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Yule log for today’s busy times

Judith Dunbar Hines prepares loaf Buche de Noel (also called yule log) Chicago's Downtown Farmst66 E. Randolph Chicago. | John

Judith Dunbar Hines prepares a loaf of Buche de Noel (also called a yule log) at Chicago's Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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From the Farmstand

The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe. Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program ( Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to

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Updated: January 22, 2012 8:02AM

When I was little, I loved watching my Grandma whip up a jelly roll, often as a spur-of-the-moment dessert for unexpected guests. A simple sponge cake of ingredients always available — eggs, flour, sugar and any of the jewel-like jellies she had on the shelf — it was inexpensive and quick to make.

Years later, when I was enrolled in French cooking classes, we were scheduled to make something called a Buche de Noel, or traditional Yule Log. The instructor explained the origins of this delicacy, telling us about a Paris baker in the 1890s who first made it. She extolled the chocolate buttercream frosting, the nut-flavored filling, the meringue mushrooms that must always appear next to the cake on the serving platter, the way you use the tines of a fork to pull through the frosting to replicate the bark on the log. She even taught us to sing the proper Yule carol to accompany the delicacy to the table after Christmas Eve dinner.

Tres simple, she assured us.

Having made a few dozen of these beautiful centerpieces over the years, I can say they are easier now than when I learned about them, but it still is a major production to create all of the elements. Elegant and delicious, it always elicits praise. But simple, not so much.

This year I decided to combine the ease of my Grandmother’s Jelly Roll with some of the French tradition and, well, simplify the whole thing. I added cocoa to the cake, whipped cream with walnut butter for the filling, and skipped the frosting altogether — a generous drift of powdered sugar gave it the appearance of a snow-covered log. Oh, and those fussy meringue toad stools? A clipping of holly or a branch of evergreen from the garden will do just fine to give it the look of the winter woods, thank you.

In about an hour, you too can produce a Yule Log to be proud of just in time for Christmas Eve.

Joyeux Noel, to you and yours!

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