Make-Ahead Yule Log Cake

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This easy make-ahead yule log cake recipe is the perfect Christmas dessert to serve this season. Festive and oh-so-pretty, your friends and family will love this chocolate and whipped cream cake roll.

A chocolate and cream Christmas yule log cake roll with sugared cranberries sits on a cake platter.

If you've never made a yule log cake, you will be stunned to discover just how easy this elegant Christmas dessert can be to bake ahead for the holiday.

Bake and fill the chocolate cake roll with the light and fluffy whipped cream filling and coat it in a rich chocolate ganache frosting the day before you plan to serve it.

Pull it out for the gorgeous end of your Christmas Eve dinner and your family will gasp with surprise.

Baking this for my kids was a highlight of last year's Christmas. My girls were utterly amazed by the pretty cake swirl and they've already begged me to make it again this year.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Baking something as detailed as this stunning Christmas cake requires a fair amount of explanation to ensure you achieve baking success.

Don't be intimidated by the lengthy recipe explanation, I just wanted to ensure you had all the tips and tricks you needed to get your yule log to turn out perfectly!

Jump to:

What is a Yule Log Cake?

A yule log, or buche de Noel, is a traditional Christmas dessert featuring a chocolate sponge cake rolled with a light and fluffy whipped cream filling. It is coated in chocolate ganache frosting.

It is similar to a Swiss cake roll but goes one step farther and is decorated to look just like the log from a tree.

You can read more about the history of the yule log cake here.

Ingredients

The ingredients to make the chocolate sponge cake for the yule log are on the counter.

Most of the ingredients for a yule log cake are likely in your fridge and pantry right now:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Sour Cream
  • Butter
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: I love to use Hershey's cocoa powder for my baking since it is easily found at most major grocery stores. You can use whichever brand you prefer.
  • Baking Powder
  • Vanilla Extract
The ingredients to make the cream filling for the cake.

To make the mascarpone cream filling, you will need:

  • Mascarpone Cheese: This Italian soft cheese can most easily be compared to American cream cheese but has a softer, smoother, silkier texture and is more easily whipped into the whipped cream filling. I was able to find it in the gourmet cheese section at our grocery store but if you can't find it, you could substitute Philadelphia cream cheese but the texture of the filling may not be as delicate.
  • Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract

And to make the chocolate ganache frosting and decorate the cake you will need:

  • Chocolate Chips or Chopped Chocolate: You can use either chocolate chips or hand-chopped semi-sweet chocolate bars for the ganache frosting. Whichever one is easiest for you.
  • Fresh Cranberries & Fresh Rosemary: These are optional ingredients but definitely make the finished yule log look natural and freshly coated with "snow." You can follow my instructions for making sugared cranberries here, it works just the same with the fresh rosemary.

Tools You'll Need

A cake as stunning as this one is a lot easier to make when you are working with the right tools from the start.

Jelly Roll Pan: A 12 x 17-inch metal pan that has a 1-inch deep rim all around the border. I use this set of pans in my kitchen on a daily basis.

Parchment Paper: For lining the jelly roll pan.

Stand Mixer: This isn't absolutely essential but a stand mixer with a whisk attachment will make whipping the egg whites and frosting significantly easier.

Bake the Chocolate Sponge Cake

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set this aside.

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. You can put the egg whites directly into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Put the yolks into a separate large mixing bowl.

Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk them together until smooth.

The step by step photos show how to prepare the chocolate cake batter.

Add the sour cream and vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk them in.

Add the reserved cocoa powder mixture and whisk it in until smooth.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Add just 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter and gently fold it in. This will help the thick batter loosen up and become easier to stir.

The step by step photos show how to whip the egg whites and then fold them into the chocolate cake batter.

Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold them in until combined.

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Spread the cake batter into the jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper.

The chocolate cake batter has been spread into a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake and Roll the Chocolate Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the chocolate cake for 10 - 12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Lift the cake out of the pan by pulling on the parchment paper and let it cool for a few minutes.

The cake is out of the oven and cooling slightly on the parchment paper.

While the cake is still warm, roll the cake IN the parchment paper rolling from narrow edge towards narrow edge.

Let the cake cool completely.

The chocolate sponge cake has been rolled with the parchment paper and is cooling on a rack.

Make the Whipped Cream Filling

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt on high speed until soft peaks form.

Soft peaks will gently fall over when they are pulled, unlike the stiff peaks that hold their shape.

The softened mascarpone cheese is in the container on the counter.

Add the mascarpone cheese to the mixer and whisk it in until stiff peaks form, 1 - 2 minutes.

