How to Make a Yule Log Cake—the Most Impressive Holiday Dessert
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Yule log cake, sometimes called buche de Noel, is a showstopping centerpiece for the holidays. We'll show you how to make this traditional Christmas dessert so you can impress your holiday guests.
During the holidays, we all want to put something a little extra special on the table. It’s why we go all out with the best Christmas cookie recipes and showstopping Christmas dinners. After the dinner table is cleared, it’s time to bring out a jaw-dropping holiday dessert. At Taste of Home, that means one thing: a spectacular Yule log cake.
What Is a Yule Log Cake?
These cakes get their name from the centuries-old European tradition of burning a log during Yule or wintertime festivals. Over time, the practice fell out of favor, but the idea of the Yule log was still very much beloved. So enterprising bakers in 18th-century France began to recreate these logs with cake.
Yule log cake or buche de Noel, is now a traditional Christmas dessert. It’s essentially an over-the-top cake roll filled with mousse, whipped cream or another delicious filling. The outside is decorated to look like a log, either with buttercream frosting or chocolate shards replicating tree bark.
Other finishes, like a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, cookie pinecones or meringue mushrooms, are also popular and make the log look even more festive and realistic.
How to Make a Yule Log Cake
There are many Yule log cake recipes out there (this chocolate Yule log is a classic) and lots of opportunities to switch up the flavors based on your preferences.
Our Test Kitchen’s favorite buche de Noel is this chocolate gingerbread Yule log cake from Lauren Knoelke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s a gingerbread cake filled with fresh ginger, spices and a mascarpone filling, topped with dark chocolate bark.
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
- 4 to 6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
Tools You’ll Need
- 15×10 pan: Yule log cakes are baked in a 15×10 pan often called a jelly roll pan. Make sure you have one stocked in your kitchen—this is one recipe where a substitute won’t do.
- Tea towels: To get that perfect spiral, make sure you have a few clean tea towels on hand. Bonus points if they are festive!
- Offset spatula: To fill this cake and create the chocolaty bark on the outside, you’ll want a small offset spatula.
Step 1: Mix and bake the gingerbread cake
Our Yule log cake batter is a bit different than most basic batters. It’s a fatless sponge cake, meaning it uses no leavening agents. Instead, it gets its rise from egg whites.
Start by sifting together your dry ingredients: cake flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, pepper and salt. The sifting creates a light and airy cake, so don’t skip this step (and don’t skip out on learning how to sift without a sifter). Set the dry ingredients aside.
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks together until they thicken slightly. Add the brown sugar and beat on high until nice and thick. Add in the molasses, oil and fresh ginger.
Next, gently add your flour mixture into the egg and sugar blend. Don’t overmix: Overmixing a fatless sponge creates a tough, chewy cake.
In a third 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 glossy stiff peaks.
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. Be careful not to overmix and knock all the air out of the eggs, since the air that you whipped into the whites will give the cake lift and a light texture. Without that air, your cake will be thin and rubbery.
Spread the batter in a greased 15×10 baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350ºF for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched.
Step 2: Roll the cake
Once the cake is baked, let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. While it’s cooling, dust a tea towel with cocoa (confectioners’ sugar also works).
Carefully turn your cake out onto the dusted towel. Peel away the parchment paper. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up into the towel. Yep, the towel should be rolled up inside; this is the standard technique when making a cake roll. 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.
Step 3: Make the marscarpone-ginger filling
Mix together softened mascarpone cheese (cream cheese will also work if you can’t find mascarpone at the store), sugar, cream and salt until just combined. Then, stir in the crystallized ginger for a spicy kick. Refrigerate the filling while you work on the other components of your Yule log cake.
Editor’s Tip: This Yule log filling is easy to customize. Instead of stirring in crystallized ginger, use mini chocolate chips, toasted nuts, orange zest or chopped dried cranberries.
Step 4: Fill the cake
When you’re ready to fill the Yule log cake, carefully unroll it from the dusted tea towel. Using an offset spatula, spread an even coat of the mascarpone filling across the cake. Leave a quarter-inch unfrosted around the edge so the filling doesn’t spill out.
Step 5: Roll up the Yule log
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 6: Whip the buttercream and frost
The frosting for this Yule log cake is a creamy, rich Swiss meringue buttercream.
To make a Swiss meringue buttercream, put the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl and whisk until combined. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with simmering water. Whisk constantly until the mixture is frothy and a thermometer reads 160º, about 2 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 as hot, about 5 minutes. Keep your mixer going on medium speed and beat in the softened butter a few tablespoons at a time until the frosting is smooth. Finish by beating in cooled melted chocolate. The frosting should be a pale cocoa color.
Frost the outside of your cake, skipping the lends bare so you can see that beautiful spiral.
Editor’s Tip: If you want, you can stop right here with your Yule log cake! It’s delicious with just the frosting, though you can drag the tines of a fork across the surface of the icing to give it a tree bark texture.
Step 7: Melt the chocolate
To create the chocolate bark that will adorn the outside of the Yule log, line a cookie sheet or large cutting board with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate and spread it evenly over the parchment with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.
Step 8: Make the chocolate shards and decorate
When your chocolate sheet is cold and set, lift it with your fingers and break it into long shards. These don’t need to be perfectly sized—they’re meant to mimic nature, after all—but if you find the chocolate is becoming soft, 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 Slice a Yule Log
To preserve that perfect swirl that you worked so hard to create, you’ll want to use a serrated knife to slice a Yule log cake.
Gently saw through the cake with a back-and-forth motion, cutting through the bark and all. For clean slices, be sure to rinse your knife in hot water and wipe dry between cuts. This is a good technique for cutting cakes of all kinds.