A tradition in our household around Christmas time is my Yule Log Cake. It is a creme filled Swiss Jelly Roll Cake decorated to look like a Yule log. Because the ganache keeps the cake well protected, it can be made four to five days ahead of time to be served either on Christmas Eve or Christmas day or for that holiday party right before Christmas. Meanwhile, it remains on the dining room table as a holiday decoration!
Every year I’ll add some special decoration.
This picture of our 2015 Christmas cake shows it with poinsettias added for that year’s special addition. The flowers aren’t quite as pretty as they were once upon a time due to arthritis as well as hand and wrist surgeries I’m afraid.
If you aren’t skilled at piping on cake frosting decorations, you can simply leave it as a snow covered log or even top it with a ready made decoration!
Because so many are intimidated with the very thought of the decoration aspect, to show just how simple it really is, I’ll start with the decorating first. It really is quite easy!
The day before, I cover a very sturdy tray or flat baking sheet with white paper, tape it securely on bottom, and then seal it over with a couple of snugly fit layers of plastic wrap to create a solid white background base on which to make the snow. (It is very easy to make snow!) I also tape the plastic wrap underneath to make sure it stays in place.
For the snow, I use white cake frosting (seems to work better than Royal cookie icing for the effects desired here) spread thinly, just smeared on, with a few rises here and there to create a snowy landscape on top of the cake tray, then I toss on a little powdered sugar onto the frosting. Finally, I sprinkle a tiny bit of clear decorator sugar crystals or edible glitter over top while the frosting is still fresh then allow it to set up hard uncovered overnight.
Snow glitters when the light hits it and the clear decorator sugar or edible glitter reproduces that effect beautifully. If the decorative sugar crystals are too large you can crush them or pulse once or twice in a food processor. Granulated sugar doesn’t work quite as well but it still makes an acceptable and suitable substitute.
Once a few layers of ganache is added to the cake roll and allowed to set after each addition, use a dinner fork dragged across the ganache to create the rough tree bark texture. By adding tiny bits of chocolate frosting lighter in color than the ganache here and there before dragging with the fork, you give it highlighted streaks to make it look even more realistic. Then place the cake in the center of the serving tray and add a bit of snow decoration to the cake itself.
Once the snow on the cake is fully set to prevent smudges and bleeding of colors, I go about decorating the cake with colored frosting to make that year’s special decoration. It could be a snowman, Santa, angel, Christmas tree, deer, white rabbit, a gift box, pine cones, holly, a toy soldier, or anything else that is Christmas or winter themed. Again, if you aren’t skilled at piping you can simply add ready made decorative toppers or leave it as a snow covered log. You can also decorate with cookies, candies, and other edible items if desired.
Also, if desired, place woodland animals, a sled, trees, a gingerbread house or Santa’s workshop, or other items on the tray surrounding the Yule log. Be creative! There are no right or wrong ways to make a gorgeous decorative (and edible) Yule Log Cake center piece for your table!
Add a tiny bit Reindeer lichen (moss) on the ends of the log for a bit of realism by dotting it with green frosting using the tip of a toothpick, handle tip of water coloring brush, or a skewer, etc. to dot it on then tamping it down lightly with a warm water dipped finger tip. Highlight with a few dots of yellow and lime green here and there if desired to add to the realism.
I used a little chocolate modeling clay in the cake pictured to give it a little side branch sticking out before applying the ganache. In years past I’ve used hand molded Tootsie Rolls or fondant, and have even trimmed chocolate cup cakes to get the little side branch. Create little tree knots bulges elsewhere on the log also if desired in the same manner or by simply using a build up of cake frosting.
Try not to be too perfect and do be little bit messy to get a more realistic appearance for the log’s tree bark.
Using lighter colored frosting and different shades you can even create tree rings on the ends of the log if desired. Leave the ganache smooth, cover in lighter chocolate frosting and smooth the frosting using a hot water dipped knife leaving about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick dark ganache border. Then using toothpicks, handle tip of a water coloring brush, or skewers, etc. draw the rings with another shade of frosting. Rough up the dark ganache outer border to create a bark line at the edges with a fork.
