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December 1998 Issue
What is Tradition?
by Chris Schaefer
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The Yule Log
From Pat Spiller's "Christmas Traditions in Spain."
    "A huge log -- the Yule Log -- is brought into an outdoor clearing and becomes part of a great bonfire. Everyone dances and sings around the fire. All the noise and great excitement is said to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep, hurrying spring on its way as the cycle begins once again and the days grow longer than the nights."

This tradition began as a Pagan ritual to be had during the Winter Solstice. Nowadays, the Yule Log still symbolizing the coming season while at the same time, keeping things home in a fashion. The Yule Log, represented in dessert-form, reminds us of Holiday tradition in many a form, much like that of the aforementioned Plum Pudding. While its not entirely incorrect to say that the once Pagan ritual has become Christianized, the ritual in itself embodies now what it embodied then- that is, the newness of what is to come. In parallel, the birth of Jesus can also be thought of as a "look to the future" and the newness of what is to come.

The Yule Log
  • 14 oz. bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 C confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 lb. softened unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. instant coffee (espresso is nice)
  • 1 tsp. boiling water
Sponge Cake:
  • 14 tbsp. softened butter
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
Meringue Mushrooms:
  • 2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
  • cocoa powder
  • confectioners sugar
For the buttercream, chop the chocolate into small pieces and put them into a heatproof bowl. Melt in the microwave on 30 percent power in 30 seconds shots until melted. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Put the egg yolks and the sugar in a medium bowl and mix with an electric mixer until very pale - about 3 minutes. Add the butter, a tbsp. at a time. and beat well after each addition. Beat about five minutes longer. Remove half the buttercream to a separate bowl and stir the melted chocolate into one batch of the buttercream. Dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water and stir in the vanilla. Add to the other buttercream. Can cover and refrigerate for 48 hours if need be.

For the sponge cake, coat a 5x10 inch jelly roll pan with 1 tablespoon butter and line it with parchment paper or wax paper. Butter the paper and set aside. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Beat the remaining butter and the sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and beat about 3 minutes. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenly spread the batter in the pan and bake until the cake layer is lightly browned and springy -- about ten minutes. Remove from heat. Run a small knife along the rim of the cake to loosen it. Flip the cake gently onto a linen towel that has been dusted with confectioners sugar. Carefully peel away the paper. Trim off the crisp brown edges (handy to feed these to a nearby child). Flip the cake again onto another linen towel that has been dusted with confectioners sugar and take away the first towel. Fold the bottom edge of the towel up over the cake and tightly roll the cake. Set aside rolled up on a wire rack until cake cools. This takes about thirty minutes.

If you have your buttercream refrigerated, bring to to room temperature at this point and stir until smooth. Set aside 1/2 cup of the coffee buttercream. Unroll the cake and spread with the remaining coffee buttercream Roll it back up tightly. Cut a diagonal slice from one end of the cake - about 1 1/4 inch long at its longest point. Reserve slice and sit the cake seam side down on the serving dish. Edge it with wax paper in order not to mess up the plate while icing the log. Set the reserved slice on top of the "log" so it protrudes like a stump off the main log. Spread the ends of the log and the end of the stump with the coffee buttercream. Then frost the rest of the log and sides of the stump with the chocolate buttercream (stripe with fork tines to appear like bark). If desired, pipe rings on the light ends of the log with the chocolate buttercream. You may get as fancy as you please here, and if you have a hand for decorated, pipe on green vines and leaves if desired. Make the meringue mushrooms and sit on the log and around it. Dust whole thing with powdered sugar if desired for snow. Arrange sprigs of holly, or whatever you choose around the log on the serving tray. Use as a centerpiece and an elegant dessert.

  • Yields: one fantastic yule log

I hope you've enjoyed my little portrait. And I hope that you will take care of portraits of your own; recognizing the importance of them in your life. As my favourite painter always said, "And remember... make all of your trees "happy trees."

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