This sensational holiday dessert has elements of baked Alaska -- cake encased in a toasted marshmallow frosting -- but is formed into Yule logs, complete with a festive candy fire and graham cracker ashes. Your guests will be amazed when you add real flames to the mix, with a brandy flambe tableside.
two 11-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pans; 2 large kitchen towels (at least as large as the jelly roll pans); a candy thermometer; a piping bag fitted with a long flat tip; a small offset spatula; a roasting rack; a cast-iron griddle or large metal serving platter; a kitchen blowtorch
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 11-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pans with nonstick spray. Line each with parchment, then spray the parchment.
In a large heatproof glass bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs. Place the bowl over a saucepan with 1 inch of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is warmed through, about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer) and beat until tripled in volume, about 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the chocolate and butter to a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between each, until melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
Add the flour and 1/2 cup of the cocoa powder to a sifter or fine-mesh sieve and sift into the egg mixture, then fold to combine. Pour the chocolate mixture into the batter and fold until it is completely combined, being careful not to overmix.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans (about 5 1/2 cups per pan). Use an offset or rubber spatula to smooth the tops. Bake until the cakes are set and a tester comes out clean, 15 to 18 minutes.
While the cakes are baking, sift the confectioners' sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder onto 2 clean kitchen towels that are as least as large as the cake pans.
For the filling: To make the ganache, add the chocolate to a medium heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir together until completely smooth.
Transfer the ganache to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Whip on medium-high until lighter in color and slightly aerated, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer 2 tablespoons to a small bowl and reserve.
When the cakes are done, immediately run a butter knife around the edges to loosen them from the pans. Invert each cake onto a prepared towel. Remove the pans and peel off the parchment. Roll up each cake starting with one long side and using the towel as an aid. Transfer the cakes in the towels to a wire rack until mostly cool, 20 to 30 minutes.
When cool, unroll one of the cakes. Spread half of the ganache over the cake. Reroll the cake, using the towel to help. Remove the towel, place the cake on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze. Repeat with the remaining cake and ganache, adding it to the same baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
For the topping: Stir together the gelatin and 1/3 cup cold water in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. (If any granules of sugar stick to the side of the pan, brush them back into the sugar-water mixture with a wet pastry brush.) Attach a candy thermometer to the pan and increase the heat to medium high. Cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer on low, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the softened gelatin. Once all the syrup is added, increase the speed to high and whisk until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff peaks, about 20 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.
Remove the cakes from the freezer. Cut a 2- to 3-inch diagonal piece from the top end of one of the logs and place it on top of the log at an angle, using the reserved ganache to attach it; this will be a branch.
Transfer the topping to a piping bag with a long flat tip and pipe the topping onto each cake in lengthwise lines, covering the entire cake. Smooth out the lines with a small offset spatula. (You can also spread the icing straight on the cake instead of piping.) Use the back side of a fork to make small patches of lines and swirls across the length of each log, mimicking the pattern of bark. Return to the freezer for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
For the decorations: Meanwhile, prepare your fireplace. Place a roasting rack on a cast-iron griddle or large metal serving platter. Sprinkle the chocolate graham cracker crumbs underneath the rack and add a little confectioners' sugar to make the crumbs look like ash. Arrange the candy coal in the ash and add the gummies to resemble hot coals.
When ready to serve: Remove the logs from the freezer and trim the ends to reveal the swirls. Place one frozen log in the roasting rack with the un-frosted bottom hidden. Use a kitchen blowtorch to char the marshmallow topping until it is deep brown. Place the second log on top of the first at an angle to look like logs in a fireplace and char with the kitchen blowtorch.
Heat the brandy in a small saucepan over high heat until warm, about 30 seconds. Carefully carry the saucepan over to the Yule logs and light the brandy on fire using a long stick lighter. Pour the flaming brandy over the Yule logs and watch them burn. Slice and serve immediately.
Use extreme caution when igniting alcohol. Remove the pan from the heat source before adding the alcohol. Pour the alcohol into the pan and carefully ignite with a match or click lighter. Return the pan to the heat and gently swirl to reduce the flames.
Propane gas torches are highly flammable and should be kept away from heat, open flame and prolonged exposure to sunlight. They should be used only in well-ventilated areas. Follow torch manufacturer's instructions for use.
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