If like me your festive prep is a bit minimalist and you're a stranger to the notion of 'stir-up Sunday', then a yule log is the perfect short-termist solution, since as well as being fast to whip up from a standing start it simply has to be gobbled up quick before going stale. I see this as no small mercy – I have known Christmas cake to hog the cake tin til nigh on Easter. I used carob to flavour the fatless sponge instead of the usual cocoa because it is naturally sweeter and unequivocally dairy-free, and while the chestnut filling is luxurious and sweetened, it's not weighed down with cream and it won't break the bank (£1.45 for the can, available online if you can't find it at your supermarket). The stencilled decoration is an optional extra; it's easy to do but doesn't look it.


Serves up to 8

• Sunflower oil, for greasing
• 3 large eggs, at room temperature
• 75–85g golden caster sugar (use lesser quantity with carob; greater with cocoa), plus extra for scattering
• 85g self-raising flour minus 2 tbsp
• 2 tbsp carob or cocoa powder
• 1 tsp ground mixed spice
• 250g can chestnut spread/crème de marrons de l'Ardèche (Clément Faugier)
• Finely grated rind of 1 organic (unwaxed) orange
• Icing sugar mixed with a shake of ground cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/Gas 5. Oil a 23 x 33cm (or thereabouts) Swiss roll tin or baking tray and line with non-stick baking paper. Put the eggs and caster sugar in a large bowl and whisk with a hand electric whisk until pale, creamy and thick enough to hold the trail of the whisk. Sift the flour, carob or cocoa and mixed spice together a couple of times, then gently fold into the whisked mixture with a large metal spoon. Pour into the tin, tipping it to form an even layer, then bake for 10 mins until springy to the touch. Meanwhile, scatter another piece of baking paper with caster sugar in readiness. Lift the freshly baked hot sponge from the tin with the lining paper and invert onto the sugared paper. Carefully peel away the lining paper. Score a line across the sponge about 2.5cm from one short end so that you can bend it inwards with ease, then roll up with the sugared paper inside. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, print out lettering/motifs from a computer and cut out. Mix the chestnut spread with the zest, then gently unroll the log and spread evenly over, leaving a good margin around the edges. Re-roll so that the seam is on the bottom. Lay your cutouts in position and dust over the icing sugar/cinnamon mix with a tea strainer. Carefully remove the cutouts with tweezers.