Do the Yule Log Roll

A friend who's more like a younger sister celebrated her 30th birthday over the weekend, so a group of older folks decided to help her around the bend into a new decade. A bunch of calls were made, as were potluck assignments, and I set out to make a birthday dessert fit for a December babe in the woods.

Meringue yule log with chocolate mascarpone.

The first thing that came to mind was a traditional buche de Noel, aka a yule log. Essentially, a yule log is a roulade, a fancy word for a cake layer that gets rolled up and filled with something yummy. Traditionally, the "log" is made from a genoise (sponge) cake, and the filling is made from buttercream or a flavored whipped cream. The idea is to make the cake look like a wood in the middle of an enchanted forest on a wintry day.

As tempting as it sounded, a traditional yule log calls for 2 or 3 hefty sticks of butter for ye olde buttercream, a cholesterol reality that had me rethink my Yuletide notion. I wanted something a bit lighter -- at least on the tongue -- and assumed my guests would, too.

And then, just like a Christmas dessert miracle, a recipe for an alternative roulade recipe appeared before my very eyes. Instead of sponge cake, this log called for a snow-white meringue, filled with mascarpone cheese, a spreadable, adaptable Italian "cream" cheese. Sounded like a dream come true.

However, as I studied the recipe, which comes from Sara Perry's "Holiday Baking," I wanted more color contrast than the white-on-white result that this version would offer. I called a trusted friend who's spent time as a pastry chef and asked for his thoughts on flavoring mascarpone with chocolate . . . it could be a yule log in reverse I thought. Snow covered, in fact!

He gave me thumbs up to my chocolate mascarpone idea and suggested adding a touch of booze, not so much to get my guests drunk, but to punch up the chocolate flavor, much like the way salt enhances the flavor of fruit. Kapow on the tongue.

Making meringue, by the way, is easier than making a cake batter. The trickiest part is separating the eggs because the whites then get beaten with cream of tartar and sugar that transform into glossy Alpine peaks. The fluffy stuff then gets baked in a shallow baking sheet called a jelly roll pan. Don't worry; even though it puffs up like some crazy hairdo, the meringue is quite pliable and will behave when it's time to roll.

After I got the approval to chocolatize my mascarpone, I melted about 6 ounces of bittersweet choc which I added to the cheesy mixture. The flavors were exquisite. I couldn't get over how the chocolate and cheese were whispering love notions to each other. What a combo!

A few notes to keep in mind: Allow meringue to thoroughly cool. Do not panic as you roll up your log; the bottom layer of parchment helps you keep things on track. Allow time to chill whole thing for at least 2 hours to completely set up. Don't slice until ready to serve.

I set the platter in front of the guest to serve themselves and there was a moment of silence, followed by a unison of "Oh my God." I think that means "delicious."

Meringue Roulade
Adapted from "Holiday Baking" by Sara Perry

8 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ¾ cup superfine sugar (aka bar sugar; Alternatively whiz 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor or blender until fine, about 20 seconds)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
powdered sugar for dusting

To make meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of a 10x15 jelly roll pan with parchment paper and grease it lightly.

Using an electric mixer or standing mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Increase to high speed, slowly add sugar, and beat until glossy, stiff peaks form (not dry peaks), at least 6 minutes. Fold in vanilla, then dust meringue with cornstarch.

Pour meringue into prepared pan and smooth it out. Bake for 30 minutes. It will be puffy and high. Cool for five minutes, then loosen any edges that stick to the pan. Gently turn over onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with powdered sugar. Cool for 10 minutes, then peel off paper.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces mascarpone
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons baker's sugar
3 ounces Grand marnier, Kirsch

In a double boiler, melt chocolate and allow to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, beat on low speed mascarpone, cream and sugar, until blended. Add chocolate and liquor, if using.

