• Larry Roberts / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Tribune News Service)Source: Tribune News Service

Not gonna lie. This delicate sponge cake — a gingerbread variation of the traditional French chocolate Christmas cake — is a commitment of time, energy and nerves. But what a stunner for your holiday table! Thankfully, everything but the marshmallow icing can be made a day or so ahead. 

Serves
12

Preparation

1hr
40min

Cooking

50min

Skill level

Ace
By
Average: 3.8 (10 votes)
Yum

Never made a jelly-roll cake? Food writer Marlene Parrish offers this tip for rolling the cake after you plop it out of the pan and onto a sugar-dusted dishtowel: Roll the cake up with a paper towel tube inside. That way the cake has a better memory of the curve when its unrolled and filled. This being my first attempt at a yule log, my cake cracked and split as I rolled it. No worries — that’s what icing is for!

Ingredients

Praline topping

  • 1 cup pecan halves or pieces
  •  cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

 

Cake

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cornflour, sifted
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 6 large eggs
  • ¾ cup light-brown sugar, packed
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 

Filing

  • 230 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • pinch of fine sea salt

 

Frosting

  • ½ cup egg whites (about 4 large)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.

Instructions

Chilling time 1 hour

You will need to begin this recipe 1 day in advance. 

You will need a sugar thermometer for this recipe. 

Centre a rack in oven and preheat to 180ºC.

To make pralines, line a baking tray with parchment and spread pecans on baking sheet. Bake nuts for 3 minutes (you want to heat, not toast, them), stir them around and them put in a warm spot while you cook the sugar.

Put sugar in small saucepan and pour over water. Swirl to moisten, then put pan over medium-high heat. Cook sugar, brushing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until sugar turns a medium amber color.

Turn off heat, add nuts to saucepan, and stir a few times with wooden spoon to coat nuts with syrup. Pour nuts onto baking sheet and use spoon or offset metal spatula to spread them out.

Let cool completely. Finely chop ½ cup of praline; coarsely chop the remainder. (This can be done a day in advance.)

To make the cake, centre rack in oven and maintain oven temperature at 180ºC.

Line a 40 cm x 30 cm rimmed baking tray with a piece of parchment. Butter paper and dust with flour; tap out excess.

Whisk flour, cornflour, cinnamon, ginger, salt and pepper together in small bowl.

Have a wide skillet about one-third full of simmering water on stove. Working in bowl of a stand mixer, or in heatproof bowl in which you can use mixer, whisk together eggs and brown sugar. Set bowl in pan of simmering water and whisk nonstop until mixture is very warm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

If using stand mixer, attach bowl to stand and fit it with whisk attachment, or use hand mixer. Working on high speed, beat the sugared eggs until they are thick and pale, have more then doubled in volume and have reached room temperature, 7-10 minutes. Switch to a flexible spatula and fold in flour mixture in 2 additions. Be as delicate as you can and be overly thorough now — you’re going to continue to fold when the butter goes in.

Put melted butter in small bowl, scoop a big spoonful of batter over it and stir. Turn mixture out onto the batter in the bowl and fold it in: Cut deep in center of bowl and search for bottom for unincorporated flour. Find it and fold it. Scrape batter out onto the prepared baking sheet and spread it evenly with offset spatula.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until cake is golden brown, lightly springy to touch and starting to pull away from the sides of the baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to cooling rack, but keep it on the rack for no more than 5 minutes; you want to roll the cake while it’s hot.

Lay a cotton or linen kitchen towel (not terrycloth or fiber) on the counter and dust it generously with confectioners’ sugar. Run table knife around sides of cake and invert onto the towel.Carefully peel away parchment.

Lightly dust cake with confectioners’ sugar and replace the parchment, putting the clean side against the cake. Starting at short end, roll cake into a log; this is a pre-roll, so it doesn’t have to be tight or perfect. If the cake cracks, keep rolling — the filling and frosting will patch everything. (The towel will end up coiled inside the cake.) Return rolled-up cake (still in towel) to rack and let it cool, seam side down, to room temperature.

To make the filling, put softened cream cheese, butter and salt in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or work in a large bowl with hand mixer. With mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in cinnamon and vanilla.

If using right away, stir in half a cup finely chopped praline; if not, wait until you’re ready to fill the Yule log. (You can make filling, without praline, up to 2 days in advance. Return to spreadable consistency before using.)

To fill the log,  unroll the log and carefully remove parchment. Leave cake on the kitchen towel. Beginning with a short end end, gently roll up cake, peeling away the towel as you go. Unroll cake onto towel or a clean piece of parchment.

Spread filling across surface of cake, leaving a scant 2.5 cm border uncovered on the long sides. Again starting from short side, roll up cake, leaving towel or parchment behind and trying to get as tight a roll as you can. Place cake on parchment-lined cutting board, cover it and chill it for 30 minutes.

While cake is chilling, make frosting. Put egg whites in clean, dry bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment or in a large bowl that you can use with a hand mixer.

Stir sugar cream of tartar and water together in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then cover and boil for about 3 minutes. Uncover, attach a sugar thermometer and cook until it reads 116ºC (this can take 10 minutes).

When sugar reaches 112ºC, begin beating whites on medium speed. If your reach a point where whites look like they’re about to form stiff peaks and syrup isn’t yet at 116ºC, lower mixer speed and keep mixing until sugar is ready.

At 112ºC, with mixer on medium speed, stand back and carefully pour hot syrup into bowl. Try to get syrup between the sides of bowl and the whisk. Perfection is impossible, so ignore any spatters. Add vanilla and keep beating until frosting cools to room temperature, about 1 minute. You’ll have shiny, marshmallow frosting, which you should spread now.

To frost and finish the log, remove cake from refrigerator. Frost on cutting board then transfer to a serving platter, or put on platter first. To keep platter clean during frosting, tuck strips of parchment under log, putting just a sliver of parchment under cake and leaving lion’s share to protect your platter.

If ends of log look ragged, trim them. Using an offset spatula, table knife or back of spoon, swirl frosting all over cake in a thick layer. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to set frosting and firm up the filling.

Sprinkle cake with remaining coarsely chopped praline before serving. Cake will keep in refrigerator for 2 days.

 

Recipe from Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere by Dorie Greenspan

View Gretchen McKay’s article about gingerbread and more recipes here

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