The Chocolate Yule Log and I go way back, although I can’t pretend our relationship had the most sophisticated of beginnings. Every December at primary school, our teacher indulged in teaching the class to cook. Or perhaps not cook; rather, construct. Each of us brought in a ready-made chocolate Swiss roll (usually that dodgy supermarket value one with an unidentifiable shaving-foam-like filling), a good deal of milk chocolate, and Christmas cake decorations.
What inevitably proceeded was a messy business. At best, the final product was an entirely chocolate covered yule log, complete with decorations and an icing-sugar snow shower. More likely, however, was a half-covered chocolatey mess of a cake, a kitchen swamped with dirty dishes, and probably detention for Naughty Nathan who had eaten most of his chocolate before starting. It took a whole year for the teacher forget the stress of this ordeal, only to repeat it the following Christmas.
I am pleased to say that since then, my Chocolate Yule log has advanced somewhat. There is something satisfying about rolling a homemade sponge, cramming it with an enticing filling, and generously wrapping in a thick layer of chocolate ganache; it’s the Christmas present that fails to disappoint.
Of course the Yule log is chocolatey by nature, but be imaginative with your filling flavours. I have chosen a festive clementine cream here; but salted caramels, cranberry-swirled creams, and sweetened chestnut purees have been other popular variations.
The culinary mishaps of my youth taught me that presentation is important. Throughout primary school, my messy yule logs were repeatedly saved by a plastic robin decoration and a sympathetic mother. Now, I prefer to create a bark-like pattern on the chocolate ganache, and then liberally dust it with icing sugar for a snow-storm effect. For the more enthusiastic cook – or adventurous procrastinator – a walk through Lade Braes collecting pine cones would complete the festive woodland scene.
I wish you all happy baking and plenty of luck for impending exams! And with that in mind, I’m off for a walk in the woods.
Chocolate Clementine Yule Log
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson and BBC Good Food
For the cake
6 medium eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
1tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting
200g dark chocolate
200ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
For the clementine cream
200ml double cream
200ml crème fraîche
2 tbsp icing sugar (plus extra to decorate)
Zest 3 clementines, plus juice 1
Decorations, as you see fit
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160fan, gas mark 4), and generously line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Whisk the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Add 50g of the caster sugar and continue to whisk to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar until the mixture is moussy; then carefully fold in the vanilla extract and cocoa powder. Gradually fold in the egg whites to the yolk mixture in batches, taking care not to lose its airy texture. Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 20 minutes. Cool and turn out onto a separate piece of parchment paper dusted with icing sugar.
For the frosting, melt the chocolate, cream and icing sugar together in a pan over a bowl of simmering water (or in a bowl in the microwave); cool and chill until spreadable.
For the Clementine cream, whisk the cream, crème fraîche, icing sugar, zest and juice of 1 clementine together until thick.
Drizzle the juice of the remaining clementine over the sponge, spread a small amount of the frosting thinly over it. Then spread half of the clementine cream. Carefully roll up along the longest edge and trim each end; and if you want to take the cake to the next level, slice a portion off one of the ends at an angle and position to make a ‘side branch’. Transfer to a serving plate and cover with the rest of the chocolate frosting, using a knife to stripe the surface in an attractive barky pattern. When ready to serve, dust generously with icing sugar and decorate as you see fit.
And if all this fails to work (tears in the sponge during rolling are not unheard of), a whisky-drowned Chocolate-Clementine trifle is a welcome addition to any festive soiree; use enough whisky and your guests will be none-the-wiser.