How to Make a Yule Log Cake—the Most Impressive Holiday Dessert

Yule log cake, sometimes called Buche de Noël, is a showstopping centerpiece for the holidays. We'll show you how to make this traditional Christmas dessert so you can impress all your loved ones.

During the holidays, we all want to put something a little extra special on the table. It’s why we go all out with over-the-top dinners and so many tempting cookies. But after the dinner table is cleared and you’ve had your fair share of cookies, it’s time to bring out a jaw-dropping holiday dessert. At Taste of Home, that means one thing: a spectacular yule log cake.

Yule log cake, or Buche de Noël, is a traditional holiday dessert. It’s essentially a next-level cake roll. You’ll often see them filled with whipped cream or mousse and topped with frosting. The finishing touch, though, is always a chocolate bark exterior to make it look woodsy and oh-so-tempting. Now, there are a lot of steps to making the perfect yule log cake, but it’s nothing a home baker with a little patience can’t accomplish. We’ll walk you through step by step how to make our favorite variation on this dessert.

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How to Make a Yule Log Cake

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Our Test Kitchen’s favorite yule log cake comes from Lauren Knoelke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This cake is a twist on a traditional Buche de Noël: It’s a gingerbread cake filled with fresh ginger, spices, a mascarpone filling and topped with dark chocolate. Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

For the cake:

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons each ground ginger and cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Baking cocoa

For the filling:

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup crystallized ginger

For the buttercream:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces high-quality milk chocolate, melted and cooled
For the chocolate bark:
  • 4 to 6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

Step 1: Mix Up the Gingerbread Cake Batter

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This cake batter is a bit different than most basic batters. The gingerbread cake in this recipe is a fatless sponge cake, meaning it uses no leavening agents. Instead, it gets all its rise from egg whites. Assembling a batter like this is a change of pace, but it makes use of lots of techniques most home bakers know by heart.

With that said, the first steps in mixing up this batter are easy. Start by sifting together your dry ingredients: cake flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Sifting these ingredients is crucial to create a light and airy cake, so don’t skip it. And if you don’t have a sifter at home, don’t fret—we’ve got some solutions. Here’s what to do if you don’t have a sifter. Once sifted, you can set the dry ingredients aside.

In another bowl, beat the five egg yolks together until they thicken slightly. Then add in the brown sugar and beat on the high setting until nice and thick. Add in the molasses, oil and fresh ginger.

Next, fold your flour mixture into the egg and sugar blend. Be sure not to overmix these ingredients. When you overmix, you create a tough, chewy cake. With a fatless sponge cake, it’s very important to avoid this.

Now, in another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then, add in the sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat until you have stiff, glossy peaks.  If you’re new to whipping up egg whites, follow our guide to creating soft and stiff peaks.

After you’ve created these stiff peaks, you’re almost at the finish line. Take a quarter of your egg whites and fold them into the rest of the cake batter. Once incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites. (You can brush up on your folding technique here.) Be mindful not to overmix and knock all the air out of the eggs. The air that you whipped into the whites is what’s going to give the cake lift and a light texture. Without that air, your cake will be thin and rubbery.

It’s a bit of hard work to create that batter, but it’s well worth it. When it’s all done, spread in a greased and lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan and bake at 350ºF for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched.

Step 2: Roll the Cake

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Once the cake is baked, let it cool in the pan for five minutes. While it’s cooling, dust a tea towel with cocoa.

After five minutes, carefully turn your cake out onto this dusted towel. Peel away the parchment paper. Then, starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up into the towel. The towel should be rolled up inside. You can learn more about this method right here. Let the cake cool completely wrapped up this way.

This step is essential. By rolling the cake when it’s warm, you help train it to roll up more easily once it’s filled.

Editor’s tip: You can use confectioners’ sugar in place of cocoa if you prefer. The cocoa will add a bit of extra flavor to this recipe, though!

Step 3: Make the Marscarpone-Ginger Filling

After all the work of making this fatless sponge cake, the mascarpone filling is an absolute breeze. Just mix together softened mascarpone cheese, sugar, cream and salt until just combined. Then, stir in the crystallized ginger for another spicy kick. Refrigerate this while you work on the other components of your cake.

Editor’s tip: You can customize this filling to suit your tastes. Instead of stirring in crystallized ginger, you can use mini chocolate chips, toasted nuts, orange zest or chopped dried cranberries.

Step 4: Fill and Roll the Yule Log

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When you’re ready to fill the cake, carefully unroll it from the dusted tea towel. Using an offset spatula, spread an even coat of the mascarpone filling across the cake. Be sure to leave a quarter-inch unfrosted around the edge so the filling doesn’t spill out.

Once frosted, reroll the cake. That first roll with just the tea towel should have the cake wanting to coil back into that shape. Work slowly and use the towel to help you roll up the cake again. Be gentle! You don’t want any cracks.

When it’s rolled up, you can wrap it in the tea towel again to keep it tight and pop it in the fridge to set while you make the buttercream. Cool cakes are easier to frost.

Step 5: Whip Up the Buttercream and Frost

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The frosting for this yule log cake is a departure from standard American buttercream. This recipe makes a Swiss meringue buttercream—a type of frosting that starts with whipped egg whites. This Swiss version isn’t quite as sweet but it’s incredibly creamy and rich. This is a great recipe to know for more than just Buche de Noël—use it with your favorite layer cakes, too.

To make a Swiss meringue buttercream, start by placing the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl and whisk until combined. Then place the bowl over a saucepan filled with simmering water. Whisk constantly until the mixture is frothy and a thermometer reads 160ºF—about two minutes.

Once it reaches the right temperature, whisk the whites on high with a stand or hand mixer until stiff, glossy peaks form and the mixture isn’t so hot; it’ll take about five minutes. Keep your mixer going on medium speed and beat in the softened butter a few tablespoons at a time until the frosting is nice and smooth. Finish the frosting off by beating in cooled, melted chocolate. It should be a nice, pale cocoa color.

Use this frosting to ice the outside of your cake—just leave the ends unfrosted so you can see that beautiful spiral.

Step 6: Melt the Chocolate

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To create the chocolate bark that will adorn the outside of the yule log, break out the parchment paper. You can place it on a cookie sheet or even a large cutting board (just make sure it will fit in your fridge).

Melt the chocolate and spread evenly over the parchment with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until set—about 30 minutes.

Step 7: Make the Chocolate Shards and Decorate

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When your chocolate sheet is cold and set, it’s time to break it into shards. Just lift the chocolate with your fingers and break into bark-like strips. These don’t need to be perfect—they’re meant to mimic nature after all—but if you find the chocolate is becoming soft, just pop it back in the fridge to harden again.

After you’ve broken up all the chocolate, arrange the strips across the cake to look like bark. If you want to go a step further, give the yule log a dusting of confectioners’ sugar to look like snow or even arrange a few woodland creature cookies around the edge of the plate.

How to Serve a Yule Log Cake

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After all that work, you’ll want to cut the cake properly. To serve, slice with a nice sharp knife that’s been warmed in hot water and then wiped dry. This will give you gorgeous slices that let you see every bit of your hard work. And if you want to serve this cake up with a little ice cream, we wouldn’t blame you!

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.