“Holiday and Holy Day, Christmas is more than a yule log, holly or tree. It is more than natural good cheer and the giving of gifts. Christmas is even more than the feast of the home and of children, the feast of love and friendship. It is
more than all of these together. Christmas is Christ, the Christ of justice and charity, of freedom and peace.” – Francis Spellman.
It is common cause that the Christian Christmas we know today contains many elements of
non-Christian origin. Take the date, for instance: it is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible – it coincides with the ancient Winter Solstice festivals of the Vikings, Celts and Goths, known as Yule. At its heart was the ritual burning of the
“Yule Log”. The Log was originally an entire tree; carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would
be lit with the remains of the previous year's log, and then slowly fed into the fire over a period of twelve days (which gave rise to the Twelve Days of Christmas).
The rationale for this tradition was the belief that, for twelve days at the
end of December, the sun stood still (which is why the days were so short). If they could keep yule logs burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer. If a Yule Log went out, then there
would be terrible luck. For Christians, the symbolism of the Yule log was that it represented the need to keep the stable warm for the Infant Christ. Over time, more and more people became urbanized, and the tree was reduced to a log. Eventually the custom
died a quiet death during the first half of the 20th Century. In its place came the dessert named after the tree, which originated in France (where it is known as Bûche de Noël). It soon spread to the French-speaking parts of Belgium and
Switzerland, and later to Quebec and other French territories. Today it is enjoyed in many parts of the world.
The modern-day dessert is made of sponge cake, and decorated to resemble a miniature Yule log. It is often served with one end cut
off and set atop the cake, or protruding from its side to resemble a chopped off branch. A bark-like texture is often produced by dragging a fork through the icing, and fine sugar sprinkled on it to resemble snow. Other common decorations include actual
twigs from trees, fresh berries and mushrooms made of meringue or marzipan; give your creative spirits free rein as you make this storied dessert this Festive Season. Note: The cake roll can be made the day before and refrigerated
overnight. Frost just before serving.
Preparation time: 90 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
For the cake:
6 Large egg yolks, at room temperature
5 Large egg whites,
at room temperature
¾ Cup granulated sugar
½ Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ Coarse salt
For the Kirsch syrup:
¾ Cup sugar
½ Cup water
1 Tbsp. Kirsch liqueur
For the filling:
2 Large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ Vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped and reserved
1 Cup pitted brandied cherries, drained
½ Cup thick cream
4 Tbsp. full-cream milk
1 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
For the topping:
1 Cup thick cream
1 ½ Tsp. confectioners' sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for sifting
- Begin by preparing the cake mixture.
- Pre-heat your oven to 190ºC.
- Line a 22 x 32cm rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the egg yolks and half the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk.
- Beat at high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy and leaves a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk.
- Add the egg whites and salt to the
bowl and beat at moderately high speed until soft peaks form.
- Gradually add the other half of the sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.
- Using a rubber spatula, stir ¼ of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture,
then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
- Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa over the batter and fold gently until fully incorporated.
- Spread the batter on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer.
- Bake for 18
- 20 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; rotate the pan halfway through baking.
- Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- While the cake is baking, make the syrup and custard filling.
- Combine the water and sugar
in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer just until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the Kirsch.
- In a small, microwave-safe
bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened.
- Combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in
a small bowl.
- When the milk comes to a simmer, discard the vanilla pod.
- Slowly whisk the milk into the yolk mixture until thoroughly blended.
- Transfer the mixture to the saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly,
until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 1 - 2 minutes.
- Strain the custard into a medium bowl.
- Melt the gelatin in the microwave for 15 seconds; stir it into the custard and allow to cool.
whip the cream until firm.
- Stir ¼ of the whipped cream into the custard until incorporated, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.
- Run the tip of a knife around the edge of the cake. Cover with a clean sheet of parchment and a second
baking sheet and invert the cake.
- Remove the first baking sheet and peel off the parchment. Brush the kirsch syrup evenly onto the cake to soak; reserve any extra syrup for future use.
- Using an offset spatula, spread the custard filling evenly
over the cake.
- Scatter the cherries over the filling.
- Use the parchment to carefully roll the cake to form a 20cm-long log with the seam on the bottom.
- Fold the parchment over the log so the ends meet.
- Using a ruler, squeeze
the cake in the parchment to tighten the roll. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Finally, make the topping just before serving.
- Whip the cream with the confectioners' sugar until firm.
- Transfer the cake to a serving platter and frost
with the whipped cream.
- Sift the cocoa powder on top.
- Slice and serve.
“The Romans had, like other Pagan nations, a nature festival, called by them Saturnalia, and the Northern peoples had Yule; both
celebrated the turn of the year from the death of winter to the life of spring - the winter solstice. As this was an auspicious change the festival was a very joyous one... The giving of presents and the burning of candles characterized it. Among the Northern
people the lighting of a huge log in the houses of the great and with appropriate ceremonies was a feature.” – Samuel L Jackson.