One of my favorite cakes to make during the holiday season is this bûche de nöel. The cake is a holiday tradition for the French made during Christmas time.
In America, we know the cake as a yule log cake, but the reason I love it so much is that it’s such an easy way to make an impressive, festive cake without any fancy cake decorating skills.
I’ve seen tutorials for painted cakes with marzipan-crafted toppings that are beautiful but incredibly time-consuming and require extensive skill to actually execute.
But not this cake! This chocolate bûche de nöel will make you look like a total cake boss in front of your family and friends.
It’s not really known how yule log cakes came to be, but theoretically, they’re supposed to represent a log that’s specially selected to be burned during Christmas. I think it’s particularly adored in French culture because the basis of the cake is a sponge cake, which is just the kind of light and airy type of cake that the French love.
A bûche de nöel cake is typically a chocolate cake filled with chocolate cream, but I decided to balance the chocolate out with simple, sweetened whipped cream (I’ve blogged the recipe for this basic sort of chocolate roulade cake before over here).
Instead of doing a plain chocolate ganache on the top, I utilized my favorite recipe for mocha frosting, using Nestlé Toll House’s dark chocolate chips to make it.
Nestlé’s dark chocolate chips always melt really well and are already in morsel form, so there’s no need for me to be chopping up any chocolate bars beforehand or using a double boiler to melt my chocolate first.
I also knew that decorating with mocha frosting would be easier (and yummier) than plain ganache because the frosting sets up sooner (no drippy glaze here!) and would display the log “ridges” very clearly.
The cake itself is baked with a minimal amount of flour and softly whipped egg whites, which is what gives the cake its spongy texture. It’s then baked in a half sheet baking pan/jelly roll pan (like this) before it’s flipped out and rolled into a cylinder.
The trick to preventing cracks in a bûche de nöel cake is to roll the cake while it’s still slightly warm. Then when the bûche de nöel is completely cool, you unravel it, spread the whipped cream on top, then roll it back up. A piece of cake is sliced off right from the front and attached to the side of the bûche de nöel to mimic the look of a branch.
The cake is then covered in the dark chocolate mocha frosting using a rubber spatula rather than an offset spatula (like this one). Usually, cakes are frosted with offset spatulas to give the frosting that perfectly smooth appearance, but in this case, we want the bûche de nöel to look the opposite; slight ridges and bumps are welcome!
Then a final run down the cake with a fork gives the log its distinct ridges, and the garnishing of cranberries and rosemary give the cake its final dose of festivity!
Buche de Noel
A chocolate swiss-roll style cake, filled with whipped cream and covered in mocha chocolate frosting.
for the cake
- 4 eggs yolks and whites separated
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup cake flour
- 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
for the filling
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar plus more for dusting
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
for the frosting
- 6 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate chips 3/4 cup
- 1.5 tbsp softened unsalted butter
- 1 tsp instant coffee granules
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tbsp Kahlua
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- cranberries and rosemary for garnishing
Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper. Cut a slit in the parchment paper in each of the four corners of the pan so that the parchment paper lies completely flat against the edges of the pan. Use office binder clips to clip the parchment paper to the edges of the pan. Set aside.
Drop the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on high speed for about 2 to 3 minutes, until wet, soft peaks form. You want the whites to stay hanging on your whisk when they're held upside down, but you don't want them so stiff and dry like you would for a merengue (aim for softly curled tips). Temporarily set the whites aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they're pale yellow. In a separate, smaller bowl, sift the cocoa powder, cake flour, coffee granules, baking powder, and salt together. Add these dry ingredients to the bowl containing the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk to combine - batter will be VERY thick and hard to mix, but this is normal, so just try your best to mix everything together.
Add in half of the egg whites and use a rubber spatula to gently fold the whites into the batter. You don't have to be extra gentle at this point since you are merely trying to loosen up the batter with the egg whites. Now, add the remaining half of egg whites and, this time, be VERY gentle when folding the whites into the batter with your spatula; make light, long folds.
Pour the batter into you're prepared pan and use your spatula to gently smooth out the batter. Don't tap the pan or move the pan side to side - you don't want to ruin the air bubbles you created with the whipped egg whites. Bake the cake for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the cake springs back when gently pressed by the tip of your finger (for me, it's always about 6 1/2 minutes in the oven). Let the cake slightly cool in the pan for 2 minutes - no longer.
Meanwhile, prepare a light kitchen/tea towel by sprinkling powdered sugar all over it. Flip the cake out onto the towel and very gently peel the parchment paper off inch by inch. Grab one of the short sides of the cake and roll it towards the other short side, rolling the towel with it as you go. Let the cake remain in this rolled shape until it's completely cool. (Note: It’s important to do this while the cake is still warm as the cake is still flexible at this point and this prevents the cake from cracking or tearing as you roll it).
Meanwhile, create the frosting by adding the chocolate chips, coffee granules, kahlua, unsalted butter, and vanilla extract to a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream over medium-low heat until it’s hot but not boiling (the edges should begin to simmer and steam should rise from the cream). Pour this hot cream over the chocolate and contents in the bowl, then use a spoon to stir the mixture together until it’s completely smooth. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes - no longer.
While the frosting chills, whip up your heavy cream in your stand mixer on high speed for one minute, or until the folds of the whisk start appearing in the cream. Add in the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar and continue to whisk on high until the cream is thick like frosting.
Once your cake is cool, unroll your cake and use an offset spatula to spread the whipped cream all over the surface, leaving a very small border around the edges of the cake unfrosted. Gently roll the cake back up just like you did before (minus the towel), with the seam side facing down.
Take a sharp knife and cut off a 2 inch slice from one end of the cake, cutting at an angle so that one end of the slice is 2 inches and the other end is closer to 1 inch. Take this slice and place the side of it that isn’t cut/exposed and attach it to the main cake log somewhere near the middle of the log.
Use a hand mixer to whisk the chilled frosting for 15 to 25 seconds, or until you can see the whisk leaving indentations in the frosting. Don’t whisk any longer than that as it’ll ruin the frosting. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the frosting all over the cake log and it’s side stump. It’s preferred that you don’t use an offset spatula as the rubber spatula leaves nice streaks that make the cake look more like a log. Take a fork and run it down the length of the cake log several times. Adorn the cake with cranberries and rosemary for a more festive look.
If you don't have kahlua, you can either leave it out or equally substitute with brewed coffee.
If your frosting is really soupy after the 30 minutes are up, you can continue to refrigerate it, checking on it every 5 to 10 minutes. Some fridges are very cold as opposed to others, so it can differ depending on how cool yours gets. The reason you want to avoid the frosting turning solid is that it will be harder to whisk it up and actually spread it out onto your delicate cake.