boil.
Meredith Fay Lovelace spelled meringue the following ways while writing this article: maringge, merange, muringue. She is a cartographer in Austin by day and a tipsy baker by night. She irregularly updates her Tumblr here.