Jelly roll was my go-to cake when I was raising a family. Right after school, my three boys would scarf down anything. At least once a week, I'd start a cake just before 3, and when they crashed in after school about 3:30, the jelly roll would be on the counter. If they brought home friends, I'd be looking at crumbs and an empty milk carton by 4 o'clock.
Fast and easy, made with pantry-ready ingredients and cheap, jelly roll is still a standby, even though it's never been glamorous or fashionable.
There are only three things you need to know for success. Most recipes are written for a 10-by-15-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan. Yes, you need one. Between cakes, the pan makes a good baking sheet. And always spritz the pan with non-stick baking spray, then line the pan with parchment paper. Do not use waxed paper or foil or the cake can stick beyond rescue. Third: Always cut slices with a serrated knife, cleaning the knife between slices.
Jelly rolls belong to the sponge-cake family. Making one is a no-brainer. Beating eggs long enough to make a sturdy foam followed by folding in dry ingredients is about as hard as it gets.
All-purpose flour or cake flour? Cake flour is specially formulated for cake baking. It is milled from select soft wheat that gives cakes high volume, fine texture and delicate tenderness. But people don't make cakes very often anymore, and not everyone keeps it in the pantry. All-purpose flour, which makes a cake with a rougher crumb, is common in most kitchens.
For all fillings, use a "drop cookie" mindset, dropping small evenly spaced blobs all over the surface of the cake, then using an offset spatula to smooth it out.
• Jelly, jam and preserves. A 12-ounce jar of any jelly is usually on hand. Red makes an attractive spiral. Blueberry and blackberry are wonderful fillings if you remember what happens when you put yellow (cake) and blue (filling) together; leftover cake will be greenish around the spiral. For a smooth texture, empty the jelly into a bowl, and stir with a fork or spoon to break up any clods before spreading it over the cake.
• Ice cream. An ice cream roll in the freezer is a handy dessert to have at the ready. Spread the cake with a thick layer of ice cream soft enough to spread but not on the melty side. Roll up quickly, wrap roll in metal foil, and immediately put in the coldest part of the freezer to cure, preferably overnight. Remove from the freezer a few minutes before slicing and serving.
• Whipped cream. Spread cake thickly with whipped cream, sweetened and flavored to taste. For a taste of spring, add a few dollops of sweetened whipped cream to lemon curd until thoroughly combined. Spread, roll in a vanilla cake and chill for at least an hour before serving. This is what I think a daffodil should taste like.
• Cream cheese. Autumn, Halloween and spicy flavors conspire to make pumpkin roll a month-long staple every October. Or maybe it's that tart-sweet cream cheese filling: Combine 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, 4 tablespoons soft butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. This also is good in a chocolate roll.
• Bells and whistles. Cooking magazines will suggest mousse fillings, glazes, toppings and all kinds of add-ons and -ins. In my opinion, this sort of tampering and fussing sullies the identity of the roll cake. Quick, easy and do-ahead is the goal.
In the kitchen
These three cakes are PG-tested for you.
• Everyday Jelly Roll. This is a good starter roll. It's a breeze to pull together, and can be customized with a variety of fillings.
• Vanilla Chiffon Cake Roll. A company cake with a bit more pizzazz, it is a full, generous cake.
• Chocolate roll. Make this one with ice cream, and you can rest on your baking reputation. For an Oreo flavor, crush some Oreos and fold into vanilla ice cream, then fill and roll the cake. Black raspberry ice cream is unbelievably good. Jamoca Almond ice cream is unforgettable. If you must, this is the roll cake that matches well with a mousse filling, a glaze, a topping and other such fanfare.
Show off your cake
Rectangular plates are common these days, but back in the day when I was making jelly rolls left and right, circular plates were the norm. The clash of geometry gave me fits, so I commissioned two platters from a potter friend. She sized one for a short roll, the other for a long roll, and glazed them to match my white and royal blue Dansk dinnerware. I still have them, and they do double duty showing off other long food -- whole carrots, asparagus, cannoli. Once you get the hang of jelly rolls, go shopping for a special presentation platter.
Everyday Jelly Roll
This simple cake can be made in about a half hour, start to finish. The directions go into detail for first-time bakers.