Alternately, you can simply carve out ring shapes in the ganache.
Now you know how to decorate a Swiss Jelly Roll Cake to look like a log and make snow! I like to use a chocolate mocha flavored, creme filled cake roll — but any kind of cake and filling that goes well with a chocolate ganache coating works.
There are two types of filling to choose from. Creme filling does not have to be refrigerated so you can leave the cake sitting out, but Cream filling must be kept refrigerated.
So that the cake can be left sitting on the table as a decorative center piece, I usually go with the Creme filling myself. I save the Cream filling for non-holiday cakes.
Must be kept refrigerated. Do not use if planning to use cake as an edible decorative center piece.
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Combine and whip until thick enough to spread. Add more powdered sugar to thicken or more cream to thin if needed.
Will keep at room temperature. Recommended for Yule Log Cake so that it may be used as a decorative center piece on the table.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup shortening, room temperature
1 jar of marshmallow cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar
Cream butter and shortening together. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and well incorporated. Add more powdered sugar if needed to thicken or add more butter and vanilla to thin if required.
Chocolate Mocha Jelly Roll Cake
1 Tbsp. Taster’s Choice instant espresso coffee granules
1 Tbsp. boiling hot water
1/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa powder
1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
4 large Eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a jelly roll sheet pan (it is a large 17 x 12 inch sheet pan with sides)
unsalted butter for greasing
1/4 to 1/3 cup chocolate cake frosting for tree bark highlights
2 to 4 Tbsp. green colored frosting for lichen decoration
1/2 to 2 cups white cake frosting for snow (amount depends upon quantity of snow)
clear decorative sugar crystals or edible glitter
white wrapping paper
plastic cling wrap
creme filling (see above)
ganache (see below)
various colored frostings to pipe intended decorations or pre-made decorations
natural yellow, red, or orange food coloring for cut log ends and tree rings
natural green food coloring for lichen
Prepare sheet pan:
Rub a circle of butter in the center of the pan and go around the edges and corners.
Use parchment paper to line the pan pressing to stick it to the butter greased areas.
Rub unsalted butter across the parchment paper to thinly coat. The butter coating should be thin and translucent (see through).
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Prepare cake batter:
Blend coffee granules with boiling hot water and set aside to cool.
Sift flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder together two or three times.
Separate the egg yolks and whites placing each in separate small bowls.
Whisk the yolks until smooth. Set aside.
Beat egg whites, until thick and airy, and they have reached the ribbon stage — scoop up a spoonful and drizzle it across the top of the remaining egg whites in the bowl. When it doesn’t settle back into the remaining egg whites for 5 to 10 seconds then it is ready.
In large bowl, blend the flour mixture, sugar, egg yolks, coffee, and vanilla together well scraping bottom and side of bowl.
Fold in the egg whites gently with a rubber spatula just until incorporated and no visible whites remain. Do not over mix.
Pour batter evenly over the prepared baking pan. Gently spread to sides and corners with a rubber spatula. Do not bang the pan! Banging the pan will result in a loss of air and collapse causing a very flat, dense — instead of a light, fluffy, tender, airy cake.
Bake for 5 to 9 minutes — just until springy to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 18 to 20 minutes. You want it to remain warm but touchable.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar or cocoa.
Flip the cake onto the parchment, then carefully remove the parchment that the cake was baked on.
Cut approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep (no more than 1/3 of the cake thickness) slice across the shorter length of the cake about every 3 to 4 inches apart. This will help reduce breaking and tearing while being rolled.
Gently, slowly, and very carefully roll the cake up, leaving the parchment paper on bottom in place and rolling it up inside along with the cake, to form a log while it’s still warm. Leaving the parchment paper in place and rolling it up with the cake helps reduce risk of tears.
If it does tear a little bit don’t panic. It won’t be noticeable once the cake is decorated. If, however, it tears completely apart then you will need to make a new cake. If this is your first time making a jelly roll cake, it may help to make two cakes just in case.
This is like muscle memory for the cake so that it will roll up again much easier later on.
