This festive Yule Log Layer Cake puts a simplified spin on the traditional Bûche de Noël. A velvety smooth chocolate ganache buttercream surrounds the layers of moist chocolate cake, which are stacked high with more frosting and a layer of raspberry jam. Though its gorgeous appearance will impress your guests, this simple cake recipe is very easy to make and to decorate.
This stunningly beautiful and deliciously indulgent chocolate cake will be the highlight of your holiday meal!
A classic Bûche de Noël - or yule log cake - is a lovely roll cake designed to look like a tree log. It's most commonly made of sponge cake spread with chocolate buttercream that's rolled up into a log and frosted again. The cake is then decorated by adding bark texture to the frosting and garnishes such as mushroom-shaped meringues, fresh cranberries, and a dusting of confectioners' sugar to look like fresh-fallen snow.
Note: For more about the history of the yule log and Bûche de Noël, check out the FAQs below.
This layer cake is a simplified version of the dessert, utilizing the same flavors and garnishes but removing the most complex steps from making a traditional yule log cake. We could call this a yule stump I guess, although that doesn't sound nearly as appealing. And this cake deserves the best.
I've replaced the sponge cake with a classic chocolate cake that's deeply chocolatey and rich without being overly fudgy. It's layered with a bit of raspberry jam for a sweet, fruity element and all wrapped up in a coating of chocolate ganache buttercream. Like the cake, the frosting is intensely chocolately but not overpowering, with a light and airy mouthfeel. It is definitely my new favorite chocolate frosting.
Why This Recipe Works
Besides probably being the prettiest cake I've ever made, this cake is rich and decadent and (truly!) easy to make!
Here's why you're going to love this recipe:
- Easy to Make - This cake is so simple to make, and the cake batter comes together in just one bowl! And the recipe walks you through every step in detail from mixing to baking to assembling and decorating.
- Easy to Decorate - You don't need cake decorating experience to make a beautiful yule log cake. And if you have a spatula and fork, then you're all set! There's no need to get the frosting perfectly smooth, since you'll be adding texture to it using the fork. Place a few bits of garnish on top and you're good to go!
- Indulgent - The combination of flavor and texture is what makes me so excited about this cake. It manages to be decadent and rich without feeling dense and heavy. Its deep, smooth chocolate flavor and the ultra-creamy frosting are just divine!
- Show-Stopper - This cake is gorgeous enough to be the centerpiece of your holiday meal. It's a conversation-starter, and it won't be forgotten after the meal is over.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
Chocolate Cake Ingredients
All-Purpose Flour - No need for cake flour. All-purpose flour does the trick here.
Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder - Dutch cocoa powder gives this cake it's chocolate flavor. It has a rich, smooth chocolate flavor, compared to the more mild and slightly astringent flavor of natural unsweetened cocoa powder. Dutch process cocoa powder can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores and also online. The two types of cocoa powder are not interchangeable, but in this recipe you can substitute natural unsweetened cocoa powder and no other alterations to the recipe are needed.
Whole Milk - Milk adds moisture and richness to the cake. I always prefer whole milk for baking.
Vegetable Oil - Vegetable oil adds moisture and fat to the cake batter, and creates a more tender cake than using butter.
Sour Cream - Sour cream adds moisture and richness to the batter, and its acidity activates the baking soda to give the cake lift.
Hot Coffee - Coffee enhances the flavor of the chocolate, while the hot liquid allows the chocolate to bloom, deepening its flavor. You can substitute 1 ½ cups of boiling water and 1 ½ teaspoons of espresso powder for the hot coffee if needed.
Chocolate Ganache Buttercream Frosting & Filling Ingredients
Heavy Cream- The heavy cream will be blended with the chocolate to create chocolate ganache. Choose cream labeled "heavy cream" or "heavy whipping cream" for the right fat content.
Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar - Use a chocolate baking bar (found in the baking aisle at grocery stores), not a candy bar or chocolate chips, for the proper ganache texture. You can substitute semisweet chocolate for a slightly sweeter ganache and frosting.
Dutch Process Cocoa Powder - Cocoa powder works in conjunction with the ganache to flavor the chocolate frosting. Just like with the cake, it's okay to substitute natural unsweetened cocoa powder, though this will change the flavor.
Raspberry Jam - Raspberry of course pairs with chocolate beautifully, but use any flavor of jam you like! Cherry would be another delicious choice.
See recipe card at the bottom of this post for full ingredient list and measurements.
In addition to essential baking equipment (like a mixing bowl and spatula), I recommend some special tools for making this recipe.
- Three 9 inch round cake pans, for baking cakes
- Small saucepan, for warming heavy cream
- Stand mixer or electric hand mixer, for mixing frosting
- Flat or offset spatula, for spreading frosting
- Piping bag with large round piping tip, for piping frosting border
Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions
Step 1: Make the cake. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
Step 2: To the dry ingredients add all the wet ingredients except the coffee. Stir until well combined.
Step 3: Add hot coffee to the batter, carefully mixing with a whisk until well blended.
Step 4: Divide the cake batter evenly among three parchment-lined cake pans. Bake the cakes at 350º F for 25 minutes. Let cool.
Step 5: Make the frosting, starting with the ganache. Heat cream just until it begins to simmer and pour into a bowl with the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Set the ganache aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Step 6: Beat butter, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add sugar and cocoa powder slowly, mixing until well blended.
