Are you searching for a delicious, impressive Christmas centrepiece? The yule log is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Whether you go for a minimalist un-frosted version (more of a Swiss roll), or get creative and sculpt the ‘straight from the tree’ look, everyone knows they’re in for a treat when the yule log appears. And have we got an incredible yule log recipe for you!
Baked without flour, the cake base of our yule log is light, moist and springy, the perfect accompaniment to the vanilla kissed cream filling. A rich, simple chocolate ganache is then spread thickly over the gently rolled cake and scored playfully with a fork to imitate tree bark. Our yule log recipe is perfect when you want a real fancy show stopper without any stress.
Before you crack on with making this indulgent festive recipe, settle down with a hot drink and get to know your yule log better with this quick read.
Yule has ancient origins. Throughout the centuries it has travelled through different cultures and been adopted into local customs, changing over time like the shapeshifter Grendel. And just like Grendel and his nemesis Beowulf came from what is now Sweden, it is thought ‘yule’ comes from that part of the ancient world too. It has been recorded as ‘jul’ in Old Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, and as ‘jól’ in Old Norse, Icelandic and Norwegian. But wherever it comes from, it was most definitely the festival of the winter solstice.
Celebrated in December, yule is associated with feasting, partying, sacrifices and even fertility - basically having a good time indoors when the weather is a bit rubbish outside. Mainly, it is associated with pagan rituals to celebrate the return of the sun as the days become longer.
Burning things was a big part of yuletide - because nothing guarantees the return of better weather like setting fire to something six months before summer. And what burns better than an entire tree? As the original centrepiece of many yule festivities, the yule log used to be just that - an entire tree that would feed the household fire for all 12 days of the festival.
There are stories of dumping the trunk of the tree in the hearth place and then feeding the tree gradually into the fire as it burnt. Other stories sound a bit more sensible and relied on chopping logs from the tree every morning to feed the fire.
By the 1800s people decided a whole tree lying down in their front room got in the way, and it was around then that the bûche de Noël, the yule log cake we would recognise today, appeared in France.
You might think Christmas trees also have something to do with the yule log - and you might be right. Decorated Christmas trees appeared around the 15th century as part of the Christian celebration of Christmas. But prior to that, pagans also brought greenery and nature into their homes to celebrate yule. It’s possible that the Christian Christmas tree was inspired by pagan traditions, but in adopting the ritual Christians decorated the tree instead of setting it on fire.
Nowadays you can make vanilla and raspberry roulade, chocolate buttercream, or flavoured fillings with espresso or alcohol. The options are endless, but for this recipe we’ve created a traditional chocolate and cream yule log.
While rich and decadent, the fresh cream helps cut through the heaviness of the chocolate ganache, delivering three dimensional flavour that will satisfy everyone round the table.
It’s true that roulades and yule logs are a little finicky, so prepare to set aside much of a day to accomplish it. This is especially true if you want to go for a more realistic log, shaping your icing and decorating with real or fondant foliage. But done slowly, and enjoying every step (don’t ignore the chill times!), yule logs become popular Christmas favourites to make every year.