What Is a Yule Log?

November 23, 2021

What Is a Yule Log?

If you’ve spent every Christmas of your life wondering what the hell a Yule log is, we’re here to straighten things out for you once and for all.

The truth is that Yule logs are a bit complicated. For one, when someone says “Yule log,” they might be referring to either of two things: 

  • A chocolatey dessert that looks a bit like it was chopped off of a snow-covered tree.
  • Or an ancient tradition that served as one of the precursors to the modern Christmas celebration. 

One of those Yule logs is tastier than the other, but both are equally interesting. In this blog, we decided to provide you with an explanation of the literal Yule log and the dessert. 

Grab your kitchen towel, fork, and get ready to travel back to medieval times, England. 

The Very Dark History of Yule 

In the olden days—the age of Germanic paganism, to be exact—Yule was a festival that essentially served as the great-great-grandfather to modern Christmas celebrations... but much, much darker.

The word has its roots in a few old English words that are way too hard to pronounce or spell, and its earliest uses can be traced back to the last quarter of the 13th century. In Old Norse this is called "jól,” but nearly different nations and people have their own word for this celebration. 

In its first stages, Yule was a pagan celebration that centered around a spooky European myth known as “The Wild Hunt.” The Wild Hunt, sometimes called Wilde Jagd, was the name given to a mythical group of spooky creatures that would ride across the horizon, bringing death and looking to stir up destruction wherever they went. Fun.

According to the myth, The Wild Hunt was sometimes led by anyone from Satan himself to Krampus—basically evil Santa.

A 12 Day Party?

So, what’s the connection between Yule and The Wild Hunt? As the story goes, the riders in the Hunt (usually giant feral dogs, skeleton legions, and other stuff you’d probably see while tripping on LSD) would appear during “The Twelve Nights of Yuletide," aka the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

During these 12 nights, ancient pagans would leave animal sacrifices outside their doors to protect themselves from the ravaging horde. If you left a sacrifice for the riders, they wouldn’t kill you and your entire family. 

Happy holidays!

The Yule festival, as it became known, is still celebrated over the course of 12 days by Wiccans, Neopagans, and even modern Satanists. These folks typically celebrate Yule instead of engaging in typical Christmas festivities since they don’t exactly believe that the big man in the sky is the reason for the season. 

Yule Today

Celebrating Yuletide in modern Europe looks a lot more like typical Christmas celebrations than a blood-spattered two weeks of fear and sacrifices. In countries like Sweden, The Netherlands, Estonia, and more, modern Europeans celebrate Yule with Christmas trees, festive foods, and other typical Christmas fare. 

Meanwhile, Neopagans and other similar groups continue to celebrate the holiday by paying tribute to its darker roots. Wiccans and others like them often conduct yule ceremonies to bring in the winter solstice.

Yule Logs Literally (Not the Dessert!)

Originally, the Yule log, also known as the “Christmas block,” was a specific piece of wood (an actual log sometimes called the yule clog) that would be chosen to burn on Christmas day. This tradition originated in Europe, and it’s now practiced in numerous other parts of the world, including the United States.

No one knows for sure how the practice of throwing a Yule log on the fire started, but we do have a few key details about how the tradition has carried on through history.

How Did the Yule Log Inspire Christmas Lights? 

Before the Yule log became a festive tradition, ancient pagans had been lighting bonfires during the winter solstice for centuries. These bonfires were a key fixture in the Yule celebration for Wiccans and other pagan groups, and they still are today. 

Non-pagans started burning Yule logs as a Christmas tradition at some undetermined point in history, essentially stealing the idea from their pagan friends. The tradition eventually took on some new rules: the log would be cut into pieces, and these pieces would be burned every night until January 6, the day that Twelfth Night is celebrated. 

In the early days of the Yule log, families would put the unburned, room temperature parts of the log under their beds as tokens of good luck. The idea of lighting up your house for Christmas being a sign of good tidings, and even the decoration of Christmas trees, are both practices that can be traced back to earlier pagan traditions.

