This retro-style festive treat makes the perfect centrepiece for a Christmas party or dinner. The cake itself is given a nutty flavour and slight crunch by the toasted pecans, which are ground before being mixed into the batter for the sponge. The bark effect for the log is easily achieved by running a fork along the icing. Served with a rich caramel sauce, this cake not only looks fantastic, but tastes as good as it looks!
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas mark 4, then line the sides and base of the Swiss roll tin with baking parchment, with the paper coming just above the sides of the tin to enable the cake to be lifted out easily.
Place the toasted pecans in a food processor and pulse a good few times until the nuts are finely chopped, but not fully ground.
Place the egg whites and salt in a large, spotlessly clean bowl or in?an electric food mixer. Using a hand-held electric beater or the food mixer, whisk until foamy. Tip in 50g (2oz) of the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff and glossy peaks form, then set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar for a few minutes or until thickened. Add the egg-white mixture and the melted butter and fold in carefully, then sprinkle over the finely chopped pecans and sift in the flour, folding it in to combine.
Tip into the prepared tin, smoothing the batter with a spatula to form an even layer. Bake for 15–20 minutes until it feels lightly springy in the centre, then cover with a clean, slightly damp tea towel and place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack to cool.
Next make the caramel. Place the sugar in a saucepan with 50ml?(2fl oz) of water and set over a medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat and bring to the?boil. Once the mixture has come to the boil, remove the spoon and continue to boil – without stirring, though you can swirl the pan every so often to help it cook evenly – for about 10 minutes. The caramel is ready when the mixture has turned a deep golden whiskey colour.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream followed by the butter a few bits at a time, followed by the salt – the mixture will bubble vigorously. Place the pan over the heat again and stir until all the caramel bits dissolve, then remove from the hob and measure out 225ml (8fl oz) of this sauce, pouring it into a jug for serving later.
To make the icing add the chocolate to the remaining caramel in the saucepan and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and allow to stand, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. This should take about an hour if left in a cool place, but not the fridge as it will solidify.
When the cake is cool and you’re ready to roll it up (though it will sit very well like this for 24 hours), remove the tea towel covering the cake, lift the cake out with the baking parchment still attached and place on a work surface next to your cake board or plate.
Spread some of the icing over the cake as if you were thickly buttering a slice of bread, then, beginning at one short side, and using the baking parchment to help, carefully roll up the cake. It may crack a little, but don’t worry about this. Transfer the rolled-up cake from the baking parchment to the serving plate or board, removing the paper. Position the cake so the seam is at the bottom, then carefully tuck in the edges of the roll to neaten it.
Roughly 5cm (2 /1 2 in) from one end of the log, make a cut running diagonally across the cake, with the other end about 12cm (5in) from the end of the log. Spread a little of the icing on the cut side of the smaller section of cake and then place it about a third of the way down the log to look like a branch, pressing it in on its iced surface.
Now spread the rest of the icing all over the cake to completely cover it. To decorate, use a fork to make lines all along the log and branch to look like bark, making concentric circles at each end. This may get a little messy, so if you like you can neaten the serving plate or board by cleaning around the ‘log’ with kitchen paper.
Decorate with the holly leaves and lightly dust with icing sugar (to resemble snow). The cake will keep somewhere dry and cool (but not the fridge) for 2–3 days, covered with a large upturned bowl.
When you’re ready to serve, cut into slices and pour over the reserved caramel sauce (reheating this if you like).