The Clara Project: chocolate roll cake.

The jelly roll-style cake: It’s SUCH an old-fashioned favorite. A thin, spongy cake layer, rolled around a filling of some kind (perhaps ice cream, whipped cream or fruit preserves), and sliced into pinwheel servings.

And yet, I’d never made one. I was intimidated by the technique of rolling a hot-from-the-oven sponge cake layer into a tight roll, fearing I’d mess it up. But when I spotted a recipe for chocolate cake roll in Clara’s old recipe collection (read more about The Clara Project and the vintage recipes that inspired it), I figured it was time to give it a try. We hosted some dear friends for dinner recently, and I made the cake ahead of time.

This chocolate cake roll recipe couldn’t be easier. (Trust me: You won’t wreck the cake when you roll it up.) This particular version is flourless (if you’re interested in gluten-free baking).

The original recipe. clipped from The American Home magazine (likely in the 1950s), is labeled ‘Peppermint Roll’ and it includes crushed peppermint candies. The peppermint version would make a festive Christmas dessert—but here in November, I wasn’t feeling the peppermint thing. Then I remembered how much I enjoy the flavor combination of chocolate and orange (I love finding a Terry’s chocolate orange in my Christmas stocking). So I flavored the whipped-cream filling with Grand Marnier and freshly grated orange zest. Amazing!

chocolate roll cake recipe

(serves 8)

5 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1/2 cup powdered (confectioners') sugar
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
2 Tbsp. powdered (confectioners') sugar
freshly grated zest of 1 orange
(see Note)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 15.5 x 10.5-inch rimmed sheet pan; line the pan with waxed paper, and then butter and flour the paper. Dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks to beat well. Sift in the powdered sugar, cocoa and salt, and whisk to combine well. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Use a spatula to fold about one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then fold the remaining egg whites in, mixing gently and ensuring that no clumps of egg white remain. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; bake 20 to 25 minutes until the cake is firm and pulls away from the sides of the pan slightly.

Place a cookie sheet or baking rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. Remove the waxed paper and gently slide the cake onto the powdered sugar-dusted towel. Use the towel to help you roll the cake up, starting with a short side. Let the rolled cake cool for 1 minute. Unroll the cake and let cool for 10 minutes. Roll the cake up again and let cool completely.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form; then add the Grand Marnier, powdered sugar and grated orange zest. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Unroll the cake, and use a spatula to spread the whipped cream, covering the cake completely. Roll the cake up and place it seam-side down on a serving plate. Cut a thin slice off each end for a neater presentation (no one will know if you nibble on those ends!). Dust the cake with cocoa powder. Cover well and refrigerate at least 2 hours; can be made up to 1 day in advance. Cut into 8 slices to serve.

Note: To make the peppermint roll cake from Clara's recipe collection, simply whip 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks (omitting the powdered sugar, liqueur and zest), and gently fold in a scant half-cup of crushed peppermint candy.

2 thoughts on “The Clara Project: chocolate roll cake.

  1. How would I make a “Ho Ho” type of filling? I don’t like the peppermint or the orange. I just want a cream filling like Hostess Ho Ho’s have. Thank you!

    • Hi, Peggy —

      To make a basic cream filling, I would whip 1 cup of heavy cream, add 3 Tbsp. of powdered sugar (for a sweeter filling) and 1 tsp. of vanilla extract. Thanks for your question!