Merry (belated) Christmas, everyone! I hope that you all had a lovely holiday filled with family and friends, and lots of love and Christmas cheer. I can’t believe Christmas has come and gone already.. this year seemed especially crazy with Thanksgiving coming so late, leaving 1 less week in between to prepare for Christmas. I definitely did not get everything done this year that I would have liked to, but at a certain point I decided to just let it go and enjoy the season. Sometimes I have a hard time recognizing that I don’t always need to overextend myself and be constantly adding one more thing to the to-do list – letting things go this holiday season was a nice step in that direction.
This year was the first time that I didn’t see my family on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day. With Daren’s work schedule this year, it just wasn’t going to work out without a lot of really crazy traveling. Instead, we saw my parents and brother last weekend, and then spent Christmas day with my sister- and brother-in-law. Since we wouldn’t be seeing my extended family for the holiday, I knew I wanted to inject a little of them into our Christmas at home. Every year for Christmas, my aunt makes a delicious bûche de Noël, or yule log, cake (or as we like to call it, simply “the log”). When I saw this “Stump de Noël” in my Baked Explorations cookbook, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to make our own “log,” with a little twist.
This cake was a bit of a serious venture, with lots of different components and steps. You start out by making a Swiss meringue buttercream, which is then divided up to become a malt buttercream (so yummy!) and a chocolate buttercream. That goes in the refrigerator to set up a bit, and then the cake baking begins. The cake itself has a lot of different steps, and is made somewhat differently than a traditional cake recipe. Although the recipe seems a little finicky, with steps like separating 12(!!) eggs, none of the steps themselves are particularly difficult. The cake is baked in 2 12×17 rimmed baking sheets, and then the fun begins. After letting the cakes cool and then spreading them with the malt buttercream, you cut the cake in half lengthwise. Starting with one of the strips, you begin rolling the cake into a tight coil, adding the next strip of cake once once is completely coiled. The end result is a wide, short (stumpy!) jelly roll cake, which you then frost with the chocolate buttercream to look like tree bark. A few meringue mushrooms and some sugared cranberries and rosemary round out the look for a pretty impressive winter woodland cake.
While this may traditionally be a Christmas holiday dessert, I think it’s perfect for any time throughout the winter (or summer, if you’d like – why not?) Impress your friends at any upcoming New Year’s parties, or just pin it on Pinterest and start planning for next year’s Christmas season
For the buttercreams:
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 sticks unsalted butter, cool but not cold
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
- 1/4 cup malted milk powder
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 14 malted milk ball candies (like Whoppers), crushed
For the cake:
- 1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) dark unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons espresso powder
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 12 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
- 12 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups (9 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar, divided
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- sugared cranberries
- sugared rosemary sprigs
- meringue mushrooms (I used this recipe but added a little almond extract; she also has a nice video up that will show you exactly how to pipe them)
To make the buttercreams, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place over a small pot of simmering water and heat, whisking frequently (constantly as the temperature gets higher), until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat immediately when it comes to temperature. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the vanilla extract and beat at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more as each addition is incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until thick and smooth. If the mixture begins to look soupy or curdled, don’t worry – just keep beating and it will come together!
Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a medium bowl and stir in the melted chocolate. Cover and refrigerate.
Dissolve the malt powder in the 2 tablespoons hot water, then beat into the remaining buttercream. Add the crushed malt balls and beat again briefly. Cover and refrigerate.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, leaving a small overhang on the short ends. Lightly grease and flour the parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. In another small bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in 1/4 cup of hot water. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set over a pot of simmering water and heat briefly, whisking, until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium-high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add in the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated, then beat in the espresso mixture and the vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Thoroughly wash and dry the bowl and whisk attachment. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the clean bowl, then beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add in the remaining 2/3 cup sugar, then continue beating until the whites are glossy, about 2 more minutes. Fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and about 1/2 cup of the cake batter. Fold this back into the remaining cake batter, then gently fold in the flour mixture in 2 additions. Divide the batter between the prepared baking sheets, using an offset spatula to spread it throughout the pan.
Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes, or until they feel slightly dry and spring back when gently touched. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn it out onto another sheet of parchment that has been lightly dusted with cocoa powder. Peel the original sheet of parchment off the bottom of the cake and immediately roll the cake and fresh parchment into a somewhat loose log. Allow to cool for 1 hour. While the cakes are cooling, remove the buttercreams from the refrigerator to bring back to room temperature.
To assemble, unroll the cakes and spread the malt buttercream evenly over the 2 cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake exactly in half lengthwise, cutting through the bottom sheet of parchment as well; you should end up with four 6 x 12-inch strips. If you would like to add a little branch to the stump, cut a small piece off the end of one of the strips; this can be rolled and stuck on the side of your cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, removing the parchment as you roll it. Roll the remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a wide, short roll. (My cake cracked in a bunch of places, but once it was frosted it held together fine). Set the cake on a serving platter, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the chocolate buttercream, dragging a large offset spatula vertically through the buttercream to make it look like tree bark. The top can be left unfrosted – the rings of cake and buttercream should look like the rings on a tree. Refrigerate the cake until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate with meringue mushrooms, sugared cranberries and sugared rosemary sprigs before serving.
Yield: 1 giant cake
Source: slightly adapted from Baked Explorations