If I’ve read Nigella Lawson correctly over the years, cooking and eating can help us through the tough times. And she should know—she’s certainly had more practice at overcoming personal tragedy than most. In fact she has produced some of her best work in the wake of what must have been her darkest hours.

One of the most moving and profound pieces of food writing, I’ve read is in one of her early books Feast: Food That Celebrates Life, written soon after the death of her first husband, John Diamond. On the importance of feeding yourself when someone you love has died, she says: “I am not someone who believes that life is sacred, but I know it is very precious. To turn away from that, to act as if living is immaterial, that what you need to sustain life doesn’t count, is to repudiate and diminish the tragedy of the loss of a life."

If she does believe cooking can be therapy, that preparing food for the people you love can help you cope with life’s troubles, she must be cooking up a storm following a recent court appearance where she was forced to admit to the world an occasional fondness for cocaine. Which is just as well because Christmas is a busy time for Domestic Goddesses.

In fact, her big red Christmas book is one I always flick through to get myself in a festive frame of mind. As with most of her books, it’s a celebration of family and feasting, packed with culinary wisdom and anecdote as well as food you can’t wait to eat.

The other day I made her Yule Log, a typically chocolatey, creamy, wanton confection which, I learnt, is rich with pagan symbolism. “It is no less than a cake-emulation of the log that the Norsemen would drag home through the streets to burn in celebration of the winter solstice and to honour the gods and hope, thus, to cajole from them a good year to come," she writes in her book Nigella Christmas. I took the cake to a party and laid it on the buffet. A few minutes later the host’s little daughter went running through to her mother shrieking with delight. “Mum! There’s a cake on the table that looks like a log!"

Here’s my version of the traditional Yule Log, I hope it puts smiles on faces at your Christmas parties.

Christmas Chocolate Yule Log

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the sponge

6 eggs

150g caster sugar

50g cocoa powder

For the filling

300ml cream

25g caster sugar

For the icing

100g dark chocolate, chopped finely

100g soft unsalted butter

200g icing sugar

Icing sugar and Christmas decorations to create a snowy winter wonderland

Method

Line a Swiss roll tin measuring 33x23cm with baking parchment (it’s very important to use parchment, otherwise you will never get the cake out of the tin). Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

First make the cake—which is essentially a fancy Swiss roll. Put the egg whites in one bowl, the egg yolks in another. Whisk the egg whites until they’re stiff, with about 50g of the caster sugar. Add the remaining sugar to the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is thick and resembles pale mayonnaise. Sieve the cocoa powder over the egg-yolk mixture and fold in. Gently (so that you don’t knock the air out) stir the egg whites into the egg-yolk mixture until it is completely blended.

Pour the mixture on to the baking parchment on the Swiss roll tin, then bake for about 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the cake is springy when gently pressed.

While the sponge is baking, whip the cream with caster sugar until thick.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, then put aside to cool. In another bowl, beat together the butter and icing sugar until soft and pale, then mix in the cooled chocolate.

When the cake is ready, put a large piece of baking parchment on the work surface, sprinkle a little caster sugar on it, then turn the cake out on to it. Peel off the lining parchment paper. While the cake is still warm, roll it up tightly from one of the long sides, using the parchment paper to push it along. When the cake is almost cool, unroll it and spread it with the whipped cream, then roll it up again.

Discard the parchment paper and place the roll on the board or plate that you will serve it on. Cut off small triangles from each end of the roll and using a little icing, stick them to the sides of the log to form twigs. Cover the whole log and twigs, including the ends, with the icing. This doesn’t need to be smooth, as you want it to look like the texture of bark. You can use a cocktail stick or fork to make woody grain markings. Decorate with enough pine cones and winter berries to delight small children (and not-so-small ones).

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

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