Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

The more eagle-eyed among you will recognise this as a bit of a flashback from last year.  Some time in the summer of 2012, Band of Bakers was approached by delicious. magazine to provide some recipes for their Christmas issue. The nature of publication schedules being as it is, I spent two weeks of the summer developing this recipe and then a blisteringly hot early September day in a studio, wearing winter clothes and pretending to drink mulled wine.  As you can imagine, it was very difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when your photographer is wearing shorts and you can see people sunbathing in a car park through a window.  The magazine came out that November and we were very excited to see our recipes in print.  Naomi made the mince pies; a delicious cranberry and orange version on an almond pastry, Charlie made an excellent rum and raisin Galette des Rois, Juliet made beautiful little Italian riciarelli biscuits (see also my post on some favourite Christmas recipes) and Jassy made an unusual and scrumptious Christmas cake made with walnuts and an obscenely generous amount of sloe gin (her blog is called Gin and Crumpets, so it is hardly surprising).  My recipe was the dessert for people who hate Christmas pudding (and there are many!), a chocolate and salted caramel yule log.

I have yet to sit down to a Christmas dinner where there are not two desserts:  the traditional Christmas pudding and an alternative option for those that refuse to eat it.  In my house, it is the men that have an aversion to it.  The women, myself included, adore Christmas pudding and eagerly anticipate the time of year when it is acceptable to eat one.  My favourite recipe is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet, served hot with an enormous dollop of extra-thick double cream (the kind you have to extract from the tub with a spoon).  When a dessert is required to please the naysayers, it is difficult to go wrong with chocolate.  This chocolate and salted caramel yule log can be sliced up and served on its own, with cream or with some hot custard.  The leftovers are robust enough to be kept and sliced up with tea for any afternoon guests.  It does keep for a few days longer than a regular yule log as the filling is a meringue buttercream, rather than fresh cream which has an extremely short shelf-life.

The recipe has a lot of processes and can look daunting on first glance, but it need not take too long to make.  When you consider the length of time it takes to prepare, bake, ice and decorate a traditional Christmas cake, you are scarcely worse off.  Last year, not counting the ones I made when developing the recipes, I managed to churn out four of these: one for my colleagues, one for my family, one for Ollie’s family and one for some pre-Christmas visitors who scarfed a whole yule log in an afternoon.  Salted caramel was the big flavour that everybody was going gaga over in 2012, so that was the inspiration for the filling, but any other flavoured buttercream would work just as well – you could add booze or even make a chocolate buttercream for ultimate decadence.  Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just fill it up with fresh cream and a jar of Nutella.  If you’re really pushed for time, you could even omit the ganache and finish off the log with a mere sprinkling of icing sugar.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

For the sponge

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour
  • ¼tsp fine salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the salted caramel meringue buttercream

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large egg whites (about 75g)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate ganache frosting

  •  200g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a swiss roll tin (approx. 25cm x 35cm) with baking paper.  To make the sponge, whisk together the three egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow.  Add the milk and whisk again until just combined.  Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour and salt on to the egg yolk mixture and, using a metal spoon, fold together until just combined.  Gently fold in a third of the egg whites, being careful not to knock too much of the air from them as you fold.  Once fully combined with no streaks of egg white, repeat with the other two-thirds of the mixture. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes until the top is springy and the sides have shrunk away from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Whilst still warm, roll up the sponge from the short end with the baking paper still on.  Leave to cool completely then carefully unroll.  This will help when rolling the cake.

To make the buttercream, combine the caster sugar, golden syrup and 120ml cold water in a heavy based saucepan.  Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a dark caramel (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.)  Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and salt, stirring until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two egg whites with the granulated sugar.  When soft peaks form, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to resemble a runny marshmallow.  Remove from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until the bottom of the bowl feels cool.  Add the butter, about 25g at a time, whisking continuously until thick.  Add the cooled caramel to the buttercream and whisk until just combined.  Transfer to the fridge and chill until needed.

For the frosting, break the dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil and pour over the chocolate.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick enough to spread.  Allow to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, peel the baking paper from the sponge and place, smooth side down, on a fresh piece of baking paper dusted with icing sugar.  Spread the buttercream across the sponge and gently roll up from the short end, as before. Place on a serving plate and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Spread the ganache on to the cake, leaving the ends bare, and use a fork to create a bark-like texture.  Dust with more icing sugar and serve.

