Last year, because I was focused on decorating the Blair House in Washington, D.C., and facing imminent magazine deadlines, I didn’t give my family’s holiday the special treatment it usually gets. This year I’m taking an entire week off of work to celebrate properly. I’m using all the great ideas we’ve featured in Natural Home over the past decade—and I can’t wait.
Winter Solstice has always been nearly as important to my family as December 25. As Deena Wade wrote so beautifully in Natural Home: “This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing.” On Monday, we’ll celebrate Winter Solstice with a quiet family feast. The kids and I will make yule logs, which will hold candles that each of us will light as we make a wish for the coming year. Yule logs are an ancient Solstice tradition that reminds us of fire’s importance in the midwinter darkness. We let our candles burn completely out before we close our celebration, to make certain that our wishes come true.
Celebrate the Winter Solstice with a yule log and lighted candles. Photo By Susan Wasinger.
This quiet, meaningful tradition is a perfect respite during the crazy Christmas rush—and I’m grateful that this year I have time to celebrate. If you’re feeling squeezed, just take a moment on Monday to light a candle and make a wish. If you’ve been given the gift of time, treat your family to this delicious Chocolate Yule Log, which Natural Home contributor Susan Belsinger serves every year for her Winter Solstice celebration.
Bittersweet Chocolate Yule Log
Serves 12 to 16
This log is delicious served with hazelnut, coffee or chestnut ice cream.
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup Dutch cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 extra-large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate (70 percent cocoa)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70 percent cocoa)
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1. Lightly grease a 10.5-by-15.5-by-1 inch pan and line it wil foil or parchment paper that hangs over the ends. Grease the foil or paper and preheat over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Sift flour into a bowl with cocoa and salt; set aside. Beat egg yolks in bowl of a mixer for a minute or two. Add sugar and beat until creamy. Add melted chocolate and vanilla extract and beat until blended.
3. In a separate bowl begin beating the egg whites. After a minute add the cream of tartar and confectioners’ sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff and hold a peak; do not overheat. Fold flour into the chocolate and egg mixture in two parts. Carefully fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Spread dough into the prepared pan, making sure to spread it into the corners.
4. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Loosen the edges as soon as you remove the cake from the oven. Dust a tea towel lightly with confectioners’ sugar and turn the cake out of the pan onto the towel. Peel off the foil or paper; if the edges are crusty, trim them off. Roll the cake up in the tea towel and place on a baking rack to cool.
5. To make the frosting, break up the chocolate and place it in a saucepan with the cream. Stir over moderate heat until the chocolate has melted. Do not allow cream to simmer. Stir vigorously until the cream and chocolate are blended. Transfer the mixture into a mixing bowl and let cool. Place the mixture in the refrigerator or over a bowl of ice until it is cool, but not cold and hard. Whisk or heat for a few minutes until the mixture has firmed to spreading consistency. If it isn’t firm enough, chill a little more. If it is too hard, set it over a bowl of warm water for a minute.
6. Unroll the cake and spread it with a little more than half the frosting. Use the towel to roll it again from the outside. Cover the cake with the remaining frosting and use a fork to make bark designs. Keep in a cool place until ready to serve.