A traditional yule log with a snowy forest theme of meringue ‘mushrooms’, almond and raspberry ‘snowdrops’ and flakes of fallen chocolate ‘bark’. The sponge is flavoured with warm Christmas spices and orange zest, while the mascarpone filling is made with rum-soaked raisins and cranberry compote.
Start off by making the rum sauce – the rum-soaked raisins will be added to the filling and the liquid they’re soaked in will be used to moisten the sponge as soon as it comes out of the oven. Put the raisins into a bowl, spoon over the rum and hot water, and stir gently. Cover and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Then strain the raisins into a sieve placed over a small pan. Return the drained raisins to the bowl, cover and put aside for now. Add the sugar to the liquid in the pan and place over a low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil and simmer for 1–2 minutes to make a light syrup. Set aside.
Make the sponge: heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6. Melt the butter and leave to cool until needed. Sift the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl and set aside. Break the eggs into a large heatproof bowl, add the sugar and vanilla paste and whisk using a hand-held electric whisk until just combined.
Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don't let the base of the bowl touch the water) and whisk at full speed until the mixture is very thick, pale and mousse-like – the whisk should leave a distinct ribbon-like trail when lifted from the bowl. Remove the bowl from the pan and place it on a heatproof surface. Whisk for another 4–5 minutes until the mixture has returned to room temperature.
Sift the flour (a second time) into the bowl and add the orange zest. Using a large metal spoon or plastic spatula, start to gently fold everything together. When the mixture is almost combined, stir a spoonful into the melted butter then return the butter mixture to the bowl and continue folding everything together until completely combined.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and spread evenly, making sure the corners are completely filled. Bake in the oven for 9–11 minutes until the sponge is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed in the centre. Leave to stand for 1 minute. Meanwhile, place a sheet of baking paper over a wire cooling rack. Then run a round-bladed knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the sponge and flip it out onto the baking paper.
Lift off the tin and carefully peel away the lining paper. Quickly brush with the rum sauce then make a deep cut (almost but not quite through the sponge) 1cm in from one long edge. Place another piece of baking paper on top and gently but firmly roll up the sponge, starting at the edge with the cut, so the paper is both inside and outside the roll. Leave to cool on the wire rack.
To make the meringue mushrooms, reduce the oven temperature to 110°C/90°C fan/225°F/Gas ½. Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they stand in soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the sugar to make a stiff and glossy meringue. Transfer the meringue to a large piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle. Holding the piping bag vertically, pipe 25 mushroom cap ‘domes’ 3cm, 2cm and 1cm across (or the sizes you like best) on the lined baking sheet.
Dip an off-set palette knife in cold water and flatten any peaks to make nice, neat domes. Dust with cocoa powder to give a speckled effect. Still holding the bag vertically, pipe 25 cone shapes in various sizes for the mushroom stems to match the caps. Bake in the oven for 1 hour then turn off the oven and leave cool to room temperature in the cooling oven.
Meanwhile, make the cranberry compote: put the berries into a medium-sized pan with the sugar and lemon juice. Place over a low heat and stir frequently until the cranberries start to burst and the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until the berries are soft (some will remain whole, others will break up) and the mixture is thick and slightly jammy. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to cool.
For the mascarpone filling: put the mascarpone into a bowl with the orange zest, cinnamon, icing sugar and rum and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix in the drained raisins. Cover and chill until ready to use.
For the ganache: put the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until steaming hot then pour it over the chocolate. Leave for a minute then stir gently until melted and smooth. Leave to cool and firm up (you still want it to be spreadable though). While the ganache is still very soft, use it to glue the meringue mushroom caps to the cone stems and leave to firm up.
Make the almond and raspberry snowdrops: combine the ground almonds and icing sugar and mix to a firm, mouldable paste with the kirsch. Using your hands, shape into neat cones about 2cm high. Place each upright, topped with a raspberry.
For the milk chocolate bark: gently melt the chopped chocolate in the microwave in 10-second bursts and stir until smooth. Spread in a thin layer on a sheet of baking paper or acetate. Use an offset palette knife to create a bark effect. Leave to set.
Meanwhile, start to assemble the yule log: gently unroll the sponge, remove the paper linings and spread with mascarpone filling – leaving a 1cm border of sponge along the 2 short sides and the long edge without the cut. Spoon the cranberry compote on top in small dollops, then carefully but tightly roll up the sponge again from the cut edge.
Slice the roll lengthways into 3 pieces: one 15cm, one 10cm and one 5cm. Stand the 3 pieces vertically on a board or serving platter. Give the ganache a good stir and use it to 'glue' the pieces together where they meet (use an offset palette knife to spread a thick layer). If necessary, use jars and cans to hold the pieces upright and in place while the ganache sets.
Once they are stable, quickly spread ganache all over the logs (including the ends) so they are completely covered. Use the off-set palette knife to create a bark effect by running it up and down the logs.
Break up the milk chocolate ‘bark’ into pieces of uneven shape and size and press onto the logs in a haphazard way. Scatter the rest around the base of the logs. Add the almond and raspberry snowdrops, the meringue mushrooms, the sprigs of rosemary and the cranberries or redcurrants. Just before serving, dust with plenty of icing sugar.