As I grew up celebrating Christmas with more Slavic traditions, I was never exposed to the Yule Log until I became an adult. Even then, I pretty much just assumed it was the biggest log one burnt on a Christmas fire.
I wasn’t entirely wrong; that is, in fact, what the Yule Log is. However, I’m becoming more and more aware that the phrase “Yule Log” in contemporary culture largely refers to a cake made to look like a log. It is the Bûche de Noël of Francophone culture, and they’re typically made of a sponge cake baked in a jelly roll pan, then frosted and rolled into a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside. Often, one end is lopped off and set on top or on the side of the main log to further resemble a branch, and the cake is made to look as realistic as possible. The exterior frosting is made to resemble tree bark and the cake itself is often festooned with different marzipan greenery and berries, meringue mushrooms, and powered sugar to resemble snow. As the above picture shows, the total effect can be quite realistic and incredibly beautiful.
Some day, I should really like to try my hand at making a cake like this. But you know what? My family already has tons of favorite holiday desserts. While I could adapt Grandma’s Pumpkin Roll to be a Bûche de Noël fairly easily…I’m not sure I’d want to. And it wouldn’t be the Holidays without Mom’s Rum Bundt Cake or the fruit breads we eat on Christmas morning (pumpkin, banana…it changes year to year).
I might get the best of both worlds, though. This year, I was wandering through a cookware store and happened upon a Yule Log pan made by NordicWare. It’s the same heavy-cast aluminum bakeware that their much lauded Anniversary Bundt Pan is made from, and–having used that pan–I can attest that it bakes and releases like a dream. At an 8-9 cup capacity, it’s a slightly awkward size, for that’s a little bigger than most bread recipes and a little less than most Bundt cake recipes, but it’s easy enough to bake the excess in a muffin tin. Best of all, it’s got the same appeal as a Bundt cake: it’s self decorating! At most, you’d maybe want to highlight the holly berries with a little bit of red and green icing. It couldn’t be easier!
As excited as I am about this Yule Log pan, I’m even more excited about a similar product, the “Stump de Noël” Bundt pan that NordicWare made exclusively for Williams-Sonoma. Unlike the Yule Log pan, which is an odd size, this is a 10-cup capacity pan. Since almost all Bundt Cake recipes these days are scaled to a 10-cup pan (as opposed to the 15 cups of bygone years), there should be less awkwardness about excess cake batter. More importantly in my book is that there aren’t any explicitly “Holiday” symbols in the cake mold. No holly, no snowmen, no candy canes…nothing. To me, this is important because if I’m going to plunk down $30-$40 for a cake pan, I want at least the opportunity to use it more than once or twice a year. This mold could be used maybe for Arbor Day (I can just see a Lorax theme going on here) or any time you want an unexpected presentation for a Bundt cake. As Williams-Sonoma points out in their marketing of the pan, you could also break out the meringue mushrooms and stuff like you would a traditional Bûche de Noël. Given that you’d save yourself the time and stress of assembling the cake, making up the decorations would probably be a breeze!
I have to admit, I might just be treating myself to a Stump pan for my birthday or Yule.