How do you make a cake roll? Push it!
All joking aside, cake rolls are some of the most fun cakes to make and serve, and their unique swirled center is easier to produce than you might imagine.
About this recipe
This classic cake roll starts with a sponge cake batter. This means that most of the leavening in the cake comes from beaten eggs and that there is no added fat. Fat acts as a tenderizer in most baked goods and, for this particular recipe, we need the cake to be sturdy enough that we can roll it up without it crumbling. But don't worry, the ultra-fluffy cake is not tough or dense when it is done.
First, egg yolks are beaten with sugar until they have at least tripled in volume. This starts the process of incorporating air into the cake batter. Flavorings - vanilla, in this case - and the dry ingredients are added to the egg yolks to create a very stiff batter.
In a separate bowl, egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks, then folded into the egg yolk mixture. I recommend simply stirring in about 1/3 of the egg whites to loosen up the thick batter, then folding in the rest.
You won't lose too much air this way and the batter will be much easier to work with. Unlike some sponge cake recipes, I include a little bit of baking powder to ensure that the cake rises nicely even if I do fold out a few too many air bubbles. The finished batter should look and feel light, and it should pour easily into the pan to bake.
If you don't already have one, you will need a jelly roll pan to make this style of cake. These pans are about 10"x 15" x 1" (give or take a little, as some pans are a 1/2" larger in some directions) and are uniquely suited to making wide, thin sheets of cake.
The pan should be greased, even if it is nonstick, and lined with parchment paper before you add your cake batter to the pan. This type of cake needs to be handled a bit to roll it up, so you can't take any chances with it getting stuck in the pan after baking. That being said, I still recommend a pan with a nonstick finish if possible. I also prefer a light-colored baking pan, as light colored pans discourage browning and will give your finished cake a more even look.
The rolling technique is often the most intimidating part of learning how to make a cake roll. But it's really not as hard as it seems!
When the cake comes out of the oven, you will need to invert it onto a confectioners' sugar-dusted piece of parchment paper. You can use the countertop, but the paper's nonstick nature makes the cake easier to handle in the event it wants to stick. Confectioners' sugar helps discourage the cake from sticking without creating an unpleasant layer of flour on top of the cake.
Peel off the parchment from the bottom of the cake and let it cool. Since the cake is thin, this process actually doesn't take long at all.
Once the cake as cooled, you can spread on any filling you want into an even layer over the surface of the cake. Since this is a classic jelly roll, I used strawberry preserves. You can also use pastry cream, whipped cream, lemon curd and even fresh fruit.
Start rolling from one of the short sides. Make your roll snug enough that there are no gaps around the filling, but not so tight that the filling starts to seep out of the edge of the cake.
A jelly roll can handle a tighter roll, while a whipped cream-filled cake may need a gentler touch. Transfer the rolled cake to a serving platter and cut with a serrated knife to serve!
Classic jelly roll recipe
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- approx 1 1/2 cups jam (strawberry, raspberry, etc)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line the bottom of a jelly roll pan (10" x 15" x 1") with a piece of parchment paper and lightly grease the pan.
In a large bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until tripled in volume. Beat in vanilla extract and salt, then stir in flour and baking powder with the mixer on low speed. Batter will be thick.
Wash and dry your beaters, then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a medium bowl. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites until thoroughly incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cake is set and springs back when lightly pressed. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it, if necessary. Invert cake onto a piece of parchment paper that has been lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar.
Peel off parchment paper and allow cake to cool completely.
Spread cake evenly with jam, leaving a small gap around the outer edge of the cake.
Begin rolling the cake from one of the short sides, making the roll snug but not so tight that the filling comes out the sides of the cake.
Once rolled, transfer cake to a serving plate and place seam-side down. Dust with confectioners' sugar before slicing.