Cake roll magic: Tips for better rolled cakes

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The cake roll, a delicious masterpiece that combines the elegance of a swirled design with the lusciousness of cake and filling, is a delightful treat for the eyes and the taste buds. Often known as a Swiss roll or jelly roll, this cake is as much an art form as it is a dessert. And while they look fancy, they can be fairly easy to make. 

The cake roll is a sure thing when you’re looking for a dessert that is sure to impress. It looks beautiful as a roll cake on a serving platter. And it looks even better when it’s sliced, and guests are served slices showing off a perfect swirl of cake and filling. 

A chocolate rolled cake on a plate.
Chocolate Cake Roll. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

What is a cake roll? 

Often, cake rolls are called by different names, such as a jelly roll or a Swiss roll, but essentially, they’re all the same thing: a roulade cake. A roulade cake is a large, flat sponge cake turned out onto a clean dish towel while fresh out of the oven, then rolled up in the dish towel to form a spiral and left to cool. 

Once cooled, the cake is carefully unrolled, the dish towel removed, and filled with whipped cream, fresh jelly, buttercream or cream cheese frosting or other fillings. Then the cake is re-rolled into the spiral. The cake will naturally want to roll itself back up because of how it was cooled. 

“Cake rolls are actually pretty easy to make as desserts go, and they look super festive with all the different fillings you can use. Once you get over the idea of flipping a big sheet pan and rolling it up, you’ll see that making cake rolls is a breeze.”

— Jere’ Cassidy, One Hot Oven
A slice of carrot cake on a plate with a fork.
Carrot Cake Roll. Photo Credit: Little House Big Alaska.

Tips for making the best rolled cake

Making a cake roll can be intimidating, but using a good recipe and these tips will get you the best results. 

  • Follow the recipe carefully. Measure ingredients correctly and use the right size pan. Each recipe may call for a different size pan, so double-check your recipe before you start baking.
  • Don’t overbake the cake. An overbaked or dry cake will crack and break when you roll it up in the dishtowel. Oversee it in the last minutes of baking to be sure to take it out when it’s just baked.
  • While the cake is baking, prepare a clean dishtowel. Lay it flat on a clean surface and dust it with powdered sugar. 
  • When the cake is just done, remove it from the oven. Quickly turn it over onto the prepared dishtowel with the cake’s short side parallel to the towel’s short end. 
  • Remove the parchment paper, if using, and then roll up the cake.
  • To roll the cake, begin on the short end of the cake and towel. Roll the end of the towel, and when you get to the cake, just keep on rolling. 
  • When the cake is completely wrapped in the towel, set it seam side down on a cooling rack until completely cool. 
  • When the cake is cool, prepare the filling as needed and desired. 
  • To fill the cake, gently unroll the dishtowel and the cake. The cake will want to roll up once the towel is removed. Don’t try to force it down to flatten it. Just let it be.
  • Don’t overfill the cake. Keep the filling about ½-inch thick or so. As you reach the end, leave a one-inch unfilled border. 
  • Re-roll the cake around the filling. The filling will proportion itself through the cake roll as you roll it up. 
  • Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve or frost. 
  • If your recipe calls for frosting, do that once it has been completely chilled.
  • Chill until ready to serve.

“Cake rolls are seriously intimidating but look so beautiful that I feel compelled to try one day. I have never made one despite all my decades of cooking from scratch in the kitchen.”

— Jessica Haggard, Easy Homemade Life

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FDL’S 75 Best Bites. Photo credit: Food Drink Life.

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When to serve a cake roll

A cake roll is the perfect dessert to serve when you need an easy dessert that looks fancy. You can make it for a summery dessert full of fresh fruit or seasonal berries. The short cooking time makes them perfect for summertime. 

If you want to make something fresh and bright in the depths of winter, try using fresh lemon zest in your filling to bring in the flavor of citrus. You can add fresh zest to almost any cake roll filling recipe you want, even this banana roll cake.

A white plate with a chocolate log topped with mushooms.
Yule Log Cake. Photo Credit: Little House Big Alaska.

Or make a beautiful centerpiece for your Christmas table by making a buche de Noel or a Yule log cake. While these big centerpiece cakes look like a lot of work, there are many ways to simplify the process. And they’re always a huge hit with everyone who sees them.

“The worst thing about making a cake roll is the fear of the rolling; once you get over that and try rolling it, you’ll see how easy it is. The key is the warmth of the cake. Don’t let it get too cold, or it’ll crack.”

— Mandy Applegate,

Practice, practice, practice

Practice makes perfect with rolled cakes. If you want to make one that will impress friends and family, try out the recipe and these tips and tricks a few times before serving it to guests. Luckily, the results of trying to make a cake roll are tasty and easy to enjoy. 

This post shares the secrets to crafting cake rolls that are as delightful to create as they are to savor. Why not embrace the thrill of baking one, and roll your way to confectionery perfection? A lifetime of cake rolls is waiting for you.

Laura Sampson of Little House Big Alaska is on a mission to teach modern family-oriented home cooks how to make old-fashioned foods new again. She shares her passion for home cooking, backyard gardening and homesteading on her website and blog.

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