Whether it is known as a Yule Log, Buche de Noel or Ceppo di Natale, this glorious dessert is classic holiday fare. I made my first one the other day - although extremely time-consuming, it was definitely worth it as the centrepiece of the neighbourhood Christmas party. Here's the recipe: (And bear in mind this might take 2 or 3 days, so plan ahead.)
Step One: Make a simple sponge sheet cake:
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites
1 Tbsp sugar
Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Beat egg yolks with 1 cup sugar and vanilla until very thick and pale yellow. In another bowl, beat egg whites until thick and add 1 Tbsp sugar, continuing to beat until stiff. Sift flour mixture into yolk mixture a little at a time and fold in between additions. Gently fold in egg whites using a rubber spatula.
Pour into a 10x15" jellyroll pan that is lined with buttered parchment paper. Spread evenly and bake in a preheated 400 F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes, watching carefully. Cake is done when it is a light golden brown. Take another sheet of parchment paper and sprinle with powdered icing sugar. Invert cake onto sheet and peel off buttered parchment. Gently roll the cake jelly roll style with the sugared paper, and let cool for 20 minutes.
Step 2: Make a Mocha Butter Cream:
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened but not oily or melted
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tsps. instant coffee powder, dissolved in a little water, or brandy
Combine water and sugar and boil until the soft ball stage or 238 F. on a candy thermometer. Beat egg yolks until thick and yellow and slowly pour in hot syrup, beating constantly. (It's good to do this with an electric mixer unless you have a very strong arm.) Continue beating til mixture is cool. Beat in butter a little at a time, then add chocolate and coffee. You want it to be thick enough to spread, so if it is too soft, put in fridge until of spreading consistency.
Step 3: I also made a chestnut cream, which was kind of insane, but gave a beautiful rich, earthy flavour.
1 pound chestnuts, boiled shelled and skinned
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup rum or brandy
1/2 cup butter
Puree the chestnuts in a food processor. Add the sugar, booze and butter and process until smooth. Taste, and if you like, 1/2 to 1 cup of the mocha cream can be added for optimum spreadability.
Step 4: The cake is gently unrolled, and spread with the chestnut filling first, then the mocha filling.
Re-roll the cake as gently and firmly as you can. The filling may squish out the ends a bit, which offers an ideal tasting opportunity. Wrap with the sugared parchment.
Step 5: Wrap cake roll in plastic wrap very firmly, like a sausage. Chill overnight. (Oops, you did plan ahead, right?)
Step 6: Once the cake is in the fridge, or even a couple of days before, make meringue mushrooms.
I foolishly made an Italian meringue recipe, which entailed cooking the meringue over a very low flame. I did it on my woodstove, which just resulted in me getting cooked before the egg whites. Plain old French meringue will do just fine.
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Beat egg whites with salt until they begin to hold soft peaks. Gradually add sugar while continuing to beat until white are very stiff. Transfer to a pastry bag with a 1/2" round tip, or put in a plastic bag with one corner cut off - (I used the makeshift plastic bag method, which made kind of funky looking mushrooms, but perhaps more natural looking.) Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and onto it pipe half the meringue into 1" diameter round buttons (for the tops), and the other half into 1 - 1 1/2" high cones (for the stems). Bake in a pre-heated 150 F. oven for 1 - 2 hours, until meringue is dry but still perfectly white.
When cool, assemble by carving a small divot in the bottom of a cap, and inserting the pointy cone stem. you may use a little left over butter cream or royal icing for "glue". Store mushrooms in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble the log.
Step 7: Next, make a simple chocolate ganache.
1 kilo good chocolate ( I used Lindt dark chocolate wafers)
1 litre whipping cream
(I know, I just went metric on you, but 2 pounds and 4 cups will come close so don't fret)
Melt the chocolate over a low flame. Remove from stove and immediately begin whisking in cream. Pour cream in a gradual stream until it is all incorporated and ganache is thick and glossy. It will be quite liquid but will continue to thicken as it cools.
Okay!!! Now put it all together.
Step 8: Remove wrap from the cake and cut one end off at an angle. This chunk can be artfully arranged either on top or jutting out from the side of the log. Use a bit of leftover butter cream to attach. See pictures. Place cake on a wire rack, with a cookie sheet underneath to catch drips. Carefully pour ganache over the cake. Sometimes the ends are left un-iced so you can see the spiral of the roll, but I was too messy and had to cover the whole log. I did two thin coats, easier to control than one thick coat.
With the help of another set of hands and a couple of egg flippers or spatulas, carefully lift the log and transfer to a serving platter. Touch up any smears in the ganache, and then create bark like texture with either a palette knife (as I did in the top photo), or a fork (as Tala did below.)
Dust a bit of cocoa powder on your meringue mushrooms for a natural effect, then place them around the log in a forest-y manner. From here on in you can get very creative - try googling images of "buche de noel" for some very galoptious examples. I preferred to keep it simple with a few sprigs of holly and daphne. I forgot to lightly sift a bit of icing sugar over the top to simulate snow, but I don't think anyone noticed.
A cake will serve 12-15 people, who will be utterly amazed and delighted with your baking artistry!
* I should mention that you do not, I repeat, DO NOT, make your ganache ahead of time and then put it in the fridge. The change of temperature will turn it to fudge, and it will be grainy and impossible to pour. Leftover ganache can, however, be refrigerated, perhaps poured into a pan and later cut into squares and rolled in good powdered cocoa for truffles!!