This is the dessert. This is THE dessert. This is the dessert that you look at and casually think, “Oh, I know what that’s going to taste like,” but then you taste it and realize that it’s incredible and you were entirely off the mark, though you don’t really know how just a few simple ingredients, with no fancy tricks, somehow came together to create something so ridiculously amazing.
As a kid, I can’t even quite explain the kind of mystery that surrounded my mom’s Chocolate Christmas Log. The appearance of it every Christmas was always a gift. Lou would announce that baking had begun; I’d yell that I’d be right there from my stealthy position deep within our Christmas boxes as I scrambled to get up as many decorations as possible before Lou could yell “Too much!” But before I, still knee deep in stars and lights and wooden monkeys, could tear myself away, this glorious cake was already in the fridge, settling and waiting, as that long-awaited moment after dinner approached. Finally, one of my parents would say, “Is it time for Log?” And my brother Ray and I would literally cheer.
Part of the magic was that it didn’t take too long from the time my mom started baking to the time the Log was totally complete. The cake is as fast as it is simple. (The largest chunk of time in this recipe is just the cake chilling by itself in the fridge.) And yet, when the moist and airy (a rare duo to achieve in baked goods), not-too-sweet, cocoa-powder-coated chocolate cake tumbles over fresh, homemade whipped cream, something unpredictable happens. The deep brown, richly flavored cake cracks a bit as it folds onto itself and the cream (and therefore, looks quite a bit like a log of wood with drifts of snow caught in its ridges), and as the two parts sit for a bit together, they become one incredible dessert. Fluffy and rich, moist and satisfying, decadent but not unappealingly so, even after Christmas dinner. There’s just nothing like it. If you make it right—all you have to do is follow the recipe carefully, taking care in the details, none of which are difficult—it’s like eating chocolate clouds.
And while there is, of course, something to be said for nostalgic bias—I certainly love Christmas Log all the more for remembering how thrilled I was to be allowed to help spread the cream neatly to the edges of the cake (I assumed this was some sort of precise and grown-up science), or to run downstairs and retrieve it carefully from the fridge to set on the table, as though it was the most delicate thing I’d ever carried, or to eat a piece with my family after midnight on Christmas Eve, like some kind of wintery secret, stealing more Christmastime when I knew so many of my friends were fast asleep—I’ll be the first to admit it. But the thing is, that when it comes to Lou’s Christmas Log, I’m not alone in my admiration. In fact, I think it may be, of all my mom’s famous foods, the most widely beloved. Family and friends, new and old, all fall instantly in love. It can’t be helped. And when you know how easy it is to make, even knowing how incredibly delicious it is in the end, it’s almost a surprise, another kind of secret. Because even though you put the whole thing together, you’re just as amazed that a few, not particularly unique ingredients could fit together so spectacularly to create this. But it’s true. It just happens somehow.
Our family’s Chocolate Christmas Log, our version of Bûche de Noël, is not glitzy or impressively decorated. It’s simple and beautiful. The most impressive part is, as it should be, the flavor and texture. You can add the usual trimmings of meringue mushrooms or holly berries made of frosting, we have, too, on occasion, but with a simple dusting of cocoa powder and the cream peeking out through the cracks like settled snow, you can’t go wrong. Happy eating.
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A Holiday Note from Us to You
Notes: These vital tips will make rolling your cake a breeze. Before you start, cover your table or counter with wax paper or newspaper for easy cleanup. After the cake has been dusted with cocoa, a big help here is to turn the cake onto a raised surface, like an upside down baking sheet, a marble slab, or a cutting board, covered completely with two large sheets of parchment, overlapping on the long sides. You’re going to work with one of the longer sides of the cake directly in front of you.
Also helpful: having the far side of the parchment extend onto your serving platter a bit. The idea is to have the cake and the serving platter about the same height so you can easily roll the cake right onto whatever you will use for serving. With the parchment supporting the cake, lift the edge of the long side of the parchment that’s closest to you and roll. We say roll, but it’s more like folding the cake over itself a couple of times. The cake will absolutely crack and that is exactly what it’s supposed to do! A big bonus: This can be made the day before and kept in the fridge until serving time.
Chocolate Christmas Log
This is a very light rolled cake. It also happens to be gluten-free!
A mixer, handheld or stand
Jelly roll baking pan (a cookie sheet with sides, basically—this is probably what you already have)
Parchment paper to line the baking pan and for inverting your cake
Vegetable oil to grease the pan and parchment
A clean dish towel
A large platter or cutting board on which to roll and serve the cake
– 7 eggs at room temperature—best to separate them while cold and then let them warm up. Put yolks in the bowl of your mixer or another large bowl and whites in a second mixer bowl or large bowl.
– 1 cup of granulated sugar
– 8 oz bittersweet or dark chocolate, roughly chopped to facilitate melting
– 7 tbs of brewed coffee—you can make a cup of freeze-dried coffee but don’t use instant. It just doesn’t taste as good.
– ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 2 cups heavy cream (organic or rBST free, if you can)
– 2 tbs dark rum or bourbon
– 1 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in middle.
* Oil the pan lightly. Line it with the parchment and oil the top side of the paper lightly, too.
* Using a hand mixer or the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, beat eggs on low speed for a minute.
* Add sugar and starting at low speed, beat to incorporate. Then, turn speed up to medium high and beat until light and fluffy. The mixture should fall in a thick ribbon when you raise up the beaters/whisk attachment.
* In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the chocolate and the coffee. You can also do this in a double boiler, if you like. Stir constantly until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
* In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks hold when you lift the whisk. Don’t over-beat or they’ll be dry!
* Gently fold the chocolate into the egg yolk mixture. You can do this with your mixer on low but be sure to pause periodically to scrape and fold the mixture up from the bottom with a spatula.
* Gently fold the whites into the yolk-chocolate mixture. Start by incorporating about a quarter of the whites to lighten, then add the rest.
* Pour batter into the prepared pan. As you pour, try to distribute it as evenly possible.
* Very gently coax the batter into the corners by tilting the pan just a little or carefully using a spatula. Be very gently, though—you do not want to deflate the batter.
* Slide pan into the oven and bake until the cake starts to pull away from the sides, about 15 to 18 minutes. Do not over bake. Start checking on the early side!
* Remove cake from oven and place on baking rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
* Dampen a clean dish towel with water (wring it out very well) and place over the cake. Let it cool completely.
* When cool, place in refrigerator for about an hour. Carefully remove the towel and sift cocoa over the top. (See our notes above for inverting the cake.)
* Whip the cream with the rum/bourbon and vanilla until stiff (you don’t want it leaking out of the cake), but again, not dry.
* Invert the cake onto clean parchment (again, see our note above) and gently peel off the paper used during baking.
* Spread the cream evenly over the cake, going just to the edges, but not over.
* Place a platter or cutting board right along the long side of the cake that’s farthest away from you.
* Using the parchment to help, starting at the long side closest to you, carefully roll the cake up like a log onto your platter or board. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.