Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cooking School: Jelly Roll

There are many, many bad recipes for jelly rolls out there. This is surprising because it is an incredibly simple thing to make.
A jelly roll, also known as a swiss roll, is a large, thin rectangle of sponge cake that is spread with jam and rolled up. It is traditionally served with only a dusting of powdered sugar, but some variations - noteably the Yule Log - call for frosting the cake and many people perfer to top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream. The cakes have been fairly popular since the mid 1800s, but have recently seen a decline in popularity due to an increased preference for sweeter, more decadent cakes.
I really like these relatively plain cakes, so it's a shame that more people aren't enjoying them. They are light, just sweet enough from the jam, and very attractive. They go wonderfully with tea.
The recipe I used is from Paula Deen. I have made chocolate and pumpkin rolls in the past, but Paula's Old South Jelly Roll is actually the most reliable that I have come across and it certainly produced excellent results. The cake is light and even, with a nice crumb and a slight sweetness. I love the fact that Paula didn't skimp on the vanilla, so the cake had a nice flavor and wasn't eggy, which sometimes sponge cakes are. It was also very easy to handle, as the rolling is the most difficult part of preparing this cake.
Once it is baked, the cake should be turned out onto a sugared dish towel and rolled up. The hot cake will roll smoothly and without cracking and the moisture that is trapped by the towel will keep it tender as it cools. The jam can be spread into the cooled cake before easily re-rolling it. Use any kind of jam. I used a mixed berry here, but you can never go wrong with strawberry or raspberry.
It should be noted that the cake should be served the day it is made or, if you make it the day before, be sure to wrap it well. Since there is so little fat in the cake, it will dry out a bit if left out. Serve it with a generous dusting of powdered sugar if you're a traditionalist, like me, or whipped cream and berries, if you prefer.

Old-Fashioned Jelly Roll
(from Paula Deen)

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
3/4 cup plain sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup cake flour, sifted
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

powdered sugar
filling: about 1 cup jam

Preheat oven to 400F.
Line a 15 by 10 by 1-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until light. This will take a few mintues. Gradually add in the sugar, followed by the vanilla, and mix until fully combined. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt into the yolk mixture and beat in until just combined.
Quickly clean and dry beaters well, then beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a medium bowl.
Gently stir 1/2 of the egg whites into the flour mixture, then fold in the rest of the whites until the batter is even. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake at 400F for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cake is golden and springs back when lightly touched.

Dust a large dishtowel with powdered sugar.
When cake comes out of the oven, loosen edges of cake, then place the sugared towel on top of the cake (yes, some will come off), then invert the pan so the cake comes out onto the towel (which should be lying on a table or counter). Trim off the firm edges.
Beginning with the short side, roll cake and towel up together. Place towel wrapped cake on a wire rack and let cool.

When cake is cool, gently unroll and spread with jam (or jelly) and re-roll. Place on a serving plate.
Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 8.