The stump de Noël, a Christmas holiday Pièce de Résistance, is the baked interpretation of the infamous Bûche de Noël, ubiquitous in France. Our stump is every bit as alluring as a classic bûche, though we played with a few of the elements to make it more distinctly Baked. Our stump is an allusion to our fondness for woodland creatures, and it can be iced and finished to reflect the dinner: tongue-in-cheek, realistic, or slightly menacing. Traditionally, the bûche consists of a springy yellow sponge filled with chocolate buttercream. I made the sponge cake slightly less spongy, and the filling is chock-full of our favorite flavor, malt. I even added a little texture with crushed malt balls. Obviously, this is a slightly showy, purely holidayesque affair, but don’t be afraid to make it whenever you damn well please.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the whisk attachment. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine running, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until it is smooth before adding more butter.
Transfer 1½ cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Cover the chocolate buttercream and refrigerate.
Dissolve the malt powder in 2 tablespoons hot water, then beat it into the buttercream remaining in the mixer. Beat in the crushed milk balls. Cover the malt buttercream and refrigerate.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. In another small bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in ¼ cup hot water, then stir in the chocolate.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the egg yolks and ⅔ cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk attachment. In the clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining ⅔ cup sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk a quarter of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with ½ cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. In two batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.
Spread the malt buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the parchment lining them; you should have four 6 by 17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, removing the paper as you roll. Roll the three remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the chocolate buttercream. Refrigerate the cake until set, at least 8 hours. If desired, decorate it with the meringue mushrooms, cranberries, and rosemary sprigs, and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices. (We like to cut the stump lengthwise for the full effect. It is thin, but large.)
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