Every year before Christmas my girl friends from school and I celebrate what we have very creatively titled ‘Mini Christmas’, where we eat too much, laugh a lot and open our secret Santa presents. I was on pudding duty, so I went for a festive classic: the chocolate yule log.
This recipe gets repeated year after year in my house and is originally a Delia Smith one, but has morphed a little over the years. It is a fatless and flour-less sponge and relies entirely on eggs as the raising agent. Folding the mixture together requires a little patience, but the result is a beautifully light, moist sponge.
Before dinner last night, a few people requested we save them a piece and I (foolishly, with hindsight) said we would because there was no way we’d eat the whole thing. Needless to say, I was wrong; we ate it all. I wish I could use ‘well, it is Christmas’ as an excuse, but, to be honest, we’d probably have done the same any time of year.
150g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
450ml double cream
150g dark chocolate
Icing sugar, for dusting
50g marzipan, optional
Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a 29x18cm tin with greaseproof paper
Separate the egg whites from the yolks and set them aside. Whisk the egg yolks until they thicken slightly, then add the sugar and cocoa powder, beating for a minute or so after each addition.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Take a couple of spoons of the egg whites and fold into the chocolate mixture. This helps loosen the mixture up a little before you add the rest; it’s better to knock the air out of a small amount of egg whites at this stage than all of them in the next.
Next, add the rest of the egg whites to the mix and gently fold together until smooth. This will take a few minutes. Pour into the lined tray, holding the bowl close to the surface so as not to knock too much air out on impact. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Leave it to cool in the tin; it will shrink away from the sides and fall slightly. I like to pre-roll the sponge to loosen it up a little so it rolls easier with the cream. Lay a piece of greaseproof paper, a little larger than the tin, on the work surface and dust it with a little icing sugar. Carefully turn your sponge out onto it, long end towards you, then peel away the piece that lined the tin. Use a knife to score along one of the long edges, about 1cm in, taking care not to cut the whole way through. Then, taking the greaseproof with you, roll it up into a log shape. Leave to rest for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whip 300ml of the cream until stiff, adding a little sugar to sweeten if you prefer. Unroll the sponge and spread the cream over the top then re-roll (without the greaseproof inside this time!) Wrap it nice and tightly in cling film and place in the fridge for half an hour, or overnight.
When you’re ready to decorate, gently heat the remaining cream in a pan on the hob until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until you have a smooth ganache. Leave to cool for 20 minutes to half an hour until it’s spreadable.
Remove the sponge log from the cling film and place it on your serving dish. At this point you can just leave it as a single piece, but I like to chop off about a third and place it cut-end against the rest of the log at an angle to resemble a branch. Spoon the ganache a bit at a time onto the log and ease down the sides with a palette knife. Once it’s covered, use the end of the knife to scrape wood patterns into the ganache, then clean up the serving dish around the edge with a wet cloth.
At this point, you can just dust with icing sugar and serve, or you can make the marzipan decorations. For this, you’ll require green and red food colouring pastes and a holly leaf veined plunger or if, like me, you don’t have one, get creative with what you do have. Colour a little of the marzipan red and roll it into small balls for the berries, then colour the remainder green, roll out and cut into leaf shapes. You can do it with a knife instead if you don’t have anything else, though it is a little more fiddly. Decorate, dust with icing sugar and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.