Originally, the Yule Log was an actual log. It started as a tree, which members of the family would go out and cut down, then bring the whole thing into the house. Once it was cut down, it was brought to the house with much fanfare, as this activity was thought to ensure good luck in the new year. The log was then placed on the hearth and set afire with a scrap of yule log from the previous year, which was meticulously preserved for this use. This tradition was done to ensure not only good luck from year to year, but from generation to generation as well. (If you're interested in learning more about this tradition, click here.)
No one is really sure where the idea of turning this tradition into a cake developed, but most food historians believe it happened in the 19th century. It was made to resemble an actual log, complete with a rolled cake to look like rings. Some were very fancy, and included meringue mushrooms, almond paste leaves, and other decorations to make it look like a true log. I, however, forgo the fancy stuff and do a simple dust of powdered sugar to look like snow. The cake is fabulous all on its own.
Now I realize that the ingredients are not all that local when compared to my other recipes, which usually emphasize locally grown produce or locally made artisan products. I do, however, believe that part of what makes a local food community is its traditions. In addition, I use local dairy and eggs, and also source my ingredients from my local co-op, not from a large chain store. You can find ways to integrate the idea of "local" even into recipes like this.
This delicious cake has several steps which make it seem complicated, but it is in fact a very easy cake to execute when the directions are followed properly. Do not be scared of making a rolled cake; again, it is really simple if you follow the directions. The cake itself is a delicious soft yellow sponge cake, filled with a rum-spiked chocolate spread and topped with a cocoa-whipped cream frosting. As you see in the picture, I like to slice off pieces from the end and place on the roll to make it look more like a log. The cake is best served cold or a little chilled, since leaving it at room temperature will cause the filling and frosting to fall.
I hope you enjoy this cake, and maybe it will become a part of your traditions!
Buche de Noel
Makes 1 cake