The Jelly Roll – The Perfect Cake for the Holiday Season

As someone who has been a long-time fan of the Great British Baking Show, I knew I wanted to try and make a showstopping cake for my recipe. After perusing through cookbooks for different cakes, I found one from 1905 for a Jelly Roll from The New England Cook Book: the Latest and Best Methods for Economy and Luxury at Home.

What is a Jelly Roll? It is defined as a “rolled cake, usually filled with jam, whipped cream, or icing.” In England, this cake is referred to as a “Swiss Roll.” The origins of the name of the cake are somewhat uncertain, as at some point in the early 1850’s the “Swiss Roll” became the “Jelly Roll” in America. A version of this cake that most people are familiar with is the Yule Log or Bûche de Noël. The cake itself is usually a light sponge cake – and when cut you can see the round swirl inside. I’ve made a cake like this before – a pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling – but wanted to try baking another one with jelly.

Recipe from The New England Cook Book: the Latest and Best Methods for Economy and Luxury at Home.

The ingredients for this recipe are deceptively simple – eggs, powdered sugar, flour, cream of tartar, and saleratus (baking soda). All were easy to find and cheap to acquire. I made the time-saving decision to not make my own jelly filling for this cake, so opted to buy pre-made raspberry preserves. I opted for my favorite brand of jelly, Bonne Maman raspberry preserves.

The first steps for this are to add “one cupful of powdered sugar, one cupful of flour to three well-beaten eggs; stir well.” I beat the eggs with my hand-mixer to ensure they were fluffy. I added all of the ingredients to my mixing bowl and mixed until a batter started to form. I would definitely recommend using a hand or stand mixer unless you want a serious arm workout. Next, was to add the cream of tartar and saleratus (baking soda). The instructions for the baking soda were something I haven’t come across before as the recipe says to “dissolve in three tablespoons of water.” What this watery mixture did, I don’t know, but I followed the instructions. I then mixed the watered-down baking soda into my batter, and again used my hand mixer, beating for about 5 minutes.

After all of the ingredients were mixed, I poured the mixture into one of my shallow baking sheets. I departed from the original recipe here as it says to bake in “two pie-pans,” but I did not have any pie pans, and all other recipes I consulted said to use a shallow baking pan or jelly roll pan. Before pouring in the mixture, I laid parchment paper down, as I knew this would help me later when removing the cake from the pan. I poured in the mixture and got the batter as flat a possible in the pan. Since my recipe gave me no temperature or time to bake it for, I researched and used this recipe I found online, as it had similar measurements to the recipe I was using. I baked the cake at 375 degrees, for around 15 minutes.

The cake baked beautifully, way better than I thought it was going to turn out. It was spongy and not overcooked. The cake had a few bubbles in the batter, as pictured above, but overall was flat. I let the cake cool for a few minutes but immediately started getting ready to transfer the cake out to roll it. Per some of the research I had done, I sprinkled powdered sugar atop the cake, as this would help with stickiness in rolling the cake later. To prepare in rolling it, I put a tea towel over the cake and another pan atop it. I held the towel close to the top pan and flipped it over. I removed the parchment paper to see the bottom of my cake.

I did start to stray from my recipe’s instructions here. In my original recipe, it says to “spread evenly with jelly, roll up quickly, and wrap closely with a towel.” However, as I’ve made a rolled cake before, I had learned that it’s actually better to pre-roll the cake. This makes the warm cake hold the shape better, won’t melt your filling, and not crack or break while rolling. With any rolled cake, it’s recommended you roll it with a tea towel, as it’s thin enough it won’t stick to the cake, and also make the roll tight. Rolling the cake was by far the most stressful part of this experience – as I did not want the cake to break. After *carefully* rolling, with no breaks or cracks, I let it sit and cool for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, it was time to unroll and spread with jelly. I unrolled the cake carefully and spread 2/3 of a cup of raspberry preserves on it. I whisked the preserves some to separate the fruit and make it more spreadable. I specifically concentrated on spreading the jelly at the beginning of the roll and center and stayed away from any edges. When the preserves were spread, it was time to roll it again. When rolling the cake again, some of the preserves started to seep out of the end of the roll, and some pieces of cake stuck to my tea towel, but it overall went smoothly. My roll’s spiral wasn’t perfect – but the important thing was that the cake held together and miraculously had not cracked.

To finish my rolled cake I of course had to decorate it, so I decided on powdered sugar and fresh raspberries. The jelly roll ended up being delicious – the cake was light, fluffy, and flavorful with the raspberry jelly. I served the slices with whipped cream on the side which paired with the cake great. I would love to bake this cake again, especially with different fillings, or even make a chocolate version by adding cocoa powder.

Making a jelly roll might look intimidating, but baking and preparing it was way easier than it looks. By far the most difficult part (for me) was rolling the cake, and even with that, there are a multitude of great videos and instructions online to follow if you want to make your own.

How do we think my cake fares against the likes of our other entries? Is my cake “star-baker” material? And more importantly – what would Paul Hollywood think?

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