The original Yule log was a block-like log burned on the Christmas hearth through the twelve days of Christmas. Each year, a hunk was saved to light the following year's log. It is the origin of the delightful dessert that originated in France in the 19th century—made of sponge cake filled, rolled and covered in chocolate to resemble a miniature log.
Uyen Kirshenbaum, executive pastry chef for the David LeFevre/Simms restaurants in Manhattan Beach, knows quite a bit about yule logs. Even as a kid growing up in Orange County, she knew she wanted to be a baker.
"I got my first cookbook as a Christmas gift when I was a freshman in high school: The Mrs. Fields cookie book," said Uyen.
Still, Uyen comes from a traditional Vietnamese family, so she dutifully graduated from UC Irvine and took a sensible, corporate job, before shucking it all for culinary school at Ecole Lenotre in Paris—the land where pastry was born.
She began her food career at Patisserie Gaulupeau in Versailles. From there she moved on to several high profile French restaurants in Las Vegas including Guy Savoy and Le Cirque.
In 2011 she opened a rustic French Bistro called Gorge in West Hollywood as owner and operator. It's closing left her bereft and burned out from the pressures of running a business. Unsure of her next move, she headed to the South of France for eight weeks to work in a kitchen as a humble cook and feed her soul.
Revived, she returned to the US, was introduced to Chef LeFevre, and it all unfolded from there. For the past three plus years she's spearheaded the Arthur J's popular cake-of-the-month program, which in December is Chef Uyen's take on a classic yule log.
Inspired by memories of her time in France, where the holiday season means yule logs or 'Buche Noel' in every beautiful pastry shop, Chef Uyen's log cake is a "cleaner, modern twist," in keeping with the mid-century modern concept of the Arthur J. This log is less rustic, but still festive, down to the classic decorations of meringue mushrooms and chocolate twigs and sprinkles.
For those of you who'd like to attempt your own log, Chef Uyen offers up her recipe.
Chef Uyen's Yule Log Cake Recipe
For the sponge:
8 Egg Whites
3/4 cup sugar
8 Egg Yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup Dutch processed Cocoa Powder, sifted
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until very frothy. While the mixer is on medium speed, slowly sprinkle in the 3/4 cup of sugar and whip until the mixture reaches soft peaks. Transfer the mixture into a different bowl.
Next, whip the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar on high speed until thick and doubled in volume.
Add 1/2 of the soft whipped egg whites to the mixing bowl with the egg yolks and gently fold by hand with a rubber spatula. Next, add the cocoa powder and continue to fold until it is combined. Lastly, fold in the rest of the egg whites.
Spread the batter onto a 16"x 12" cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and test with a skewer for doneness. Let cool.
For the cream filling:
14 oz heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract or any flavoring of your choice
Whip the ingredients together to a medium firm peak.
Run a knife around the edge of the sponge pan to loosen the sponge. Flip the pan over on to another piece of parchment directly on your work table. Peel the parchment off the bottom side and spread the filling evenly over the sponge. With the short end, facing you, gently roll the sponge into a spiral. Let it set in the refrigerator (make sure it sits on its seam) for at least 2 hours before frosting with your favorite frosting or icing.
Don't expect perfection
Chef Uyen reminds the home cook that not every bake brings perfection.
"Unlike cooking, with baking sometimes you don't know that you've failed until you've done all the work, you've washed all the dishes, and it finally comes out of the oven and you're like, man, I messed that one up."
Or give yourself a break this holiday and instead purchase a yule log from The Arthur J. The chocolate flourless yule log with peppermint cream that serves 6-8 is $52. They are accepting orders until Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Uyen admits even she doesn't cook on Christmas.
"We usually get take-out" she said. "I have a big family, but nobody cooks except for me. We send out for whatever one of my sisters is willing to go pick up."
Eileen Shields is a South Bay food writer. Contact at email@example.com