If you're substituting cream cheese for the mascarpone, you may wish to add just a tiny splash more of the cream to loosen the texture up a bit.

How to Roll the Yule Log

Once you're ready to fill the completely cooled cake with the whipped cream filling, there are a few special tricks to keep in mind.

First, as you unroll the chocolate cake to open it up from the parchment, you may find that it is sticking to the parchment in some places. Go slowly and use a spatula to slide between the paper and cake to help loosen it.

Don't panic if the cake breaks in some places, once you frost it and roll it back up, it won't show. Especially since we're going to cover the whole thing with more frosting at the end.

Spread the whipped cream evenly over the surface of the unrolled cake, leaving just a 1-inch border open at one of the shorter ends.

The soft cream will spread as you roll it and fill that space.

The step by step photos show how to make the cream filling and spread it into the cake roll.

Use the parchment paper to help guide the cake roll but pull it back away from the cake as you push the cake forward. You do not want the parchment to be rolled inside with the cream filling.

Wrap the filled cake roll back up in the parchment and chill for at least one hour or up to 24 hours. This allows everything to firm up and set.

How to Assemble and Frost the Cake

Heat the heavy cream for the ganache in the microwave and pour it over the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl. Stir them together until the chocolate has melted.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the ganache until it lightens in color and thickens to a spreadable consistency.

Unwrap the chilled cake and have a cake platter ready for building it.

Use a knife to cut a 3-inch wide end off the cake but on a diagonal.

The step by step photos show how to make the chocolate frosting and assemble the yule log on the cake platter.

Attach the flat side of the cut end to the base of the bigger piece of cake.

Frost the entire top and sides of the cake with the frosting but be sure to leave the cut ends showing the cake swirl open so you can show off your pretty work.

How to Decorate the Yule Log

My favorite part of the yule log is the super-easy decorating technique that makes you look like a professional baker.

Once the cake has been frosted with the chocolate ganache, chill it for 20 minutes so the ganache has a chance to set.

Then, run a fork down the sides of the frosting to form the appearance of bark.

A closeup detail shot of the sugared cranberries and frosted rosemary sprigs used to decorate the yule log.

The same day I bake the cake and roll it with the whipped cream filling, I take a few minutes to make sugared cranberries and frosted rosemary since they can be stored at room temperature for 24 hours.

The sugared cranberries and rosemary will dry overnight and get that gorgeous frosted look. They'll be ready to go when you're ready to decorate your cake before serving.

The sugared rosemary and cranberries are drying on a wire rack.

I simply tucked in a few sprigs of rosemary and a couple of clusters of cranberries to mimic the look of holly berries on the yule log.

The finished yule log cake sits on a cake plate with sugared cranberries and rosemary.

Make Ahead Tips

You can make the entire yule log up to 24 hours in advance and store it in the fridge.

However, I prefer to just bake the chocolate sponge cake and roll it with the cream filling the day before and then frost it and decorate it the morning before serving.

If you bake and fill the cake the day before, wrap it in plastic wrap to keep it moist and store in the fridge.

Then just assemble the chocolate ganache and decorate the cake a few hours before serving.

It is important to keep the cake chilled and only display it for up to 60 minutes before putting it back in the fridge to keep cold. You wouldn't want all that dairy to spoil.

When to Serve the Yule Log

The sliced yule log cake is on a Christmas plate with a fork. The whole yule log cake is on the platter in the background.

The yule log is a traditional Christmas Eve dessert that would make an elegant end to your evening.

However, if you're hosting a large family gathering and such a detailed dessert takes more time than you'll have in the busy days before Christmas, why not try it for a special St. Nicholas Day dessert earlier in the month?

More Christmas Desserts

Looking for more classic desserts to bake for your family this holiday season?

📖 Recipe

A chocolate and cream Christmas yule log cake roll with sugared cranberries sits on a cake platter.

Yule Log Cake

5 from 56 votes
This festive chocolate and cream yule log cake roll is the perfect Christmas Eve dessert to bake for your family. Stunning and elegant, you'll be surprised at just how easy it is to make ahead the day before.
TOTAL TIME 1 hour 42 minutes
PREP TIME 30 minutes
CHILL TIME 1 hour
COOK TIME 12 minutes
YIELD 10 servings

Ingredients
  

For the Chocolate Sponge Cake

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder Like Hershey's
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs yolks and whites separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the Whipped Cream Filling

  • 1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 (8 oz) container of mascarpone cheese slightly softened, or full fat cream cheese + 1 tablespoon of heavy cream

For the Chocolate Ganache

  • 1 1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or 8 oz semi sweet chocolate finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

