From jam rolls to roulades, a rolled cake is pretty and impressive. Here we’ve rounded up (couldn’t resist!) some tips to help you master this family of filled and rolled recipes.
A thin cake
The sheet of cake used in a roll is thinner than most other cakes, so it cooks quickly. Aim to spread the cake batter gently and evenly in the tray or pan. An offset spatula is a good tool for this but not essential if you don’t have one, just use a spoon. Some batters are thin enough to be spread just by gently tilting the tray back and forth - for example in this vegan speculaas yule log.
Special jelly roll pans are available, but for many recipes, a large slice tray or an oven tray with sides is all you need – it depends on the size and type of cake.
The secret to rolling these kinds of cakes is to do it in two stages: first, while the cake layer is still warm, and then again, after unrolling and filling.
The first step is to allow the cooked cake to cool for a few minutes in the tin, then, while it is still warm, turn onto a clean, dry tea towel.
Now, this is the point at which recipes start to vary. You’ll see that some recipes will dust that clean tea towel with caster sugar, icing sugar or cocoa. Some recipes remove the baking paper, others leave it on the cake. Occasionally, a second, damp towel is laid over the cake before rolling it up. We suggest sticking to the steps used in the recipe you are following, as the author will have shared what they found works best with that particular cake.
The next step is to use the tea towel to lift one edge of the sheet of cake (some recipes will roll from the short edge, some from the long, depending on the final shape) and carefully roll it up – the tea towel will be rolled up in the cake at this stage. Return it to a cooling rack, with the outside, 'seam' cake edge on the bottom.
At this point, most recipes will cool the cake to room temperature, but you’ll also find some do the second roll with a warm cake. Again, stick with your recipe. These variations take into account what sort of cake you are working with, and the filling (for example, the jam in a traditional Swiss roll will be fine applied to warm cake, but a cream-based filling – such as the marzipan cream in the chocolate roulade with brand-soaked strawberries below - is likely to get melty and messy).
When you’re ready to fill it, carefully unroll the cake, fill and use the tea towel to roll again. With sponges, be firm with the first tuck; they are more resilient than you might think.
Gabriel Gaté’s biscuit de Savoie roulé aux myrtilles (rolled Savoy sponge with blueberries) sounds impressive and makes a wonderful dessert. It’s also a good place to start, as the filling of this popular French sponge cake from the Alps/Savoie region is just brandy and blueberry jam (or change things up with whatever jam you have on hand).
Another with a simple (but gloriously rich and indulgent!) filling is this Brazilian caramel roulade (rocambole de doce de leite), a simple, light sponge filled and served with a caramel made by cooking condensed milk. The cake is super-simple too, a one-bowl recipe where all the ingredients are just mixed together by hand or in a stand mixer.
Don’t worry if it cracks
Your cake may crack and that’s okay. In fact, for some recipes, it’s totally normal. “If your roulade cracks a little, don’t worry. Roulades don’t contain any flour; as a result, it’s normal for them to crack when rolled,” says master baker Paul Hollywood of his chocolate chip peppermint roulade, inspired by the nostalgic flavours of after-dinner mints. A peppermint filling in rich dark chocolate cake, it embodies all the things we love about a cake roll, with a perfect balance of cake and filling.
Even an experienced baker like Dorie Greenspan can have a cake that cracks when it rolls, but as she says, “No worries — that’s what icing is for!” Her festive ginger cake Bûche de Noël recipe is a two-day labour of love, but most of the components can be made a day or so ahead.
Meringue will do the same – for example, in Anneka Manning’s version of the traditional Yule log. Her recipe is made with flourless chocolate cake, rolled around a rich chocolate ganache and covered with a lightly toasted Italian meringue.
The easy overlap
A sheet of cake wrapped around a generous filling, so the ends of the cake just overlap, is an easy but impressive option. Try it with Adam Liaw’s mango roll cake. “This is a kind of Swiss roll, but not really a Swiss roll. It’s a Japanese-style roll cake that is mango pancake-inspired…it’s like yum cha in cake form,” he says when he makes it in the ‘sponge’ episode of The Cook Up with Adam Liaw (a high-pressure episode as his guests include a woman who really knows cake, Pamela Clark – the editor of hundreds of Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks including the much-loved Children’s Birthday Cake Book.) Cream and mango are spread on the cooled cake before it's rolled using plastic wrap to guide the process; the final essential step is chilling the rolled cake for several hours before serving, so it’s easy to cut.
Another tip to try
In the introduction to her ginger roll recipe, Dorie Greenspan shares another idea. “Never made a jelly-roll cake? Food writer Marlene Parrish offers this tip for rolling the cake after you plop it out of the pan and onto a sugar-dusted dishtowel: Roll the cake up with a paper towel tube inside. That way the cake has a better memory of the curve when it's unrolled and filled.”