When I was a kid, a log cake was the definitive confection of Christmas. Often decorated within an inch of their life, those cakes were almost too pretty to eat, and the swirl of cream in their centres was nothing short of magical.
I won’t go all Scrooge and say the magic is all but gone. But as an adult, I find it much more Christmasy to make the magic on my own. And surprisingly, log cakes (or Swiss rolls) are not that difficult to make at all!
When I was surfing around the Internet for recipes, I came across two types of roll cakes. Swiss rolls are typically light sponges baked very thinly and then rolled up. The traditional Bûche de Noël, however, does not even have flour.
The ingredient list for the latter cake really made me nervous. Somehow, you’ll get a pliable cake, just with nothing more than eggs, sugar, and a little cocoa powder. As this was my first attempt, I wasn’t willing to take the risk, so I’ve put some flour back into the recipe to stabilise the cake and give it some structure.
I’ve also replaced the traditional whipped cream filling with chocolate buttercream, but that’s just a matter of taste.
You will need a Swiss roll tin. Mine is 10″ x 12″ by 1″, but you can get away with any tin of similar dimensions.
80g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
20g unsweetened cocoa
60g all-purpose flour
Serves 6 to 8.
For the icing:
100g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
360g icing sugar
40g unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
2-4 tbsp milk
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease and line a (10″ x 12″ x 1″) Swiss roll tin.
Step 2: In your mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and salt on High for at least ten minutes, until the mixture has paled and tripled in volume.
Step 3: Sift in the cocoa and flour, and gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 12 minutes.
Step 4: While the cake is in the oven, spread a clean tea towel on your work surface and dust icing sugar over it. (You can use parchment or baking paper as well.)
Step 5: After removing the cake from the oven, run a knife around the edges of the tin. Then, boldly flip the cake upside down onto the tea towel. Remove the tin and baking paper.
Step 6: Fold one end of the tea towel over the cake. Roll the cake up tightly in the tea towel. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes.
This step will make it easier to roll up the cake with the icing later. It’s just like curling hair – you roll hair in hot rollers and let it cool to set the curl.
Step 7: In the meantime, make the chocolate buttercream icing. Beat the butter and shortening with your mixer on High speed until creamy and slightly lightened in colour. Sift in the icing sugar, cocoa, and salt. Add 1 tbsp of milk and mix to combine. Keep adding the milk until the icing reaches a spreading consistency.
Step 8: Unfurl your cake. Spread a thick, even layer of icing over the cake.
Step 9: Roll up the cake again, making sure to keep the roll as tight as possible. Transfer to your serving platter or cake board, keeping the seam at the bottom. Use the remaining icing to ice the log cake (except for the ends). Use your palette knife or spatula to etch lines in the cake. (It’s supposed to look like wood after all!) Refrigerate for at about 30 minutes to allow the icing to firm up.
Step 10: Trim off the ends of the log cake to neaten it up.
Add other Christmas decorations to make the cake more festive. Traditionally, you’d decorate with meringue mushrooms. I didn’t have any, so I just used whatever decorations I could buy in the store. Dust with icing sugar, if you want, to make it look like snow has settled on your log.
Don’t worry if your cake cracks or rips. Just roll it up the best you can, and cover up your sins with the buttercream icing. And really, don’t worry if your swirl is not tight or perfect. Mine clearly wasn’t, but I think it’s still really beautiful. (Anyway, what log has a perfect swirl?)