So, it looks like we all have those good old pagans to thank for a classic favorite winter holiday. Thanks, guys!

The Tastier Version of the Yule Log 

These days, you might not see many friends and neighbors carrying on the tradition of the Yule log at Christmastime. However, you’re much more likely to go to a Christmas party and enjoy a sponge cake inspired by the ancient pagan practice. The Yule log cake, also known as Bûche de Noël (we dare you to try pronouncing that), is a classic holiday dessert made with chocolate ganache or chocolate buttercream and a vanilla swirl in the center. You can’t argue with that.

In its most basic form, the Yule log looks something like a giant ho-ho cake. However, the dessert is a bit more intricate than that pre-packaged classic, and it can be pretty difficult to make.

Here’s everything you need to bake your own Yule log cake, plus some tips for pulling this dessert off.

Our Kick-Ass Yule Log Recipe 

Because we’re trying to end up on the nice list this Christmas, we’ve decided to share our secret Yule log recipe with you. Be warned: anyone who tries this cake will definitely be coming back for seconds, so you might need to set a hard and fast “one slice per person” rule.

The Ingredients 

You’ll need quite a few different ingredients to make a Yule log cake.

These are the components that make up the cake itself:

  • 6 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup of flour 

For the creamy filling in the center of the cake, we recommend buying vanilla-flavored frosting from the store to save yourself some time. However, if you’re feeling a little extra, you can make your own filling by combining the following ingredients: 

  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • ⅛ cup of powdered sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Of course, the main attraction of any cake is the frosting. You can use store-bought chocolate frosting on your Yule log, and there’s no shame in doing that instead of spending an eternity trying to make yours. We’re not professional chefs here at Famous IRL—we just want some good cake. 

1. Start By Mixing It Up

  • To make your Yule log, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating up, take out a baking sheet and line it with some parchment paper. Spray the paper down with cooking spray or coat it with a thin layer of butter. That way, the cake won’t stick to the pan.
  • Crack your eggs and separate the whites into one bowl and the yolks into another bowl. Take out a whisk and hand whisk the egg yolks like you’re about to make some scrambled eggs. Next, add a ½ cup scoop of sugar and flour to the bowl and beat some more with the whisk. 
  • Use the same whisk to beat your egg whites until you start seeing a whipped texture forming. Add in your remaining sugar and whisk some more. If you had known you’d be whisking so much, you might not have skipped all of those gym days! (Need some help? No shame in using a mixer to make this cake roll).
  • Keep on whisking the egg whites and sugar until they stiffen slightly. Next, add the whites and sugar mixture into the bowl with the yolks, sugar, and flour in it.

2. Get Baked

  • Pour all of the batter onto the baking sheet and let it bake for 10-15 minutes. Once it’s baked, it’s time to spread your frosting on top of it.
  • Use a large mixing spoon to spread the filling evenly over the surface of the cake. Once you’ve covered the entire cake with frosting, roll it up like a giant, chocolatey burrito. Then, put it in the fridge for an hour.
  • After the cake has chilled for an hour in the refrigerator, take it out and cover the entire cake with a thick layer of chocolate frosting. You can sprinkle on some powdered sugar for good measure if you want. If you’re feeling especially extra, you can use a butter knife to etch some “bark” into the frosting, making your log look as log-esque as possible. Tasty.

Get Yourself Some Yule Log-Inspired Swag 

If the Yule Log is your favorite festive dessert, we’ve got the perfect apparel for you. Our hilarious “Roll One Up” sweatshirt is ideal for your next Christmas party, and it’s the comfiest thing you’ll ever wear. If you’re feeling a little risque, grab a “Have You Seen My Yule Log” hoodie to get laughs from friends and a few looks of disapproval from family members. Mission accomplished. 

Sources:

The Wild Hunt - European Folk Myth | Mythology.net

History of Yule Celebrations - Paganism and Wicca | Learn Religions

This is the story of William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night - and why he wrote it | Yorkshire Post

The How’s and Why’s of Whisking By Hand | The Kitchn


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