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.
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 card, I just wanted to ensure you had all the tips and tricks you needed to get your yule log to turn out perfectly!
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 and decorated to look just like the log from a tree.
You can read more about the history of the yule log cake here.
The ingredients for the yule log cake are likely in your fridge and pantry right now. There are just a few unique items that require a little more explanation:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sugared Cranberries & Rosemary: This is an optional ingredient but definitely makes 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.
Be sure to check the recipe card for all the remaining ingredients and quantities.
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.
How to Make the Sponge Cake
The recipe card has full, detailed instructions on how to make the chocolate sponge cake but there are a few tips I really wanted to explain more fully:
1. Is the parchment paper necessary?: Lining the jelly roll pan with parchment that drapes over the sides is crucial. This will become your handle for lifting the cake out of the pan and rolling it up.
2. Do I need all those bowls??: It will feel like you're using a lot of bowls to make this cake. I try to avoid using too many dishes as I bake but in this instance it will help ensure you have the lightest, spongiest sponge cake ever.
3. What are "Stiff Peaks"?: You'll beat the egg whites until "stiff peaks" form. This means that when you pull the whisk up out of the whites, a peak will be formed that holds it's pointy shape without falling over.
4. Why you roll up the empty chocolate cake first: While the chocolate cake is still hot, you'll roll the cake up with the parchment paper inside the roll. If you waited until the cake had cooled, it would crack and break instead of rolling. Rolling it up with the parchment swirled inside, keeps the cake from sticking to itself because you'll eventually unroll it to spread the whipped cream filling before rolling it up without the parchment paper.
How to Make 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.
Soft peaks will gently fall over when they are pulled, unlike the stiff peaks that hold their shape.
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.
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. This allows everything to firm up and set.
How to Assemble and Frost the Cake
The recipe card has complete, detailed instructions on how to make the chocolate ganache frosting.
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. Attach the cut end to the base of the bigger piece of cake with a dollop of ganache.
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, 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.
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 using the same techinique.
The cranberries should dry overnight to get that gorgeous frosted look. They'll be ready to go when you're ready to decorate your cake before serving.
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 yule log cake is also known as a buche de noel, or "Christmas log" in French. The name refers to the branch-like appearance of the chocolate cake.
A Swiss roll is a chocolate cake rolled with a creamy white filling. A yule log is a similar dessert but has been sliced and displayed like a branch and decorated to look like the bark of a tree. Yule logs often featured candied mushroom decorations or frosted cranberries and rosemary to give a natural appearance.
Since the filling is made with heavy cream and dairy, yes the yule log should be refrigerated before serving. Only display it for less than 60 minutes before putting it back in the fridge to keep cold.
You can make a buche de Noel the day before you plan to serve it but the fresh dairy and cake is best served within 24 hours. It will keep for up to 3 days.
When to Serve the Yule Log
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 Traditional Christmas Desserts
Looking for more classic desserts to bake for your family this holiday season?
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Yule Log Cake
For the Chocolate Sponge Cake
- ¾ cup flour
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder Like Hershey's
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs divided
- ¾ cup sugar
- 5 tablespoon sour cream
- 4 tablespoons butter melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Whipped Cream Filling
- 1 ¼ cup heavy whipping cream cold
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese slightly softened
For the Chocolate Ganache
- 1 ⅓ cup semi sweet chocolate chips OR 8 oz semi sweet chocolate finely chopped
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Sugared cranberries Optional
- Sugared rosemary Optional
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.
- 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.
- Add the egg whites to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat them on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Gently fold ⅓ of the egg whites into the chocolate batter. This will help loosen the mixture before adding the remaining ⅔ 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.
- 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.
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 so the whole cake roll can firm up.
Make the Chocolate Frosting
- Add the chocolate to a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.
- Add the 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, platter, or cake board 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. Use a dollop of chocolate frosting to attach the diagonal side of the shorter piece of cake to the base of the larger cake. 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.
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