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What is a Yule Log? The Delicious Christmas History

Yule Log Cake Decorated with festive berries and holly - Open for Christmas

The Yule Log is one of our most famous, favourite Christmas cakes and household centrepieces which graces our table after the extravagant turkey feast.

But have you ever wondered where this tradition came from? Why do we eat a dessert to replicate a tree bark? It’s a strange concept.

Well, you’re in luck because we’ve answered all your Yule Log questions. In this article, we cover what a Yule Log is, the history and tradition of this festive custom, how to make and decorate your very own delicious chocolatey dessert.

So, let’s get to it.

What is a Yule Log?

A Yule Log (also called chocolate roulade or bûche de Noël) is a chocolatey dessert made from a rolled-up sponge filled with cream and frosted with chocolate buttercream decorated to replicate tree bark.

The History of the Yule Log

The Yule Log we know and love today was not always a delicious frosted cake or beautifully decorated centrepiece. 

It was actually an entire tree (preferably oak, birch or cherry) that was cut down to be burned in a family home. This Yule Log fire was believed to originate from Paganism. 

Its namesake came from ‘Yule’ which was known as a winter solstice holiday that was celebrated by Northern Europeans as far back and before medieval times. 

Wooden Log Cut from a Tree - Christmas Traditions and Customs - What is a Yule Log - Open for Christmas

When Did Burning a Log Become a Christmas Tradition?

The journey into the woods for the perfect tree was a family affair. Once the family had chosen the right tree it would be dragged back to the home to be burned over a twelve-day period to honour the twelve days of Christmas. 

It’s believed that the tree was burned as a way to show respect to God and ask for luck and prosperity for the new year ahead. In some areas, it also became a tradition to keep any remaining pieces of the log to use and light next years tree. 

Today, fireplaces in homes are no longer the norm so, as with many customs, this tradition fizzled out as properties modernised. Instead, we can honour this tradition by placing a decorated Yule Log in our homes. Or, by enjoying an edible replicar instead.

Although, in some cultures, this tradition is very much alive with families burning a large log on Christmas Eve to mark the festive holiday.

Burning wood in a fireplace - Christmas Traditions and Customs - What is a Yule Log - Open for Christmas

How to Make a Yule Log Cake

Yule Log Recipe

Do you want to try your hand at making your own Yule Log or chocolate roulade this year to impress your guests? You’ll be pleased to hear that it’s actually a fairly simple cake to make. 

Below, we’ve listed some of our favourite recipes:

Yummy Chocolate Log – This BBC GoodFood recipe is as easy as it is delicious. And, the perfect bake for beginners and those who want to make a cake with their children.

Mary Berry’s Yule Log – Mary Berry, one of the UK’s most beloved bakers, has her own delightful dark chocolate recipe. This recipe will not only look professional, but it will taste amazing too.

Nigella’s Yule Log – Nigella Lawson’s recipes are not always for the faint-hearted so this may not be the best choice for beginners. With that said, Nigella’s recipe will finish your Christmas dinner off in mouth-watering splendour.

Or, have a watch of this video on how to make a Yule Log cake.

Ideas to help you put your own delicious twist on your Chocolate Roulade cake

Lucky for those of you who are not tried and tested in the hobby of baking, this dessert is actually quite simple to make and even more fun to decorate. 

There are many different versions of the traditional Yule Log, but they all follow a similar recipe with similar ingredients overall. 

You may want to stick to the original and traditional style of this cake, or you could put your own delicious twist on it. Either way, you will be able to make a cake worthy of your dinner table.

Here are some fun and creative ways to make your Yule Log different this year:
  • Add crushed up mints or candy canes to give your Yule Log filling a refreshing and creamy twist.
  • Add cinnamon to the cake mixture to make your Yule Log taste more seasonal.
  • Use dark muscovado sugar to give your Yule Log a moist and syrupy texture and flavouring.
  • Use a coffee cream filling to create a Yule Log coffee cake fusion.
  • Add alcohol flavouring for a mature Yule Log your guests will love. Amaretto and Baileys are popular choices.
  • Instead of using common Christmas themed objects to decorate the outside of your Yule Log, pick a completely different theme and add a Christmas theme. It could be inspired by your family’s favourite TV or your favourite book.

