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Yule Log Cake’s History

Where did the Yule Log originate? There is a bit of history in there – the history of appropriation, or rather, stealing of a Pagan tradition by Christianity. Read on to find more!

Traditionally, on the event of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, people would place a massive log in the fireplace. That was a pagan tradition that existed prior to the advent of Christianity.

The log was bestowed to offer protection to the house, and then burned on Christmas Eve to commemorate the occasion. The log had to be large enough to burn all night (and in some regions, until Epiphany Day, 12 days later!). It was critical to choose the log, the wood type, who would place it in fire, etc. 

Similarly, the wood species chosen were rigorous: fruit trees, a symbol of abundance, or robust trees such as oak or beech. Wood needed to produce high-quality sparks: the brighter the sparks, the better the coming year will be.

The oldest and youngest members of the family lit the log, which was sometimes placed on a bed of moss and blessed with oil, honey, olive oil, saltwater, or other offerings, symbolizing the transmission. The firing served as a time of reflection in memory of the elders.

It is even said that ashes possessed virtues and fertilizing properties, and that firebrand possessed the ability to protect (from thunder, the devil, etc…).

Traditions varied according to region (and even among families).

Where Did the Yule Log Originate? Evolution of Edible Yule Log Cake

As lifestyles evolved and large cities grew, fireplaces became smaller and smaller (to the point where some modern homes lack them entirely), and stoves allowing for modern cooking became the norm. This tradition became exceedingly difficult to uphold. Smaller logs took the place of previously burned-out giants.

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Then, rather than placing logs in the fireplace, they were placed in the center of the table. They became the centerpiece of the dinner table and were occasionally decorated. Hollowed-out logs were adorned with cookies, dry fruit, candy, gingerbread, and occasionally even small toys.

Finally, cakes in the shape of a wood log appeared, even imitating the bark.

Who Was the First to Invent the Yule Log Cake?

As is the case with many pastries, several possible narratives follow. Even the most eminent French historians subscribe to a variety of theories. According to them, the inventor of the Yule log may have been one of the following:

Antoine Charadot, a Parisian pastry chef from rue de Buci. He invented a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream in 1879. One thing is certain: he invented buttercream.

In 1834, a pastry apprentice worked at Paris’s city hall.

Another Lyon pastry chef from the 1860s.

Or Pierre Lacam, Prince Charles III of Monaco’s personal pastry chef. In 1898 / 1899, he was a renowned pastry chef of the “Belle Epoque.” He mentions yule log in his 1863 book “Mémorial historique et géographique de la pâtisserie,” but because he shares recipes from others and spent only 2 years working for the Prince of Monaco, we cannot be certain yule log was his invention.

In 1903, Félix Bonnat, a chocolate-confectioner hailing from Voiron in Isère (French Alps), published a recipe for a pastry log coated in ganache and decorated with pink flowers and green leaves.

In the nineteenth century, the Poitou-Charentes region had a classic “Christmas roll cake.”

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Whatever the case, the symbolic cake resembling a wood log quickly became popular, and tradition shifted from a genuine wood log to a fictitious log, our presently traditional Yule log pastry.

Since the start, Christmas yule logs have been made with Swiss roll cake (baked in a special mold prior to rolling) and buttercream, already decorated with holly, leaves, and mushrooms. Initially, the flavors were most likely chocolate or mocha.

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