In case you did not know, I do take reader requests, so if you're stuck for a festive Christmas Eve dessert, I'm sharing my go-to recipe for a classic chocolate yule log today, as a couple of you have asked me this year how I make mine. It is really easy to do (though it includes a bit more kitchen equipment and a few more bowls than my recipes usually go for), looks really impressive, and is usually a hit all round. It's adapted from my Christmas bible, Nigella Lawson's Feast, because her swiss roll sponge can't be improved on, but I've gone for a lighter, creamier filling, a little less chocolate in the frosting (I know, trust me!) and the obvious adult addition of brandy (but you can equally leave it out if you don't want to give it to young children, too.)
As with most of the recipes I make every single Christmas, there is a memory attached. I started making it the year I read Feast cover to cover one rainy afternoon, but before that I have one clear memory of making a chocolate log. When I was little, probably every year up until the year before my grandmother died, my grandparents used to spend Christmas with us. This came with its own traditions, like my grandfather taking forever to open his presents carefully with a pen knife to preserve the paper (he grew up during the war), and my having to pretend to be asleep when my grandmother was giggling really loudly while she helped my mother fill my Christmas stocking in the dark hallway outside my bedroom.
While some things were the same every Christmas with them, there are some memories that stand out as one offs, and that was the time I complained to Mummy and Ma-ma that we never made a chocolate yule log. So, they found a recipe (I don't know where it was from, I'd hazard a guess at Mary Berry or Delia Smith), and the three of us spent the afternoon making the only yule log I can remember making en-famille. There was much concern about if the sponge would crack, and all hands on deck to make sure we got a nice swirl. And I know I was the one to draw all of the lines in it with a cocktail stick (though I've now graduated to Nigella's tip that one of those little holders you stick into the end of the corn on a cob makes the best tree bark effect), and to dust it with icing sugar. While I baked as a child with my Mum more times than I can count, and I remember being in our kitchen with Ma-ma when she taught me how to make her family's take on a lockshen pudding, the yule log is the only memory I have of all three of us baking together.
The log will serve about 8-10 people, and I'd not keep it more than a day after you've filled it (keep it in the fridge when you're not bringing it up to room temperature to serve) because of the creme fraîche. Speaking of the creme fraîche, you want a really, thick, good quality one here. I use Crème d'Isigny, from a special designated region of France which I either pick up in identical glass jars from Waitrose or the French supermarket when I'm over there, but if you live in London, shop what you're doing, don't pass go and don't collect £200: head straight to Neal's Yard Dairy because they make the very best creme fraîche I've ever tasted.
For the Cake
- 6 Large Eggs, separated
- 150g (6 oz) Golden Caster Sugar
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 50g (2 oz) Cocoa Powder
For the Filling, Icing & Decoration
- 60g (2 oz) Dark Chocolate
- 160g (6 oz) Icing Sugar, plus 1 tsp, and extra for dusting
- 150g (6 oz) Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 2 1/2 tsp Brandy or Cognac
- 200g (7 oz) Full Fat Creme Fraîche
- 5-6 Fresh Cranberries (optional)
- Sprig Fresh Rosemary (optional)
- Edible Gold or Silver Lustre Spray (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees (355 fahrenheit) and line a large swiss roll tin with baking parchment. In a standing food mixer (I have a K-Mix) fitted with the balloon whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they are thick and frothy. Make sure the bowl of the mixture and your whisk are very, very clean, otherwise the eggs may not thicken properly, which would be a disaster in a fatless, flourless cake like this! If you're not sure, wipe your bowl around with a bit of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, which should do the trick. Add 50g (2 oz) of the caster sugar, and whisk until the mixture is thick, glossy and holds stiff peaks, but has not dried out. This means you've gone too far if the egg whites start to clump together rather than being one smooth mixture.
In a separate bowl, using a hand held electric whisk set on high, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until the mixture is thick and pale. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Fold in in the cocoa powder with a metal spoon until the mixture is consistent.
Add a few generous spoonfuls of the whisked egg whites into the chocolate mixture, and gently fold them in. Then, fold in the rest of the egg white in manageable amounts until the mixture is uniform, doing your best to keep as much of the air in as possible. I've explained the right technique for this here. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, making sure the top is smooth and it is pushed right into the corners. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
Allow the sponge to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so until it is cool enough to touch, then slide it out, greaseproof paper side down, onto a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the filling and the frosting. For the filling, beat 1 1/2 tsp of the brandy and 1 tsp of the icing sugar together until smooth.
To make the chocolate frosting, fill a saucepan half full with boiling water, and set it over a medium low heat. Set a heatproof glass bowl over the top, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Break the chocolate into it, and stir occasionally until it has all melted. Set aside to cool while you beat together the butter and sugar, followed by the vanilla extract until smooth. Beat in the cool chocolate, then the remaining 1 tsp of brandy.
To assemble the log, place a piece of baking parchment over the top of the sponge. Slide the wire wrack out from under the sponge, and place it on top. Flip the sponge over, and gently peel off the baking parchment. Place it back on top and flip again. Spread the creme fraîche mixture evenly across the whole of the smooth side of the sponge. Place the sponge so that the long side is facing you, and trim all of the other edges to make them straight with a sharp knife. Gently but tightly roll the log away from you. Don't worry if you get a few cracks, these will be covered with frosting.
Slice off each end at a diagonal, and arrange these pieces as well as the main roll on a serving plate or wooden board to make branches. Using a pallet knife, smooth the frosting over the whole of the log. I like to leave the ends naked so that you can see the filling, but for a less rustic finish you should have enough frosting to cover those, too. Using a sharp implement (see above), make lines and knots for a tree bark effect. You can just dust it with icing sugar through a small sieve before serving for a simple snowfall effect, but I like to add a bit of colour with sprigs of rosemary and fresh cranberries, and gold or silver edible lustre spray looks beautiful when it catches the light, making the 'snow' glisten rather realistically.
That is all for me by way of Christmas recipes this year (though I have a few up my sleeve for New Years Eve, so keep an eye out next week), but if you need any help with or have any questions about any of my festive recipes, you can always reach me via Twitter and I'll do my best to help!