Roll the cake over so that the seam faces down to prevent it from unraveling and place heavy objects such as coffee mugs or glass drinking mugs on each side of the log to prevent it from rolling.
Allow the roll to rest for 1-1/2 to 2 hours undisturbed before continuing to the next step.
Make the filling.
Carefully unroll the cake.
It will want to roll back up but just hold the end down that keeps trying to roll up and spread the filling evenly across the cake leaving a 1/2 to 3/4 inch border uncovered.
On the end that wants to roll up begin peeling away the parchment carefully as you slowly roll the filled cake back up into a log.
Place rolled cake on a fresh sheet of powdered sugar or cocoa lightly coated parchment paper with the seam facing down. Place heavy objects on each side to prevent it from rolling over. Allow to rest.
Place a cooling rack inside a 13 x 9 cake pan. Set aside.
Make the ganache:
2 Cups of heavy cream
24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips OR a good quality milk or dark chocolate, chopped
Put ½ cup of heavy cream into pot and heat until it just is hot enough to melt and temper the chocolate but do not boil. For best results, using a candy or quick/instant read thermometer, the temperature of the cream should be at 110 F degrees if using semi-sweet chips or chopped milk chocolate, or it should be at 120 F degrees for chopped dark chocolate.
Take off stove and quickly add 6 ounces of chocolate whisking until chocolate is smooth.
To coat the cake with ganache:
Place the log roll on top of the cooling rack previously positioned inside the cake pan with the seam down.
Form any limbs or knots desired and position on or beside the cake prior to coating with ganache.
Pour the hot ganache slowly and carefully over the rolled cake until fully coated . Rest at room temperature until the ganache has fully cooled and is firmly set. Do not refrigerate!
Do not be tempted to refrigerate! It will cause the ganache to become dull, it takes longer to re-warm to room temperature, and if additional layers are poured over chilled ganache it will try to set instantly making it very lumpy and thick in some areas while too thin in others instead of being a smooth, even coating.
Once the ganache has set, make another batch of ganache with 1/2 cup of cream and 6 ounces of chocolate and coat the log again.
When second coat has fully set, heat 1 cup of cream and stir in the remaining 12 ounces of chocolate. Whisk until melted and give the cake roll a final heavy coating before allowing the ganache to cool and firmly set at room temperature.
Don’t forget to drizzle some over the ends of the cake and over any added limbs or tree knots. Do not leave any areas of the cake exposed or uncovered by ganache. When fully set, the ganache will hold any limb or tree knot additions in place if care is taken to coat them heavily each time where they join.
When the final coating of ganache is cool and firmly set, leave the cake on the cooling rack in the cake pan to catch any shavings, and begin dragging the tines of a dinner fork across the surface of the ganache at varying depths and wiggling to make wavy lines and criss-crossing as needed to create a tree bark appearance. Smear very small pea sized bits of lighter chocolate frosting in places, smudge it with a finger tip or with the back of a dinner spoon, and drag the fork tines across for more realistic tree bark highlights.
Decorate the ends covering smoothly in a lighter colored frosting and make the rings.
The ends can be made only slightly lighter for an aged look or much lighter for a freshly chopped wood look.
To make the rings, use a medium dark or amber yellow-orange-brown colored frosting. They should be varying thicknesses and not too precisely round. They should be spaced more closely together at the center and spaced farther apart as you work your way outward. Occasionally, have a few thin rings spaced closer together as you work your way outward.
Alternately, you can simply carve out ring shapes in the ganache.
Transfer to a prepared cake tray and create small (or large) amounts of fallen snow.
Allow snow to fully set hard to prevent color bleeding prior to decorating with colored frosting if intend to pipe on additional decorations.
Create the moss or Reindeer lichen.
Decorate with Christmas or winter themed objects made from piped colored frosting and/or pre-made ornamental, cookie, or candy decorations as desired.
To create various darkness of color and shades for the tree bark mix white and chocolate frosting. Also, add some cocoa powder if needed.
To create cut log ends and tree rings, mix a few drops of natural yellow and red or orange food coloring with a mixture of white and chocolate frosting.