Well, we did it. We have finally arrived at December. After the year we’ve had, I decided that this month’s recipe should be a decadent treat that I think we all deserve. A dessert that will delight any crowd: an Orange Spice Bûche de Noël (or if you’re feeling a bit more pedestrian, a Yule log recipe). In years past, I have made every kind of complicated holiday dessert or treat imaginable…. gingerbread houses, croquembouche towers, even cream puff swans. Still, nothing has delighted folks quite like the whimsical forestscape of a beautiful Bûche de Noël. While a more traditional Yule log is usually chocolate, I assure you this orange spiced variation will be a delicious break from tradition.
The beauty of this cake is that once you get over the irrational fear of creating that perfect roll (I’m going to walk you through it), it’s all smooth sailing from there. Swiss meringue buttercream is sort of like the oil paint of the frosting world. It’s easier than people assume and naturally lends itself to character and depth with little effort at all. Rosemary simple syrup and a little sugar can create that frosted look on cranberries and rosemary sprigs. A little ground up pistachios creates the most realistic and delicious mossy forest floor. Punctuate it all with a few meringue mushrooms and, voila, it’s a holiday fantasy fit for a fairytale!
Since this will be somewhat of a time investment, I advise you to make the most of this project and use this as the centerpiece to a dessert spread or even your dinner tablescape theme. While I went for more of a fantasy all-white look, your log and mushrooms can be any color you desire (as long as you use gel food coloring, otherwise it won’t work). Basically meaning that if you are trying to tell a different color story, the options are limitless!
I won’t lie to you; this recipe has a lot of parts and can feel overwhelming. It’s not. I will break down every aspect of the process for you (including some troubleshooting tips) to ensure that this works out. I will also be breaking this into two parts so that, if you choose, you can tackle that jelly roll and crumb coat the evening before and then frost and construct the next day. The beauty of this project is that once you’ve got all your components made, the remainder of the work is just placing the decorative elements. Even your little ones could help with it (unless you’re a perfectionist like me). My advice to help you succeed here is to read the recipe entirely through, decide if you’re doing this in one shot or over two days, gather and measure all ingredients before starting an element, and have confidence. You got this!
Orange Spice Bûche de Noël aka Our Yule Log Recipe
- Stand mixer/hand mixer
- 18 x 13 rimmed baking sheet
- Parchment paper (15 inches across so that it can be cut down)
- Fine mesh sieve
- Rectangular or oval platter (love this one from Anthropologie and this one from Target)
- Offset spatula
- Piping bag
- 18 x 13 wire cooling rack
- Large heat-proof bowl (preferably metal)
- Silicone pastry brush
Orange Spice Jelly Roll
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup flour + some for dusting
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice
- Zest of one large navel orange
- 1/4 tsp orange extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 whole eggs + 2 egg whites
- Butter for greasing baking sheet
- Powdered sugar for dusting
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Note: make sure the bowl of your mixer is clean and free of any grease. You can wipe the bowl out with a little white vinegar or lemon juice to ensure it’s for sure free of grease. This will help avoid any issue with getting the whites to whip up.
- 1 cup egg whites (about 6-7 large eggs)
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened but slightly firm, cut into tbsp sized pieces
- 1/4 tsp orange extract
- 1 tsp vanilla Pinch of salt
Rosemary Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1 cups sugar
- 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
Note: I recommend separating the whites in a separate bowl, then add them one by one to a larger bowl. That way, if a yolk breaks into the white, you only lose one egg and not the entire batch.
Candied Cranberries/Candied Rosemary
- 1 cup cleaned cranberries
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 cup sugar
Pistachio for faux “dirt” and moss
- 1 cup pistachios coarsely pulsed in a food processor or crushed with a rolling pin in a ziplock bag
Starting with the orange spice jelly roll, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your 18X13 rimmed baking sheet with butter. Line the sheet with parchment paper, pressing down and then removing and flipping over the parchment to face greased side up. Dust liberally with flour, turning the baking sheet over and gently banging out any excess flour and set aside. Pull another parchment piece a little bigger than the baking sheet and set aside with the prepared baking sheet. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder, ensuring there are no lumps and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add eggs + whites and sugar. Mix on medium-high until pale in color and light and fluffy. This should take about 8-10 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the mixture to avoid overbeating. Once the egg mixture is fluffy and light, mix in the vanilla, orange extract, zest, and Chinese five-spice. In two parts, fold the dry mixture into the wet, folding just enough to ensure no lumps but without mixing all the air out.
Pour out onto prepared baking sheet using an offset spatula to smooth out and distribute. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, once the center is no longer wiggly and the cake is pillowy but firm to the touch. While the cake is baking, clean out your mixer bowl to prepare for the frosting. This next part is vital to getting that perfect roll without cracking your cake. It involves handling hot objects, so make sure your kitchen space is clear and to have an open surface to work on. Have prepared the clean piece of parchment, wire cooling rack, powdered sugar, sieve, and a paring knife. Remove the cake from the oven, run the paring knife along the sides to ensure there is no sticking. Dust the cake with Powdered sugar and place the clean piece of parchment on top. Place the wire rack against the parchment-covered cake and carefully but quickly flip the cake so that the wire rack is now the bottom and the baking sheet is the top. Remove the baking sheet and parchment, dust with powdered sugar. Slide the cake off the wire rack onto a flat counter space. While the cake is still hot, roll the long end up like a cinnamon roll, keeping the parchment rolled up in the cake to prevent the layers from sticking together. At this point, there should only be one piece of parchment on the bottom of the cake. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to cool completely. Letting the cake cooled rolled will prevent it from cracking when you frost and re-roll it later. You’re essentially training it.