Of course, we don’t advise you to try all of these on your cake at once! But choose your favourite ideas for a delicious twist to your dessert that will impress your Christmas guests.

Yule Log Cake Decorated with Chocolate and Holly - Open for Christmas

Yule Logs also make beautiful Christmas gifts which will be well-received. Pop your festive gift into one of these seasonal boxes from Amazon, specially made for a Yule Log cake.

For more homemade food gift ideas, take a look at these articles:

How to Make and Decorate a Christmas Bark Centrepiece

Buying a log to craft and to decorate your home has become a modern Christmas tradition for many Western families. 

So why not try to make and decorate your own this year? There is nothing more special and impressive than adding some homemade pieces to your Christmas decoration collection.

Here is a list of the equipment you may need and some ideas to help inspire your own DIY Yuletide project.

Equipment you may need:

If your children want to get involved and decorate a Yule Log, make sure they are supervised when using the hot glue gun and scissors. Find more activities to keep kids occupied here.

Items for Decorating Your Yule Log

Yule Log Cake Decorated with Santa, snowman and other festive decorations - Open for Christmas

Firstly, you will need to get your hands on a log to decorate into a Yule Log. Luckily, these are not hard to find. 

You could either purchase a log online or from your local garden centre. Or, if you’re feeling resourceful you can cut down and saw a log from a tree from your own garden.

Size doesn’t matter, but we recommend measuring the space you wish to display your finished masterpiece to make sure it’ll fit nicely. 

Perhaps you want to start small and decorate a miniature bark for your home, or maybe you want to go big and create a grand centrepiece for your dinner table. Big or small, we have some ideas that may help to inspire you.

Natural Winter Themed Yule Log

  • Use some winter-themed plants such as holly, ivy, mistletoe and some cuttings from an evergreen tree. These are easy and cheap to buy online, or alternatively you can go out take some live cuttings (as long as you aren’t taking them from someone’s private property).
  • An alternative to these plants is moss, this also looks natural and pretty.
  • Add some pinecones. Paired with the winter-themed plants, the pinecones will give your Yule Log a beautiful forest look. If you live in the countryside you will be able to find these everywhere come autumn so don’t bother buying any unless you live somewhere without an abundance of evergreens.
  • Add some taper candles. These can burn from 2-8 hours when lit. To keep with the natural winter theme, opt for white, green or red candles. You may want to keep the candles the same length or you could cut each to a different length.
  • Add some cinnamon sticks to make your log smell as nice as it looks.

Christmas Themed Yule Log

  • Use the same items as the natural winter-themed log to decorate, but with this theme, we will be adding some modern Christmas themed items.
  • Add some Christmas bows. These are available to buy online or if you’re feeling really creative you could make your own.
  • Add some mini baubles and any other small tree decorations that you think will fit and make it look pretty.
  • Sprinkle some glitter or fake snow generously over your bark as a finishing touch.

Where to Buy a Yule Log

If you’re looking for the dessert, you will find an abundance of cakes in local shops and supermarkets in the run up to Christmas. Some brands have now started selling miniature versions to enjoy throughout the festive season.

However, if you’re looking for decor and ornaments, you will be able to find decorations at craft and winter markets, garden centres or online.

We’ve found two beautiful ornaments on Amazon so you can implement this Christmas custom into your home this holiday season.

Old World Christmas Home Gifts Glass Blown Ornaments for Christmas Tree

HomeZone Rustic Ornamental Log Candle Holder Tea Light Holder Table Centrepiece

What is a Yule Log? Our Final Thoughts

Even though the tradition of the Yule Log, or bûche de Noël as they say in French, has changed as history has evolved, it’s still remarkable that it’s become a major part of Christmas customs. 

From burning the logs to celebrate the holiday, to creating a Christmas ornament, to eating this chocolatey treat, this is one festive tradition we hope is going nowhere.

Related Articles on Christmas Traditions and Customs:

What is a Yule Log? The Delicious Christmas History

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