To assemble: With a rubber spatula, scoop filling out of bowl and onto meringue layer (I trimmed edges with a serrated knife to make a straight edge.) and spread to coat evenly over entire surface. Beginning at a short side, carefully roll up meringue, using parchment paper to support it. Go slowly and keep rolling, using paper as your guide. When rolled, keep meringue covered with paper, place on a baking sheet and cover entire surface with foil or plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for 2-3 hours before serving. When ready to serve, slice. Best eaten while still somewhat cooled.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 18, 2006; 10:14 AM ET Desserts , Holiday Treats
Previous: Holiday A-Z, Part 2 | Next: Jelly (Doughnuts) in My Belly


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Buche de Noel is awesome - can't wait to try this variation. It doesn't hurt to have another set of hands when you roll it up, either...

Posted by: John | December 18, 2006 11:58 AM

Hey, can we have the nutritional info, please? it really is key when we read these recipes you post to have the numbers, especially for those of us watching things like sat fat and cholestrol. thanks.

Posted by: Lou | December 18, 2006 1:09 PM

This reminds me of a version of "black forest cake" that a country club in Fort Worth Texas used to prepare; instead of a traditional cake layer, the cake had two or three crispy meringue layers; I think the meringue had some nuts in it. Which leads me to wonder whether some finely ground nuts could be added to the meringue to give it a crunchiness and the nutty flavor that would contrast nicely with the chocolate....?

Posted by: Lindy | December 18, 2006 1:33 PM

p.s. on the prior comment. I took a shot at googling the country club, and came up with the actual recipe for the Black Forest Cake; indeed the nutty flavor came from finely chopped almonds. Here is the link to the actual recipe. A bit more caloric than the one here, due to the whipped cream topping!

Posted by: Lindy | December 18, 2006 1:37 PM

Just want to clarify on the nutritional aspects of the above recipe: This is not a low-cal dessert! Nor is it low fat. Although the egg-white meringue is free of cholesterol, that mascarpone filling is not. What I was trying to illustrate is the difference between using 8 ounces of mascarpone versus 2-3 sticks of butter. The two are about the same -- 1 ounce of mascarpone contains about 30 mg cholesterol, versus 1 tablespoon of butter is about 35 mg. I'm not really counting, but the mascarpone is definitely lighter on the tongue than a traditional buttercream.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 18, 2006 1:56 PM

So, I went looking for marscapone at the Shopper's on Highway 1 last night and didn't find it. Where do you usually locate it and what section of the store (ie. near the ricotta or yogurt or cheese?). Thanks!

Posted by: alexandria | December 19, 2006 9:41 AM

Alexandria, I got mine at Whole Foods, but I'm pretty sure I've seen mascarpone at Harris Teeter. You may want to find out if Trader Joe's carries it. Since it's packaged, probably you'll find it near other packaged cheeses -- feta, cream cheese, Boursin brad -- but depends on store.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 19, 2006 10:21 AM

B-Day girl chiming in! As soon as Kim put the log out, we tore it up in less than 5 minutes! That was the best dessert I've ever had in my life!

Thanks so much Kim! Loved it and love ya!

Posted by: December babe El | December 19, 2006 4:15 PM

Hi Kim. This is a little off topic but the meringue recipe made me wonder: Can I make meringue kisses with superfine sugar? I whipped up a bunch of granulated in the food processor a few weeks back and am searching for a way to use it up. I'm tempted to make some candy cane meringues for the holidays.

Thanks and I love this blog!

Posted by: Rebecca | December 20, 2006 9:54 AM

Rebecca, you most certainly can make meringue kisses with superfine sugar. In fact, beaten egg whites love fine sugar. Go for it!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 20, 2006 10:39 AM

This receipe sounds great. You indicate the meringue should cool 10 minutes. Does it matter if it cools a lot longer, or is it time-sensitive -- do I need to make sure the filling is ready to go right when the 10 minutes are up? I worried that if I don't time it right, the meringe might crack too much.

Posted by: Devon | December 21, 2006 12:52 PM

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