Some Favourite Christmas Recipes

With only one month to go until Christmas, the subject of festive food is a hot one.  Regardless of your feelings on how soon we should start preparing, it is definitely time to start planning the Christmas lunch, making the edible gifts and booking the Ocado order (I never before realised how quickly the pre-Christmas slots get booked up!)  I have a timeline for the next month which includes everything from making the chilli-chocolate truffles that Ollie loves so much to ordering the beef that we will be devouring on Christmas day.  For the past few years, I have been on a mission to find the perfect Christmas recipes – the ones that never fail, are easy to prepare and taste delicious.  Here are a few that I would like to share with you:

The Christmas Pudding

In my family it is only the women (my mum, my aunt, my grandma and myself) that like a Christmas pudding, so I always make a chocolate dessert for the men.  For me, there is only one Christmas pudding recipe that I intend to make for the rest of my life and that is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet – it contains the perfect mixture of fruit, spices, treacle and nuts, along with a generous slosh of ale (never a bad thing!)  It tastes just like the old fashioned Christmas puddings my Nan used to bring to the table when we were children.  It can be made up to a month before Christmas day, but I always make it roughly two weeks before.  The recipe claims to serve six to eight but, with my greedy lot, it just about goes around four.  Serve with clotted cream or extra-thick double cream.

A Simple Christmas Pudding from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet

A Simple Christmas Pudding from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet

A Simple Christmas Pudding can be found on page 434 of Short and Sweet, available to order from Amazon here.

The Nibbles

When we spend time with Ollie’s family over Christmas, there is always the Annual Thomas Family Monopoly Championships that takes place after the meal we have together on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.  Forget any images of brothers playing happily together by the light of the Christmas tree, this is a fiercely fought battle in which no dirty tactics are off limits.  It is also traditional that cocktails and Ollie’s Dad’s famous cheeseboard accompany this game, which is often played long into the night.  Last year, I added a jar of candied nuts into the mix to provide that much-needed sugar boost for those of us still in the game.  These are a mixture of nuts – I used walnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews – coated in a crunch of sugar, smoked paprika and cinnamon.  They take no time at all to make and are perfect with a gin and tonic.

Sugar and Spiced Candied Nuts from the Smitten Kitchen Blog

Sugar and Spiced Candied Nuts from the Smitten Kitchen Blog

The Recipe for Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts can be found on the Smitten Kitchen blog here.

The Mince Pies

Another shout for Short and Sweet.  I usually try out different mince pies each year to keep things interesting – this year is going to be something a little more experimental, and I’m not sure yet whether it will work.  If it does not, Dan Lepard’s Extra Rich Mince Pies are the ultimate go-to recipe.  These are possibly the most luxurious mince pies I have ever made – the pastry contains cream cheese and butter and egg and ground almonds. Drooling yet?  They are also deep, deep fill, so one of them is like a small meal.  You can fill them with any mincemeat you like, but of course I like to use the Dark Rich Mincemeat recipe from the same book (page 345) – two batches of this will usually last me the entire festive season.  Last year, I added some marshmallow fluff for the ultimate in filth food – not recommended unless you have a very, very sweet tooth!

Extra Rich Mince Pies (with added Marshmallow Fluff) from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet

Extra Rich Mince Pies (with added Marshmallow Fluff) from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet

Extra Rich Mince Pies can be found on page 385, and Dark Rich Mincemeat on page 345, of Short and Sweet (ordering details above).

The Chutney

This is another one I like to mix up each year.  This year I am working on a recipe for a spiced red onion marmalade, which I am hoping will be delicious with the enormous amount of cheese I am planning to buy and consume.  Last year, I went to Brockley Market and bought as many plums as I could fit in my bike basket – with them I made a deliciously spiced plum chutney, which was a welcome accompaniment to the table of cold cuts and cheeses.

The recipe for Spiced Plum Chutney can be found on the BBC Good Food website here.

The Edible Gifts

Ricciarelli are traditionally given as Christmas gifts in Italy – they are beautiful, delicate little almond biscuits and very easy to make.  The best version I have ever seen were made by my friend and fellow Band of Bakers member Juliet for our feature in delicious. magazine last year.  I am planning to whip up a few batches of these to add to some Christmas hampers.  The best way to present them is stacked delicately in tall glass jars tied with a festive ribbon.

