With the holidays approaching, you may be contemplating that showy dessert, that one great cake to end the meal with fanfare.
Try the yule log, known in France as the buche de Noel, a chocolate sponge cake molded into the shape of a log.
Variations abound, but I prefer a devil’s-food cake batter intensified with a tablespoon of instant coffee powder. The filling is simply brandied whipped cream, and the frosting is a warm chocolate icing made in a saucepan.
After you frost the log, you drag a fork through the frosting to resemble the ridges in the bark of a log. Decorate with meringue mushrooms, chocolate leaves and a moss made of chopped pistachios if you want to really deck out the log.
As with all great holiday desserts, this one may easily be made ahead of the big event and kept refrigerated. Once it’s on the platter, decorate with plenty of evergreens or holly sprigs.
Five time-shaving desserts for the holidays
Chocolate mousse or pudding served in goblets with a dollop of whipped cream.
Fresh raspberries and raspberry sorbet.
Peppermint ice cream topped with grated chocolate.
Bakery meringues filled with pistachio and chocolate ice cream.
A saute of sliced pears, cranberries, brown sugar, butter and a pinch of cinnamon spooned over pound cake. Cook until the cranberries pop and the pears are soft.
The preparation time is 30 minutes, the baking time is 18 to 20 minutes, and the assembly time is 20 minutes.
BRANDIED WHIPPED CREAM:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 to cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons brandy, or to taste
Softened butter for greasing the pan
Parchment paper for the pan
1 18.25-ounce package plain devil’s-food cake mix
1 cup buttermilk
cup vegetable oil, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
CHOCOLATE PAN FROSTING:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole milk
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Place a clean large mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer for a few minutes while you assemble the ingredients for the whipped cream.
Pour the cream into the chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer on high speed until cream has thickened, 2 minutes. Stop machine and add sugar and half of the brandy.
Beat mixture on high for 30 seconds more, then add remaining brandy to taste, if desired. Beat until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place brandied whipped cream filling in refrigerator to chill.
Lightly butter bottom of a 16- by-11-by-1-inch jellyroll pan and cover with enough parchment paper to cover the bottom and still have a couple of inches overlapping each end. Lightly butter parchment, but do not butter sides of pan. Set pan aside.
Place cake mix, buttermilk, oil, eggs, cocoa and coffee powder in a large mixing bowl. Blend with electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula.
Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping side down again, if needed. Batter should look thick and combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula. Place pan on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven.
Bake cake until it springs back when lightly pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and place on a wire rack while you dust a clean kitchen towel or long sheet of parchment paper with confectioners’ sugar. Immediately invert pan onto towel or parchment paper and carefully peel off the used parchment that clings to bottom of cake.
While cake is still hot, use towel or parchment to help carefully roll cake into a jellyroll, or roulade. Begin with the long side next to you and roll away from you. Place roulade, seam side down, wrapped in the kitchen towel or parchment paper, on the counter to cool for 30 minutes. Don’t worry if the roulade splits while you are rolling it because you will cover up any blemishes with filling and frosting.
Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate pan frosting. Place butter in a medium-size saucepan and melt over low heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cocoa powder and milk.
Let mixture come just to a boil, stirring, and then remove pan from heat. Stir in confectioners’ sugar until frosting is thickened and smooth.
When frosting is made, brandied whipped cream filling has chilled and cake is cool, you are ready to assemble the log. Reserve 1 cup filling, covered, in the refrigerator.
Carefully unroll cake just enough so that you can spread the inside surface generously with the chilled filling. Gently roll cake back into its log shape, carefully pulling kitchen towel out from under it.
Place log, seam side down, in front of you. Carefully cut off a 1-inch-thick slice from one end. Cut this slice into two halves.
Carefully place log, seam side down, on a serving platter. Sandwich the two cut halves together and place them, cut side down, about a third of the way down the log so that they resemble a knot on a branch. Attach them to the log with a dab of frosting.
Working quickly, spread frosting over entire surface of the log with clean strokes, covering the ends.
Make strokes irregular so that frosting resembles the bark of a tree. Or drag a fork down through the frosting so that the tines of the fork make lines in the batter, also resembling bark.
Place platter in the refrigerator to chill until the frosting has set, 1 hour. Then lightly cover the log with waxed paper and chill until serving time.
Slice into serving pieces and serve, passing the reserved brandied whipped cream filling to spoon on top. Store roulade, covered in waxed paper, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Makes 16 servings.
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