There are several things I love about Christmas, and no they do not involve material presents. There’s the food, which is always a tad more abundant around this time of the year. I also love getting reunion invitations from friends I haven’t seen in years! But what I really honestly look forward to about Christmas is that especially magnified sense of contentment I always get.
I’ve always felt like my year culminates during the Christmas holidays instead of the new year. I guess with all the excitement on New Year’s Eve I have difficulty finding that moment of solitude to really take in everything that I have around me, or even to reflect on the year that has been.
On Christmas-day though, things seem a bit calmer. Your soul has a way of feeling more grounded than usual. The good vibes are rampant enough that it leeks into your train of thought, making you see things in a more glass-half-full light. When the mood is as good as it usually is on Christmas-day, looking back on the bad days makes them feel like blessings as well. I feel unburdened enough to have a clear head, and sometimes that’s enough to make me realize I have the ability to actually feel sincerely grateful for the life I’m living.
I know for a fact that the rest of the year can feel like a blur of stress and ill-feelings, but on Christmas it’s much easier to spot contentment. I find it in the brand new strength and confidence I acquired from my failures during the nearly-finished year. I find it in the added maturity that allows me to nitpick the silver lining from the bad memories. Heck I even find it in the laughter between sips of peppermint-spiked hot cocoa. I enjoy finding it in the antics of three insane younger brothers, who despite growing more and more into their individual selves each year remain to be the only bunch of boys who can tap into the overprotective side of me. I can even find it in the jokes and stories my parents tell around the dinner table.
Christmas has a way of making everything feel special to me, and that’s why this is my favourite day of the year.
Another thing I love about Christmas is really how it becomes a reason for people to come together. For the rest of the year we bicker and argue; sometimes we even hate each other, but during Christmas? Well we share slices of cake in between conversations that last till the next morning. That’s why we here in the Philippines love having Noche Buena isn’t it? The equation Food + Family = Happiness becomes more applicable than ever. This is probably the only time it literally does not get any more complicated than that!
I think that’s why I enjoy making cakes more than cupcakes. It’s the idea that a big cake can be shared. You just place it on the table and everyone will come over and start passing slices of cake around the room. Whenever you pass on a slice of cake (or whatever shareable food it is) and you see the smiles on the faces of your loved ones, you get this feeling down to the tip of your toes… this feeling of all things being right.
I made this cake roll with the idea of turning it into a sort of centerpiece for a family gathering. It evokes this homey feeling of lingering over a warm fireplace. Though it looks like it might take some work, this cake roll is actually quite simple. There are three components that turn it into a grand old treat people of all ages will enjoy in a family gathering. The sponge cake, the Kahlua syrup, and the whipped chocolate frosting all work in perfect harmony to evoke that feeling of Christmas warmth and indulgence that people so look forward to.
My favourite part was actually frosting the cake and trying to make it look as much like a log as possible. My other favourite part was eating it. I recommend making it a day before serving so it can have some time to soak in the fridge. Once the sponge cake is fully infused with the Kahlua syrup, it’s going to give that light warm kick in your throat, but just enough to be put out by the rich fudge-like chocolate whipped frosting. The chocolate whipped frosting is, by the way, really awesome.
Bûche de Noël
For the cake
- 1 cup 140 grams all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2/3 cup 145 grams granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
For the simple syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 Tablespoons coffee liqueur
For the Chocolate Whipped Frosting
- 315 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 1/4 cups 560 mL heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- Chocolate curls, for garnish (if desired)
Make the cake
- 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 15.5 X 10.5-inch rimmed baking sheet and line with parchment paper. Grease and flour the paper and the sides of the pan to make sure the cake comes off easily.
- 2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- 3. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or use a handheld mixer and a medium bowl), beat the eggs until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until tripled in volume, about another 3 minutes.
- 4. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the eggs, and using a spatula, fold gently just until blended and no streaks of flour are left.
- 5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until the cake is a lovely golden colour and springs back when touched, about 13 to 15 minutes.
- 6. While the cake is baking, lay a clean kitchen towel on the counter and sift confectioner's sugar generously onto it, covering the towel evenly.
- 7. Once the cake is ready, remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosed the cake. Invert the pan and the cake onto the prepared towel, lift off the pan, then gently peel off the parchment paper.
- 8. Starting on the long side, roll up the cake and towel together tightly. Set on a rack to cool.
Make the simple syrup
- 9. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
- 10. Once the mixture is cool, add in the coffee liqueur and mix thoroughly to combine. Set aside.
Make the frosting
- 11. In a stainless steel bowl, combine the chocolate and heavy cream and place over a saucepan with barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted.
- 12. Remove the bowl from the heat and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 2 hours. Make sure the mixture is cold before taking it out and beating it with a whisk or the mixer, until it becomes firm enough to hold a soft dollop.
- 13. Unroll the cooled cake and brush liberally with the cooled coffee simple syrup.
- 14. Using an icing spatula, spread a third of the frosting evenly over the cake. Gently reroll the cake and place, seam side down, on a cutting board or parchment paper.
- 15. Cut off a portion of the cake to use as a decorative stump, using toothpicks to hold the cake in place.
- 16. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting, using long strokes to create lines that imitate the rough trunk of a tree. Swirl the frosting at both ends of the cake log, as well as on top of the stump, for effect.
- 17. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.
- Storage: Keep the cake stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.