The recipe for Juliet’s Ricciarelli can be found on the delicious. website here.

Guess Who’s Coming to (Christmas) Dinner

I have a suspicion that people fear vegetarians at Christmas almost as much as they fear forgetting a present or running out of booze.  Traditional Christmas food in the UK generally focuses around two very non-veggie ingredients: meat and suet, and people find they are often at a loss as to what to what to feed a vegetarian for Christmas dinner.  I’ve heard so many horror stories from vegetarian friends – one was given a plate of vegetables and potatoes with vegetable stock poured over the top (the gravy was made with meat juices), another was given two Quorn sausages in place of the meat and no gravy, and I have been told of people who have been served pasta with stir-in sauce without anything at all from the traditional roast.  I was a pescatarian for twelve years and was never particularly enamoured with the anaemic meat-substitute products, so would often be given salmon or a nut roast, which wasn’t at all bad.  I have often wondered, though, why so many people find it difficult to make inspiring food for vegetarians at Christmas.

One of the most common worries about having vegetarians to Christmas dinner is that cooking for them is yet another thing to do in the never-ending list of tasks in the run up to Christmas. When faced with present-wrapping, endless entertaining and precision timing of the Christmas dinner itself, it is always tempting to pick up a nut roast from the freezer section and douse it in vegetarian instant gravy.  The best vegetarian Christmas dinners are the ones where everybody, or the majority of diners, are vegetarians – I went to a vegetarian pre-Christmas dinner once and the range of meat-free dishes, including a rather delicious aubergine and red pepper strudel, was amazing.  The vegetarian main course is a great addition to any Christmas table as it can be enjoyed by all.  Meat-eaters are unlikely to want to try a slice of a Quorn roast, but they may be tempted by something a little more enticing.

Cooking the filling for the mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington

Cooking the filling for the mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington

My Christmas vegetarian dish is based around two very hearty ingredients – mushrooms and chestnuts – which create a substantial, and almost meaty, texture and flavour.  This is a mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington – a combination of those three ingredients with red wine, breadcrumbs and cream wrapped in puff pastry.  It is very easy to make; the filling is combined in one frying pan and, if you use shop-bought puff pastry, the entire Wellington can be prepared, assembled and cooked in little over an hour.  For extra convenience, this can be made and assembled the day before and then put in the oven half an hour before needed.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

The filling is everything a Christmas dinner should be: festive, rich and with a big kick of umami flavour.  The contrasting textures of the crunchy chestnuts, meaty mushrooms and slightly crunchy spinach prevent it being too same-y and bland and the puff pastry gives it enough substance to make it a filling meal.  A slice of this with a sharp vegetarian gravy would make for a very happy vegetarian indeed.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Spinach Wellington

  • 25g dried porcini mushrooms
  • Olive oil
  • 3 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 250g Portobello mushrooms, halved and sliced
  • 200g cooked and peeled chestnuts (I used Merchant Gourmet)
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 85ml red wine
  • 3 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Puff pastry, either home-made or one packet of shop-bought

Put the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour over 250ml boiling water.  Leave to soak for 20 minutes before draining the mushrooms, squeezing out any excess liquid, and reserving the water.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water until wilted, then refresh in cold water.  Drain and squeeze as much of the liquid out of the spinach as possible.  Roughly chop and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic for about ten minutes on a medium-low heat until the onions are translucent – do not let them brown.  Add the mushrooms, including the drained porcini, to the frying pan and cook until the mushrooms are soft and caramelised.  Add more olive oil here if necessary.

Halve or quarter the larger chestnuts, add to the pan with the chopped spinach and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Add the red wine and 85ml of the reserved porcini soaking liquid along with the tarragon, salt and pepper and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.  Stir in the cream and the breadcrumbs and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring until all of the ingredients are combined.  Allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Roll out the puff pastry to a large rectangle – the pastry should be about the thickness of a two-pence piece.  Arrange the cooled filling in a rectangular mound along the length of the pastry, leaving enough pastry either side to wrap around the filling.  Slice the edges into strips and ‘plait’ across the top of the pastry, sealing the edges until all of the filling is sealed in.  Place on a well-oiled baking sheet, brush with egg wash and bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until the pastry is browned – use a thermometer to check the filling is cooked through.  Serve in slices with festive vegetables and vegetarian gravy.

Serves eight.