Step 7: Add ganache to the frosting and mix until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Step 8: Assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on a cake plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Pipe a border of frosting around the edge of the cake layer. Spread half of the jam over the frosting.
Step 9: Top the first layer with another layer of cake. Repeat the same process for spreading a thin layer of frosting, piping a frosting border, and spreading the remaining jam. Top with the final cake layer. Frost the tops and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
Step 10: All around the side of the cake, gently scrape the tines of a fork through the frosting from bottom to top to create a tree bark pattern.
Step 11: Garnish the cake with sprigs of rosemary, fresh cranberries, and mini pinecones. Use a sifter to dust the top of the cake with sugar or cocoa.
See recipe card at the bottom of this post for detailed recipe instructions.
When you combine the dry and wet ingredients in the cake batter, the batter will be thick, similar to brownie batter. When the hot coffee is added, the batter will become very thin and pourable. This is normal.
Line the cake pans with parchment paper to ensure the cake doesn't stick. Here's a tutorial for how to line round cake pans with parchment paper.
Be sure the cake layers are fully cooled before frosting assembling and frosting the cake. If the cake layers are still warm when the cake is assembled, the cake will likely collapse.
Be sure the ganache is cooled to room temperature (about 75º F) before adding to the buttercream frosting so the ganache doesn't melt the butter in the frosting.
Don't worry about getting the frosting nice and smooth when frosting the sides of the cake, since you'll be adding texture to the frosting anyway. It doesn't need to be perfect!
The yule log dates back to pre-Christian times in Northern Europe, when it is believed that pagans would burn a large log in the hearth on the winter solstice to bring light to the longest day of the year. In the late 1800's, a French baker created a log-shaped cake to honor the tradition of the burning of the yule log. The cake is called Bûche de Noël, or "Christmas log".
Yes! I designed this cake with three layers so it could serve a crowd at a holiday gathering and so there would be plenty of beautiful "bark" around the edge of the cake. If you prefer to bake the cake with two 9 inch layers, just reduce all the ingredients by ⅓ (reduce the jam by ½). You could also bake a three layer 6 inch cake by reducing all ingredients in the recipe by ½ (bake time does not change). For help scaling down recipes, check out the handy (and printable!) ingredient measurement conversion chart in my small batch baking tips post.
Room Temperature: This cake can be stored at room temperature on a lidded cake plate or cake carrier for up to 2 days. After two days, move the cake to the fridge and store for up to 3 more days (5 days total).
Freezing: Leftover cake can be frozen for up to two months. First remove garnishes and place the unwrapped cake in the freezer to allow the frosting to freeze firm. Then wrap the frozen cake in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil before returning to the freezer.
More Christmas Dessert Recipes
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Christmas Yule Log Layer Cake
- 3 9 inch round cake pans
- Small saucepan
- Stand mixer or electric hand mixer
- Flat or offset spatula
- Piping bag with large round piping tip
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ⅛ cups Dutch processed cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 ⅛ cups whole milk
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- ⅜ cup full-fat sour cream
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups hot coffee
Chocolate Ganache Buttercream Frosting
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate baking bar, finely chopped
- 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 ⅔ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 ⅓ cups Dutch processed cocoa powder
Fillings & Garnishes
- ½ cup raspberry jam
- rosemary sprigs
- fresh cranberries
- clean mini pinecones
- confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder, for dusting
Make the cake batter.
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray three 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- To the dry ingredients add milk, oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until well combined. The batter will be thick, similar to the texture of brownie batter.
- Add hot coffee to the batter, carefully mixing with a whisk until well blended. The batter will now be very thin.
Bake the cake.
- Divide the cake batter evenly among the three cake pans.
- Bake the cakes for 25 minutes, or until the top sprigs back when gently poked and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then run a cake tester or small knife around the edge of each cake to ensure the sides of the cake are not stuck to the pan. Invert each cake pan over wire racks to remove the cakes from the pan. Let the cakes cool completely.
Make the frosting.
- When the cake is cool, make the frosting, beginning by making the chocolate ganache. Place finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
- Add the cream to a small saucepan and heat just until it begins to simmer. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 2 minutes before stirring with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Set the ganache aside and allow it to cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric hand mixer), beat butter, vanilla, and salt on medium-high speed until smooth.
- Add sugar and cocoa powder slowly, beating well on medium speed and scraping the bowl often. Mix until well blended.
- Add ganache to the frosting and mix on medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Assemble the cake.
- When the cake layers are completely cool, begin assembling the cake. Place one layer on a cake plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top using a flat or offset spatula.
- Using a piping bag an tip, pipe a border of frosting around the edge of the cake layer. Alternatively, you can use the spatula to spread extra frosting around the edge, creating a border for the jam.
- Spread half of the jam over the thin layer of frosting and out to the frosting border.
- Top the first layer with another layer of cake. Repeat the same process for spreading a thin layer of frosting, piping a frosting border, and spreading the remaining jam.
- Top the second cake layer with the final cake layer. Frost the tops and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. It does not need to be perfect.
- All around the side of the cake, gently scrape the tines of a fork through the frosting from bottom to top to create a tree bark pattern.
- Garnish the cake with sprigs of rosemary, fresh cranberries, and mini pinecones. Use a sifter to dust the top of the cake with sugar or cocoa.