christmas baking: chocolate yule log biscuits

chocolate yule log biscuits
If you were to believe Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott or any number of Victorian Christmas cards or advertising posters, England was awash at Christmas with snow dusted baronial halls, while well-fed and happy peasants lugged large oak logs towards welcoming roaring fires, watched over by benevolent robin redbreasts. (As something of a peasant myself, I certainly doubt the veracity of this picture of happy lugging!)

The Victorians reinvented Christmas, importing new traditions and improving on old ones, much like Coca-Cola's reinvention of Santa Claus. None of it is true but it is rather pretty picture, even if it is a fantasy.

The original Yule Log was a European custom, rich with pagan symbolism that travelled to Britain around the 17th century; a large oaken log was placed in a great open hearth and lit on Christmas Eve - it had to be great enough to keep burning through the 12 Days of Christmas until Twelfth Night.

It became tradition to create a cake for the season, based on the French Bûche de Noël - a rolled chocolate cake, covered in chocolate icing to represent the Yule Log. Much easier to have a cake Yule Log than to try burning a real one one of your own.

While it is all tosh and humbug, I find this romantic nostalgia quite appealing, but have no intention of baking a Yule Log. (I have eaten far too much cake recently.)

What I decided to do instead was to bake some Yule Log biscuits, most of which I have given away, although not before tasting a few of course. (All in the cause of quality control and all that!)

There is a British biscuit called the Bourbon, which has been around for some 100 years or so, which has sadly fallen out of fashion, with the adoption of larger and more glamorous American cookies. It's a great shame as two crisp chocolate biscuits sandwiched together with chocolate icing is one of life's simple pleasures.

I decided to recreate a Bourbon, but put the icing on the outside and sprinkle over crushed chocolate flake for verisimilitude!

Chocolate biscuits iced with chocolate and coated with yet more chocolate. What could be more festive?

Makes about 25 biscuits
Skill level: Easy, but messy!

115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar (I use vanilla caster sugar)
55g light brown sugar
2 tsp golden syrup
180g self-raising flour
60g cornflour
60g cocoa
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tbsp milk or water
chocolate ganache
285ml double cream
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
100g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
chocolate flake, crushed, to decorate
icing sugar, to dust


  1. Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl, before adding the sugars and golden syrup. (I use a hand-held mixer.) Continue to beat until the mix is smooth and creamy. 
  2. Sift together the flours, cocoa and ground cinnamon together, then beat into the creamed mixture. Add a splash of milk or water to bring the mixture together. Knead it to form a smooth dough. If the mixture seems too dry then add a little more milk or water. Cover the dough with cling film and leave in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes. 
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4. 
  4. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment. 
  5. Divide the dough into 2 to 3 chunks. Roll each out on a lightly floured work surface to form a long sausage. The sausages should be of an even width - about 2 centimetres wide. 
  6. Cut into biscuits about 6 centimetres long. Lay on the baking tray, leaving a little space between each one as they will spread a little in the oven. 
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. 
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, as they will still be soft to the touch. Carefully transfer to a wire baking rack to cool completely. When cool, they will be slightly crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside. 
  9. Make the chocolate ganache, by gently heating half of the double cream. (I do this in the microwave, in bursts of about 30 seconds, but you may want to heat the cream in a small saucepan). When the cream is just beginning to come to a simmer (but not boiling), pour over the chocolate pieces in a suitable bowl. Leave for 1 minute before stirring. The chocolate should melt in the heat of the cream. Set aside to cool, while whipping up the rest of the double cream. This cream needs to have thickened but not be stiff. Stir the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture and combine well. Leave to cool completely at room temperature. It will begin to firm up as it cools. 
  10. When the biscuits are cooled and firm, using a palette knife or a wide bladed knife, scoop up a little of the ganache and coat each biscuit. Take a fork and run it up and down each biscuit to form ridges. (It is supposed to look like bark!) 
  11. Sprinkle over the crushed chocolate flake and dust with a little icing sugar.
  12. They will last 2 to 3 days in an airtight container.

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