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
12-ounce jar tart red jam
Let the eggs come to room temperature. You can set them in a small bowl of warm water to speed things up.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spritz the bottom of a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan with non-stick baking spray. Cut a piece of parchment paper (not wax paper) to fit the bottom of the pan and lightly spritz that, too. Set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and set aside. (For simple sifting, place a strainer over the bowl, dump in the ingredients and gently shake them into the bowl.)
In a warm, clean, medium-size deep bowl, beat the warmed eggs with an electric hand-held mixer, adding in the sugar gradually, until the mixture looks like fluffy whipped cream. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into whipped eggs along with the vanilla. Fold in another third mixing well and then the remaining eggs. Turn into the prepared pan, and, using a spatula held vertically, "walk" and guide the batter evenly into the corners. Bake for 13 minutes.
While the cake bakes, lay out a kitchen towel on your work surface and shower with a light dusting of confectioners' sugar. (Use the strainer again.)
When the cake is done, remove from oven. Loosen edges with a knife, and quickly invert the cake onto the sugar-coated towel. Peel off the parchment paper and discard.
Starting from the 10-inch short side, roll up the cake, towel and all into a roll or log. Let the towel-wrapped cake cool on a rack. This much can be done in advance.
When ready to fill, unroll the cake, shake the towel over the sink, and put the towel in the laundry. Spread tart red jam over the cake and re-roll. Trim off the ends of the cake (cook's treat!) so that the ends are neat and the spiral shows. Makes about 8 servings.
For Spice Roll: Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cloves to the dry ingredients. Fill with apricot jam.
-- Marlene Parrish
Vanilla Chiffon Cake Roll
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil (peanut, corn or canola)
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Whipped cream for serving
Fresh berries for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spritz the bottom of a 10-by-15-inch jelly-roll pan with non-stick baking spray. Cut a piece of parchment paper (not wax paper) to fit the bottom of the pan and lightly spritz that, too. Set aside.
In a warm, clean, deep medium bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric hand-held mixer until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Set aside.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a deep bowl. Make a well in the center and add, in the order listed, the oil, egg yolks, water and vanilla. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, mix one third of the whites into flour mixture. Add and mix in another third, then all the remaining egg whites. Mix just to combine.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, evening the batter by gently shaking the pan. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly touched, or for about 12 minutes.
While the cake bakes, lay out a kitchen towel on your work surface and shower with a light dusting of confectioners' sugar. When the cake is done, remove from oven. Loosen edges with a knife, and quickly invert the cake onto the sugar-coated towel. Peel off the parchment paper and discard.
Starting from the 10-inch short side, roll up the cake, towel and all, into a roll or log. Let the towel-wrapped cake cool on the rack. This much can be done in advance.
Shortly before serving, unroll the cake and spread with sweetened whipped cream (or any desired filling). Roll up and wrap firmly in wax paper. Chill for about 1 hour, or until ready to slice and serve. Serve sprinkled with confectioners' sugar, and add fresh berries if you like. Makes about 8 servings.
Lemon Roll: Add 1 teaspoon lemon extract and 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon rind to the batter. Fill with lemon curd that has been lightened with sweetened whipped cream.
-- "The Essential New York Times Cook Book" by Amanda Hesser (Norton, 2010)
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract or Kahlua (optional)
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until thick and pale, then beat in the sugar, salt and extracts. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder, and fold gently into the egg mixture. Whisk together the oil and buttermilk, and fold in just until combined.
Scrape batter onto pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake cake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the top springs back when pressed gently. While cake bakes, lay out a kitchen towel on your work surface and shower with a light dusting of confectioners' sugar. When cake is done, remove from oven. Loosen edges with a knife, and quickly invert cake onto sugar-coated towel. Peel off parchment paper and discard.
Starting from the 10-inch short side, roll up the cake, towel and all, into a roll. Let the towel-wrapped cake cool on the rack. This much can be done in advance. When ready to fill, unroll the cake, shake the towel over the sink, and put the towel in the laundry.
Spread with filling. Re-roll, and place seam-side down on serving plate. Trim edges for a clean appearance. Drizzle with chocolate glaze, if you like. Makes about 10 servings.
Chocolate Glaze: In a sauce pan, combine 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons corn syrup (light or dark) and 1 cup chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, or chocolate chips. Gently heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken slightly.
-- King Arthur Flour
Marlene Parrish: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-481-1620. First Published April 18, 2013 4:00 AM