Swiss meringue buttercream:
While the cake is cooling, make the Swiss meringue buttercream. In a medium saucepan, bring about 2-3 inches of water to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Using the double boiler method, place the bowl over the saucepan, allowing it to rest on the sides, but not allowing the bowl’s bottom to touch the water. Continuously whisk the egg/sugar mixture until it is thin, foamy. When you rub the mixture between two fingers, there are no granules of sugar; it’s ready. This will take about 5 minutes.
Once the sugar is baked down, without letting it cool, pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until glossy stiff peaks form. The bowl should no longer be warm to the touch, about 10-15 minutes. If it’s been humid where you live, this could take a touch longer. Once the bowl has cooled to about room temperature, switch the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment; on medium-high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, waiting for the piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer down to medium and add the orange extract, vanilla extract, and pinch of salt until just combined. The buttercream should be smooth and thick, but if it’s a little loose, it might need a 20-minute break in the freezer. Check on it at around the halfway point, giving it a small whisk. Don’t leave it in there much longer than 20 minutes.
Rosemary simple syrup:
This recipe will be enough to brush your cake with before frosting and coat the Cranberries and rosemary sprigs, so don’t discard the extra! In a medium-sized saucepan, bring sugar and water to boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and give the large spring of rosemary a good smoosh to release the oils. Set in the simple syrup and allow to cool completely. Discard the rosemary sprig.
Construction and crumble coat:
Once the simple syrup has cooled, unroll the cake log and generously paint the cake to moisten. Store the remaining syrup in an airtight container. Once done, using your offset spatula, frost the cake with no more than half an inch of frosting. Using the parchment paper to help roll the cake back up, slowly fold the cake back into the rolled shape, removing the parchment as you go. The end result should be a tidy log. Using a serrated knife, trim off the ends to clean them up. Then cut about a 4-inch piece diagonally to make your stump. If you’re placing the stump on top and you’re worried about it falling, feel free to go a little shorter. Carefully transport your log onto its final plate (the less you move it between plates, the better). Frost the flat end of the stump and position it onto the cake. Apply a thin crumb coat and allow the cake to rest in the fridge for at least an hour or up to overnight.
If you’re breaking this up over two days, you can stop here. You’ve made it through the most challenging part!
Like the Swiss Buttercream, in a medium saucepan, bring about 2-3 inches of water to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Using the double boiler method, place the bowl over the saucepan, allowing it to rest on the sides but not allowing the bowl’s bottom to touch the water. Continuously whisk the egg/sugar mixture until it is thin, foamy. When you rub the mixture between two fingers, there are no granules of sugar; it’s ready. This will take about 5 minutes.
Once the sugar is baked down, without letting it cool, pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until glossy stiff peaks form. When the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, about 10-15 minutes. Once the sugar is baked down, without letting it cool, pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until glossy stiff peaks form. The bowl is no longer warm to the touch, about 10-15 minutes. If you’re coloring your mushroom tops, this is when you’d fold in your gel food coloring.
Using a piping bag with the tip clipped off, pipe little round mushroom caps and an equal amount of fat short stems with a pointed tip (I always make a bunch — there will be lots of meringue) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 170 degrees for about 25 minutes, then turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven with the door cracked for about an hour. Melt your chocolate chips in the microwave. Once set, using a paring knife, carefully make little holes in the mushroom caps’ underside, dip the stems into the melted chocolate and let them set. If it’s humid where you live, you can place them in the freezer until you need them.
Candied cranberries and rosemary:
To make the candied Cranberries and rosemary sprigs, take the remaining simple syrup and toss the berries/ sprigs in. Take them out after being coated. Spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set up a little. After about 15 minutes, toss them in sugar and store in an airtight container until ready to decorate.
Pistachio faux “dirt” and moss:
Next, pulse or crush the pistachios until they resemble a mossy/dirt texture.
Remove the cake from the fridge and generously frost it all over; at this stage, your creative choices are all yours to make. If you wish to make a bark-like pattern on the Bûche de Noël, you can achieve that by lightly running a fork over the cake like the effect you see in these photos. You can also make yours smooth and sleek. I like to crumble the pistachio dust around the bottom of the plate and a little across the top of the log to give it a molding effect. Then, place the mushrooms where they make sense to you. You can even frost the bottoms and put some around the plate off the log. Tuck the candied sprigs and berries around; I like to include fresh non-sugar coated rosemary, too, just for a little green. Whatever you choose, have fun! You’ve made it this far and have pulled off a yule log recipe.
Looking for more dessert recipes to try out this holiday season?? Try these:
- Chai-Poached Pears with Spiced Hazelnut Oat Crumble and Caramel Sauce
- A Winter Pavlova Recipe, Perfect for Impressing Holiday Guests
- Fudgy Brownies Recipe For Two (with Blood Orange Buttercream!)
- Pumpkin Nutella Swirl Tart Recipe