The traditional French Christmas log exists in many variations of flavor and presentation. I like this one because the chocolate cake and coffee buttercream are not an excessively sweet combination. Also, the marzipan decorations can be prepared well in advance.
Makes one 16-inch long rolled cake, about 12 servings
One chocolate roll layer (see below)
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces almond paste
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
About 1/4 cup light corn syrup
Cocoa powder for finishing
Red and green liquid food color
- For the buttercream, whisk the rum and espresso powder together in a small bowl.
- Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk gently over a pan of simmering water until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 130˚F. Whip on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Beat in the coffee mixture and the vanilla.
- Cover the top of the chocolate layer with a clean piece of parchment or wax paper and invert it onto the back of a pan. Peel away the paper on which the layer baked. Replace with a clean paper and another pan. Invert the whole sandwich of pans with the cake layer between and remove top pan and paper. Slide layer, on clean paper, off bottom pan.
- Spread half the buttercream (it is a thin layer) on the cake.
- Fold over 1/2-inch of the long edge of the cake closest to you, then lift the paper and use it to roll the filled cake into a tight cylinder. Reserve the remaining buttercream for the outside of the buche. Wrap and chill the rolled cake to firm it; keep the buttercream at room temperature.
- For the marzipan, combine the almond paste and half the sugar in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sugar is almost absorbed. Add the remaining sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add half the corn syrup and continue mixing until some of the marzipan holds together when squeezed. If it doesn’t hold together, continue adding the corn syrup a little at a time, until the marzipan tests moistened. When the marzipan is sufficiently moistened, it will still appear crumbly. Remove the marzipan from the bowl to the surface and knead smooth.
- Marzipan mushrooms: Roll 1/3 of the marzipan into a cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths. Roll half the lengths into spheres. Press the cylinders against the spheres to make mushrooms. Smudge with cocoa powder.
- Holly Leaves: Add green color to 1/3 of the marzipan and roll into a long cylinder. Flatten with the back of a spoon and detach from surface with a spatula. Cut into diamonds to make leaves, or use a cutter.
- Holly Berries: Add red color to a tiny piece of marzipan. Roll into tiny spheres.
- Pine cones: Add cocoa powder to the remaining marzipan and form 2 cone shapes. Slash sides of cones with point of scissors.
- Remove the rolled cake from the refrigerator and unwrap. Trim edges diagonally, cutting one edge about 2 inches away from the end. Arrange the buche on a platter. Position the larger cut piece on the buche cut side upward and about 2/3 of the way across the top, adhering it with a dab of buttercream. Cover the buche with the remaining buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding branch on the top. Don’t cover the ends. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb. Transfer the buche to a platter and decorate with the marzipan. Sprinkle the platter and buche sparingly with confectioners’ sugar “snow.”
CHOCOLATE ROLL LAYER
Makes 1 layer
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 cup water
8 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar, divided use
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
One 12 x 18-inch (or 11 x 17-inch) jellyroll pan, buttered and lined, bottom and sides, with parchment paper
- Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
- Combine the chocolate and water in a large mixing bowl and set it over a pan of gently boiling water to melt, stirring occasionally. Cool the chocolate mixture.
- Whisk the yolks by hand in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in half the sugar and the vanilla. Place on mixer with whisk and whip on medium-high speed until lightened, about 3 minutes. Scrape the yolk mixture over the melted chocolate but don’t fold it in.
- Combine the egg whites and salt in a mixer bowl and whip on medium speed until white, opaque, and beginning to hold their shape. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, until the egg whites hold a firm peak.
- Scrape a quarter of the whites over the yolk and chocolate mixtures in the bowl and stir together. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
- Scrape the batter onto the prepared pan and use a medium offset spatula to spread it evenly.
- Bake the layer in the preheated oven until risen, fallen, and firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Pull on 2 of the corners of the paper on a short end and slide the layer to the back of a room-temperature pan to cool.