When you need a showstopper holiday dessert, look no further than this elegant rolled cake, which is inspired by the French bûche de Noël, or yule log.
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Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the warm water. Let cool to room temperature.
Grease the bottom of an 18×13-inch rimmed baking sheet (a standard half sheet pan) with the softened butter. Line the pan with parchment; butter and then flour the parchment.
With an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks in a large bowl on medium-high speed until light in color and beginning to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes in a stand mixer, or 3 to 5 minutes with a hand mixer. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and whip until very thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. With a rubber spatula, stir in the cocoa and salt until blended.
In a clean, dry bowl with clean, dry beaters (any grease will keep the whites from whipping), whip the egg whites with an electric mixer at medium speed until they’re frothy and begin to increase in volume, about 30 seconds. In a steady stream, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Increase the speed to medium high and whip until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes in a stand mixer, or 4 to 6 minutes with a hand mixer.
With a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the chocolate mixture in two equal additions. You can fold in the first half vigorously to lighten the yolks, but fold in the second half gently, mixing just until the batter is evenly colored with no streaks of white. Don’t overmix. Scrape the batter into the baking pan, gently spreading and smoothing it to make sure it’s level. Bake until the top springs back lightly when touched, 22 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, spread a clean dishtowel (at least as big as the cake pan) on the counter. Using a sieve, dust the towel with cocoa powder, completely covering it (this will keep the cake from sticking to the towel as it cools).
In a large saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, 1/2 cup of the water, and the cocoa. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, whisking often, until very thick, like hot fudge sauce, 8 to 10 minutes from when the mixture began simmering. Pay close attention: This mixture boils over easily. Remove the pan from the heat. While the mixture is cooling, bloom the gelatin in the remaining 1-1/2 Tbs. of water. Melt the bloomed gelatin over very hot water or in the microwave. Whisk the gelatin into the chocolate mixture and strain the glaze through a medium sieve into a metal bowl. Let the glaze cool at room temperature until thick but still pourable, about 5 to 10 minutes; the glaze should be about 110° to 120°F. (If you’ve made the cake ahead, unwrap it and put it on a rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet.)
Pour the glaze over the roulade, using an offset spatula to help the glaze cover the top and sides evenly. Don’t worry about covering the ends; they’ll be trimmed later. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Make Ahead Tips
You can make the cake and filling and assemble the roulade (without the glaze) a day ahead. Wrap the unglazed roulade with plastic, refrigerate it, and glaze it the next day. You can prepare the garnishes ahead, too, but whip the cream close to serving time.
The sponge cake worked out really well, but I wasn't thrilled by the filling. It didn't come out as puffy as the picture, and has a slightly greasy-buttery feel to it. I used clementine zest instead of orange zest and the citrus flavour was very strong and a bit too acidic.
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