Chocolate Chestnut Christmas Roll Cake

This minimalist yule log roll cake is simple and sophisticated, with a faux wood-grain effect baked right into the light chocolate sponge cake, and a cloud-like chestnut whipped cream filling. We’ve given the traditional European yule log cake a far-East twist, using a Japanese cake design technique to give the cake a unique wood-grain look, […]

This minimalist yule log roll cake is simple and sophisticated, with a faux wood-grain effect baked right into the light chocolate sponge cake, and a cloud-like chestnut whipped cream filling.

We’ve given the traditional European yule log cake a far-East twist, using a Japanese cake design technique to give the cake a unique wood-grain look, no fussy frosting required.

Sliced Chocolate Chestnut Christmas Cake Roll, dusted with sugar, Christmas lights and ornaments blurred in the background

Yule Log cakes in general can be rather fussy, with fancy layers of frosting and meringue mushrooms and sugared cranberries and other decor that take hours to create. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ll call this Japanese-style roll cake the minimalist’s yule log: with a wood-grain design baked right into the cake itself, and a simple dusting of powdered sugar as the finishing touch.

It’s a perfect option for lazy bakers and frosting haters, and for those who like their desserts a little less sweet.

The cake itself is a light cocoa sponge cake baked with a darker chocolate wood grain pattern (the color contrast necessary here, which is why I didn’t make the cake too dark). The filling is a lightly sweetened whipped cream infused with chestnut creme and a splash of amaretto liqueur. It’s a delicious and festive flavor combination that tastes like the holidays without being so in your face about it (like, ahem, peppermint or gingerbread flavors).

Closeup slices of Chocolate Chestnut Christmas Cake Roll, showing the perfect spiral of filling and the wood grain texture

Chestnut spread, also called chestnut creme or creme de marron, is made from pureed candied chestnuts. We first tried this nutty spread in France (it’s amazing on crepes), and promptly found a few cans at a local market to bring home with us. I’m not sure why chestnut creme hasn’t made its way to the US, since chestnut trees grow so abundantly here. Luckily, you can get it online pretty readily or make it yourself from fresh chestnuts.

Chestnut creme is most often used in the classic French dessert called a Mont Blanc, and, actually, this cake could probably also be called a Mont Blanc bûche de Noël because of the similarity in flavor profiles (namely, chestnut cream and whipped cream).

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Creme de Marrons (Chestnut Puree)

When I was sprier (and when I could eat all that chocolate!) I used to do culinary tours. One of the most fun things to do was to take people into places and explain some of the lesser-known items that, incongruently, France is famous for. I know. I had to think about that for a minute, too. I’d point out things like fleur de sel,…

When I was sprier (and when I could eat all that chocolate!) I used to do culinary tours. One of the most fun things to do was to take people into places and explain some of the lesser-known items that, incongruently, France is famous for. I know. I had to think about that for a minute, too.

I’d point out things like fleur de sel, salted butter from Brittany (doing my best to reverse decades of people insisting that gourmands only ate unsalted butter), the esteemed (and ridiculously delicious) Madame Loïk, Amora mustard, Kiri, and caillé. I even shared some of the goofier things here on the blog, which has been up for a decade but still has only 1 share on Pinterest and 17 on Facebook. So perhaps I overestimated people’s interest in pop’n fresh-style croissant dough sold in cardboard tubes, and rosé wine pre-mixed with grapefruit flavoring.

Still, he persisted. Take crème de marrons, for example. It’s hard to get people outside of France to pay attention to it. Heck, even the Wikipedia page for it, in French, when you head over to the English version, takes you to a page about candied chestnuts, not chestnut cream. It easy to dismiss the dubiously brown paste that comes in a tin, that’s admittedly a lot prettier than what’s in it. But if you’re not familiar with it, I urge you to consider it.

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