Origins of a French pastry: the yule log

Published by Cécile D. · Published on 24 December 2021 at 18h07
Flavored with chestnut, chocolate, fruits, iced, rolled, small or big: the yule log is the quintessential of the Holidays dessert! But where does it come from?

It is the star of our Christmas meals, the one we might expect more than gifts: the yule log comes in thousands of flavors. Each one of us has their preferences: mascarpone or butter cream, vanilla, chocolate, chestnut, candied fruits… The personalization of the cake also involves tiny decorations added on this highly-appreciated cake. At the Renaissance or the French Revolution, tradition was the yule log to be rather… burning hot!

The story of the yule log goes back to the Middle Ages. At this time, this yule log came from a tree: a big wood log was sacred. For the winter solstice, for the longest night of the year, one used to burn a huge log soaked in oil or wine. The oldest or youngest child of the house was to put the very log into the hearth.

In some French regions, the log was added on Christmas night, and the fire could go on until Epiphany. The ashes of the log were kept until the next year; they were said to protect and bring luck to the house.

When burning, the log was expected to purify the house, driving bad spirits away. It was the symbol of life and renewal for believers.

It is only circa 1870 the wood log became a pastry. The exact origin of the cake is unknown: several patisseries claim they are the founder. According to sources, it could have been created by a pâtissier from the Paris Hôtel de Ville in 1834, by pastry chef Antoine Charadot, the very creator of the buttercream in its store set rue de Buci in 1870, by Lyon-based chocolate master Félix Bonnat in the 1860’s, or even by Prince Charles III of Monaco’s pâtissier-ice-cream-maker Pierre Lacam in 1898.

It is also widely accepted that all these pâtissiers have had at the same time the idea of creating a roll cake with patterns inspired by the wood log for the Holidays. Originally, this pastry was based on sponge cake covered in flavored buttercream that was rolled then. It was also decorated with small sugar or plastic characters.

Has this story whetted your appetite? Discover this year’s best yule logs!

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