For Decorating

  • Fresh Cranberries
  • Fresh Rosemary
  • 1/4 cup sugar for the simple syrup
  • 1/4 cup water for the simple syrup
  • 1 cup sugar for final coating of the berries and rosemary

Instructions

Bake and Roll the Chocolate Sponge Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Line a jelly roll pan (17 x 12-inch pan with a 1-inch deep rim) with parchment paper that drapes 1-inch over each side of the pan for easy lifting and rolling of the cake.
  • Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  • Crack and separate the egg yolks and egg whites into two separate bowls and set aside. You can place the egg whites directly into the stand mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until smooth. Add the sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla and whisk them together until combined.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl and gently whisk them together. Set aside.
  • Whisk the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  • Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter. This will help loosen the mixture before adding the remaining 2/3 of egg whites. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites and then spread the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan and smooth it out evenly.
  • Bake the cake for 10 - 12 minutes or until the top springs back when gently touched. A toothpick should come out clean.
  • Immediately lift the cake out of the pan by the parchment paper ends and transfer it to the counter to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  • While the cake is still very warm, use the parchment paper to roll the cake up starting at the shorter end. The paper will be rolled up inside the cake and will help prevent the cake layers from sticking to each other. Set the cake aside to cool completely.

Prepare the Cream Filling

  • In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt on high speed until soft peaks form.
  • Add the mascarpone cheese to the mixer and whisk it in until stiff peaks form, 1 - 2 minutes. If using the cream cheese, you may want to add up to 1 tablespoon of heavy cream to soften the mixture.

Fill the Cake

  • Slowly and carefully unroll the completely cooled cake. You may find that it sticks in some places, simply pause and run a spatula between the cake and parchment paper as needed to help it unroll smoothly.
  • Spread the whipped marscapone cream filling evenly over the entire surface of the cake but leave just 1 inch border on one short end of the cake. As you roll the cake back up, the filling will spread and fill this space in.
  • Starting at the short end of the cake away from the empty border, use the parchment paper as a tool to roll the cake over onto the filling, pulling the paper away as you roll the cake back up. This time, no paper should be rolled inside the cake.
  • Wrap the rolled cake in plastic wrap with the seam side down and chill for one hour or up to 24 hours so the whole cake roll can firm up.

Make the Sugared Cranberries and Frosted Rosemary

  • Up to 24 hours in advance, you can prepare the sugared decorations. Rinse the cranberries and rosemary and set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar together over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Do not bring it to a boil.
  • Dip the tips of the rosemary in the sugar water and lay them in an even layer on a wire rack to dry. Add the cranberries to the sugar water and stir them. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the rack to dry for one hour.
  • Toss the dried rosemary and cranberries in a bowl of sugar and place on the wire rack to dry for one hour up to 24 hours.

Make the Chocolate Frosting

  • Add the chocolate chips to a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.
  • Add the heavy cream to a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave on high for 2 - 3 minutes or until it just begins to boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Whisk the softened chocolate and cream together until smooth. Let cool until room temperature.
  • Transfer the chocolate to the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until it has lightened in color and becomes thick enough to spread.

Assemble the Yule Log

  • Set out a cake plate to build your yule log on. Unwrap the chilled cake and place it on a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut a 3-inch piece off one end on the diagonal.
  • Place the larger portion of the cake on the cake platter. Arrange the flat side of the cut piece against the side of the main log. This will form the short "branch" that comes from the log.
  • To keep your platter neat, tuck strips of waxed paper underneath the edges of the yule log to prevent the frosting from smearing your platter.
  • Spread the chocolate frosting evenly over the tops and sides of the yule log, leaving only the cut rolled ends open to view.
  • Chill the cake for 20 minutes, then use a fork to drag long wavy lines down the log to form the "bark." This is much easier to do with chilled frosting than room temperature frosting and will keep your pattern neat.
  • Decorate with sprinkles of sugared cranberries and rosemary as desired.
  • Keep the yule log refrigerated until you're ready to serve. It should only be displayed at room temperature for an hour or less before being placed back in the fridge for keeping.

Recipe Notes

Make-Ahead Tips:
The yule log cake can be made, rolled, and frosted a day in advance and kept in the fridge.
Alternatively, you may prefer to bake the cake and roll it with the cream filling the day before. Frost it and assemble it with the chocolate ganache the morning before your evening celebration. This helps save space in the fridge since the plastic-wrapped log takes up less space than the fully decorated yule log.
COURSEDessert
CUISINEFrench

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The photo collage shows the finished yule log next to a photo of the cake rolled in parchment.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for the great recipe. It is a reasonable approach to a complex project. I made this last week and it was a big hit!

5 from 56 votes (56 ratings without comment)

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