An easy way to fancy up a classic swiss cake roll with a pretty watercolor pattern.
If you saw me in the kitchen, you’d never guess that I enjoy baking. I’m irritable and stressed out, and that’s when things are going well. If things aren’t, well, it’s best you stay as far away from the kitchen as possible. Ryan can tell you this from experience, for sure. Such was the case with this cake roll.
I’d been psyching myself up to make a cake roll since early January. I don’t know why I was so anxious about it exactly… I had made them in school before, and it wasn’t really a big deal. It is a bit of a process though, or at least I made it out to be one in my head, specifically because I wanted to do a pattern on it. That was my biggest hurdle — deciding how I wanted to do the pattern. I have this perfectionist complex coupled with the laziness of only wanting to do things ONCE, so I procrastinated for weeks.
So, the Valentine’s Cake Roll turned into a Spring Cake Roll. I finally mustered up the courage and kinda winged it. A patterned cake roll is actually really easy to do. You basically just pipe/spread a design onto a silicone mat or parchment, chill that, then spread the cake batter on top and bake.
I had some ideas of how I wanted to do the pattern, but none of them worked. I had only made a small amount of paste (just enough for what was needed), so it would have been hard to fill a piping bag and use a tip. I decided to try filling a plastic sandwich bag and clipping off the end. Has anyone actually used this technique with success? It was pretty much the worst thing ever. I tried to pipe nice round dots with it, only to end up with wonky, lopsided ovals. That was Epic Fail #1.
Then I tried doing these designs with my offset spatula. Kind of like those fancy schmears you see on dessert plates in restaurants. That was Epic Fail #2.
Finally, I scraped everything off and said &*%$ it. I elaborated on Fail #2 and covered the whole thing with alternating schmears of color. Going for kind of a “watercolor” look and hoping it wouldn’t look like total crap. I couldn’t really tell what it looked like after I had spread it on, since it would be the underside that was visible once the cake was done. Whatever, I was over it, into the fridge it went while I made the cake batter.
The batter was pretty straightforward, except that I made the mistake of cranking my mixer on high right away while whipping the egg yolks and not putting the guard up or covering it with a tea towel. When I finally looked over, I could see that all of the cabinets, counters, floor, and appliances in the vicinity had been nicely splattered with whipped egg yolks. &%^$. Ryan was looong gone by this time. Smart guy.
Thankfully, everything went swimmingly from then on. The cake baked up perfectly in my crappy uneven-baking oven, rolled up with no cracks, and the pattern turned out better than I thought it would!
I watched this video to see how to roll the cake up. It’s actually a good overall video of making a cake roll form start to finish. The only thing I did differently was use a silicone mat and roll the cake right up with the mat. I feel like it’s easier overall, so if you have a silicone mat, just use that!
The most important thing is that you roll the cake up while it’s still hot. DO NOT skip this step or it will crack all over when you try to roll it later. Roll it up hot, let it cool, unroll, frost, roll up again, done.
I thought the cake might be bland and boring but it actually tastes amazing, despite the fact that I forgot to add the vanilla, so… don’t do that. Although, to be honest, it tasted so good that I’m not sure the vanilla is necessary.
This cake is delicious! A delicate vanilla sponge with a light vanilla whipped cream — a perfect and easy dessert for any time of year.
Notes & tips for this Watercolor Cake Roll:
- Be sure to roll the cake up while it’s still hot. DO NOT skip this step or it will crack all over when you try to roll it later. Roll it up hot, let it cool, unroll, frost, roll up again, done.
- If using parchment paper – spray sheet pan with cooking spray, line with parchment and spray again.
- Watch this video for more information on how to make and roll the cake.
Watercolor Cake Roll
- Line a 12" x 17" sheet pan with a silicone mat or parchment paper.*
- Sift powdered sugar into a small bowl. Sift flour into another.
- Cream butter and powdered sugar with a wooden spoon till smooth and pale. Add egg white and sifted flour and cream until smooth.
- Separate paste and add a small amount of color gel into each using a toothpick.
- Spread onto silicone mat in a swirling pattern, alternating colors. Place in fridge to set as you make the cake batter.
- Preheat oven to 450F.
- Whisk flour and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Separate 2 eggs. Place whites into a grease free bowl and set aside.
- Place the two yolks into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add additional 2 eggs, reserved egg yolk and 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat on high for 5 minutes, until pale and tripled in volume. Beat in vanilla. **
- Sift flour mixture over beaten eggs in 2 batches. Fold in until no streaks of flour remain.
- Clean mixer bowl (if you don't have an extra) and wipe down with lemon juice to ensure there is no trace of grease.
- Whip egg whites until foamy and add in cream of tartar. Whip until soft peaks and slowly add in 1 Tbsp of sugar. Whip until stiff peaks.
- Gently fold whites into cake batter. Spread evenly in pan (on top of chilled color paste) and bake for 7mins or until cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch.
- While still hot, loosen the edges with a small metal spatula or knife. Sprinkle cake lightly with powdered sugar and turn out onto parchment.
If using a silicone mat:
- Flip cake over again with the silicone mat attached and roll up with the mat. Roll entire thing in a clean dish towel and allow to cool.
If using parchment:
- Remove parchment from bottom of cake. Sprinkle powdered sugar over a clean tea towel. Flip cake over onto tea towel, roll up, and allow to cool completely.
- Place mixer bowl and whisk into the fridge for 30mins to chill.
- Place cream, sugar, and vanilla into mixer bowl and whip on high until stiff peaks.
- Gently unroll cake. Spread whipped cream evenly over surface leaving a 1/2" border. Roll up tightly and refrigerate for 30mins or up to 3 hours. Serve same day.
* If using parchment paper - spray sheet pan with cooking spray, line with parchment and spray again. ** At this point i transferred the beaten eggs to a large bowl as I needed to reuse the mixer bowl for the whites. Watch this video for more information on how to make and roll the cake. Cake roll recipe adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible.
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