A great riff on a seasonal favourite, this log is flavoured with gingerbread spices and filled with a coffee Swiss meringue buttercream. A covering of cocoa buttercream, ‘fungi’ (actually ginger florentines) and gingerbread squirrels add the finishing touches.
To make the sponge: cut a large rectangle of parchment-lined foil or baking paper (31cm x 39cm) and place on the baking sheet (foil-side down if using the parchment-lined foil). Turn up the edges 0.5cm all the way around to make a neat 30cm x 38cm x 0.5cm case for your sponge. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6. Sift the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Put the whole eggs, plus the egg white, into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add both sugars and whisk on full speed for about 10 minutes until very thick, light and mousse-like – the whisk should leave a ribbon-like trail when lifted. Sift the (sifted) flour mixture into the bowl and start to fold in with a large metal spoon or plastic spatula, then add the grated orange zest and fresh ginger and continue folding in until combined.
Pour the mixture into the paper case and spread evenly, making sure the corners are completely filled. Bake in the oven for about 8–10 minutes until the sponge is golden brown and springs back when gently pressed in the centre. While the sponge is baking, cut a sheet of baking paper slightly larger than the sponge, place it on a wire cooling rack and dust lightly with icing sugar.
When the sponge is ready, flip it out onto the paper and carefully peel off the lining paper case. Using a serrated bread knife, make a deep cut along one long side (about 1cm in from the edge) then use the paper underneath to help you firmly roll up the sponge – starting from the long side with the cut – to make a fairly tight Swiss roll wrapped in the baking paper. Leave to cool on the wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the florentines: reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Stone the dates and chop medium–fine, then cut the pistachios, cherries and ginger into pieces the same size and set aside.
Put the butter, sugar and honey into a small pan and melt over a low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour followed by the chopped date mixture. Remove a teaspoonful of the mixture and drop it onto the baking sheet. Repeat to make about 16 florentines, placing them well apart to allow for spreading. Bake in the oven for about 8–10 minutes until a rich golden brown. Leave the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack then peel off the baking paper.
To make the gingerbread: line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Put the butter, sugar and honey into a medium-sized pan and melt gently over a low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, place a sieve over the pan and sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice. Mix well with a wooden spoon and work in enough of the beaten egg (about half) to make a ball of soft but not sticky dough.
Remove the dough from the pan and knead gently on a lightly floured worktop to make a smooth ball. Flatten to a thick disc then wrap in cling film and chill for about 20 minutes until firm enough to roll out. Then lightly dust the worktop with flour and roll out the disk to about 5mm thick. Stamp out shapes using the squirrel cookie cutter, gather up the trimmings, re-roll and cut more shapes – you should be able to make about 15 in total.
Arrange the shapes well apart on the lined baking sheet and chill for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, if necessary, reheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Bake the chilled shapes for about 12 minutes until they are a rich golden brown, with a slightly darker colour around the edges. Leave to firm up for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
To decorate the squirrels: melt the sugar and water in a small pan over a very low heat, stirring frequently. When the liquid is completely clear, bring it to the boil and boil rapidly (without stirring) until it turns a rich brown caramel. Meanwhile, arrange the squirrel shapes on a large sheet of baking paper and have the hazelnuts to hand. Remove the pan of caramel from the heat and stir in the nuts. Using a fork, remove the caramel-coated nuts (one at a time) and place between the paws of the squirrels. Leave to set.
Now for the buttercream: have a bowl of cold water and a heatproof pastry brush to hand. Put the egg whites into a large heatproof bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and mix with a wire hand whisk for few seconds to combine. Place the bowl over a pan of just-simmering (not boiling) water – don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water.
Using the whisk, stir until the sugar has completely dissolved (you shouldn't feel any gritty crystals) and the mixture has warmed to a minimum of 60°C/140°F (maximum 70°C/160°F) on the sugar thermometer. Stir just enough to keep the mixture moving – you’re aiming to dissolve the sugar and stabilise the mixture, not cook the whites or make a meringue. From time to time, use the wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of the bowl to prevent any sugar crystals from sticking.
As soon as the mixture reaches the correct temperature, lift the bowl off the pan and place it on the mixer stand (transfer to the mixer bowl if necessary). Whisk at full speed until the mixture forms a very thick and glossy meringue, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Keep whisking until the mixture has returned to room temperature – if it’s at all warm, it will turn greasy when you add the butter.
Make sure the butter is at room temperature (not warm/oily or fridge cold either) then whisk it into the meringue a few pieces at a time to make a very thick and smooth buttercream. Transfer slightly less than half of the buttercream to another bowl, stir in the cocoa and ginger, then cover the bowl and set aside for covering the log. Stir the cold coffee into the remaining buttercream – this is for the filling.
To assemble the log: unroll the sponge and spread with the coffee buttercream, then tightly re-roll (starting from the long edge with the cut). Cut off ⅓ of the log then slice this section in 2 (on the diagonal) to create 2 branches. Place the main section of the log on a serving board then attach the 2 branches using a little of the cocoa and ginger buttercream as glue.
Spread the remaining buttercream over the sponge, leaving the 4 ends free so you can see the swirl of the sponge and filling, then use an offset palette knife to create the appearance of bark. Press groups of 3–4 florentines horizontally into the buttercream in several places to resemble patches of fungi, then decorate with a few of the squirrel shapes (you can serve the remaining florentines and squirrels separately). Scatter the finely chopped pistachios over and around the log to look like patches of moss. Serve as soon as possible.