I spent a lot of time in the kitchen leading up to Christmas, and absolutely zero time shopping, which is exactly how I prefer it. I made a bunch of Christmas cookies, as usual, and packaged them up. I made this crazy lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. It's my absolute favorite, but it takes basically a full day to put together. Luckily it can sit in the fridge for a day once it's been assembled, so I made it on Friday (along with Caesar salad dressing, croutons, and garlic bread). Then on Christmas Eve morning I woke up feeling like I had nothing to do so I baked a yule log. Emily introduced me to this tradition last year and this year we did a virtual baking session from our respective kitchens, texting pictures and recipes back and forth as we worked. (Notes on the recipes at the bottom of the post)
Christmas Day was a blur of driving and family and then we had a whole freaking week when we were both on vacation and at home, which never, ever happens to us. We made this huge list of things we wanted to do and then instead of doing most of them we took turns catching colds and ended up binge watching a bunch of TV and using the fireplace as much as humanly possible. It was still pretty wonderful.
Bûche de Noël (aka yule log) - I think this is going to become a tradition, so I promised myself I'd write down some notes for when I inevitably forget everything next year.
We used this recipe for the sponge cake + filling. Super simple, tasty. I didn't have any trouble with it except that the recipe specifically calls for a 10x15" jelly roll pan and I only have my beloved half sheet pans (closer to 12x17" if you're looking at the interior measurements) and a couple quarter sheet pans (9x12") from when I had a miniature oven. I stressed about whether I should try to scale the recipe up a bit, but decided against it and as it turns out I think the half sheet pan is exactly what you need. It filled the entire pan perfectly.
- Beat the egg yolks thoroughly (3 - 5 minutes in a Kitchenaid). They should be very thick.
- Put parchment paper in your sheet pan and then spray it with oil. I had no issues peeling the parchment off, but some of the reviews mention that if you don't spray with oil it can suck trying to get the paper off.
- The filling is just whipped cream with cocoa powder, and I was afraid it would collapse quickly, but it held up pretty well. I made this the same day we ate it, but the leftovers were good for another couple days, so it would be possible to make it a full day ahead, possibly two (do NOT put meringue mushrooms on until the day you are serving it, though).
Mushrooms - I used this recipe for meringue mushrooms. I used superfine sugar instead of regular granulated because I always do for meringue (I don't buy superfine sugar, just blitz regular granulated sugar in the food processor). Some reviews mentioned the meringue being too salty, and I did notice that I could taste salt, but I actually liked it and no one else commented on it. Maybe reduce the salt a bit at first and taste before adding more? I didn't have a large enough circle tip, so I just cut the tip off the pastry bag. I didn't assemble the mushrooms with melted chocolate as the recipe called for because I was feeling lazy so I just stuck the tops and bottoms together with buttercream. I had watched Emily make the mushrooms last year, so I winged the technique but if you want to see someone do it this looks like a very detailed tutorial, although the video is crazy long (tip - she starts piping around 12 minutes if you need to jump ahead). Meringue will get sticky if it's damp out, so if you're making these ahead of time store them in an airtight bag. I found that mine were fine sitting on the cake for 12 hours, but by the 24 hour mark they were starting to get sticky. The ones in the bag held up perfectly for 3 days (probably would have lasted longer except I ate them all by then).
Chocolate buttercream - I used this recipe for chocolate buttercream and it was tasty but sweeeeeeeeet. I might try something less sweet next year (I usually prefer flour or pudding based buttercreams - Bravetart has my favorite buttercream recipes and tips and I particularly love her German buttercream although I'm not 100% sure it is sturdy enough for this purpose - maybe a ganache frosting of some sort?). But everyone else loved the sweet buttercream so maybe I'll just stick with it because it was super easy. One important note - this recipe makes at least 3 times as much frosting as you could possibly need, even if you are frosting heavily (which you don't really need to do with a yule log). I'd at least cut it by half, possibly by a third.
Making the branches - The recipe I used doesn't explain how to make the branches. I know last year we found a description somewhere but I can't find it now. Basically, I fill the yule log exactly as described in the cake recipe. At this point, I roll it up tightly in a kitchen towel and place it in the fridge, ideally for an hour or two. Then I remove the dish towel, place the cake on a cutting board and cut a slice off each end with a sharp knife (just enough to clean up the edges). To create branches, I then cut off a larger piece from one end (maybe 5" or so?). I cut this piece in half at an angle, creating two pieces that each have one straight side and one angled side. Transfer your log to a serving plate, then add the branches.Using frosting, adhere the angled side to your log wherever you want it. I put one branch coming off the side and one coming off the top, but you can have just one branch or no branches at all, of course.
Frosting - Once your branches are in place, carefully spread buttercream over the entire cake (leaving the ends exposed if you like). I used a small offset spatula with a tapered head for this (mine is like this one), and then just dragged the tip of the spatula in brush like strokes to create texture. You can also create a bark-like texture using the tines of a fork.
Decorating - for finishing touches add the meringue mushrooms on both the cake and the plate using buttercream to stick them in place (again - I'd wait to put the mushrooms on until the day you are serving the cake, if you made it ahead). This year I added sprigs of rosemary from the garden, and a few cranberries for color and then dusted the whole thing with powdered sugar (place powdered sugar in a sifter or fine strainer, then gently tap over the cake).
IDEAS FOR NEXT YEAR: I like having the two branches, but this makes a somewhat stumpy cake (ha). Next year if we want to get ambitious I think it would be fun to work together and make three batches of the cake + filling. This would allow us to get two full length yule logs and use the third cake solely for branches. If you're making more than one cake, you still just need one batch of mushrooms (could probably decorate 3 - 4 cakes with one batch). The frosting recipe I used this year could be cut in half and still frost two cakes easily, I think.