When my toddler, T, had his first taste of this roll cake his wee face broke into a wide smile that lit up his eyes and entire face. Like him, I can’t seem to get enough of this light-as-a-feather roll cake. Asian incarnations of the Swiss roll are decidedly lighter than their European forebear. The Japanese, in particular, have catapulted the roll cake (ロールケーキ or ro-ru keiki) into another stratosphere. Their roll cakes tend to be lightly, rather than assertively sweetened. And they have a soft, delicate texture and moist, fine crumb I absolutely love. I was heartbroken when the Arinco stall in the basement of Ion where I had indulged in many a salted caramel roll cake air-flown from Japan closed down.
In my teens and early twenties, I could easily and very happily put away an entire boxful of Polar mini sugar rolls in one sitting. Those are like the basic white T-shirts of the roll cake universe—soft yellow sponge cake held together by the slightest hint of buttercream and dusted with sugar (or not, you can choose). My tastes were simple, but I must confess that my appetite was not quite, ahem, ladylike. My brother-in-law once most embarrassingly described me as having “the appetite of a Mongol warlord”. But with age and a plummeting metabolism, I have since been able to tame my inner warlord. There are few temptations that induce me to ingest food in vast quantities, boa constrictor style. A good roll cake is one of them. Especially one made using the recipe below. I kid you not. I rarely eat more than a single serving of the desserts and baked goods I make, but there is something about the airy texture of this roll cake and the very simplicity of its construction (I consider it a ‘what you see is what you get’ sort of confection) that makes me go weak at the knees. For a red velvet inspired version, check out my recipe here.
Soufflé Roll Cake
Adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida.
I have included the option of making matcha roll cake (as pictured). You simply add matcha powder to the flour. I prefer a stronger matcha flavour and would add about 10g of matcha powder. But 5g gives you a nice delicate flavour.
You can get creative with what you roll into your cake. We often layer David Lebovitz’s recipe for Henri Le Roux-inspired salted caramel sauce in The Perfect Scoop with whipped cream (and fresh banana, if you like). It’s also wonderful with diced fresh strawberries and sweetened whipped cream. For the matcha roll cake, I made Pichet Ong’s sweetened condensed milk chantilly from The Sweet Spot. And white chocolate whipped cream goes beautifully with sakura roll cake. Use as much or as little filling as you like.
Makes a 28cm roll
3 egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
60g top flour (or pastry flour*, as the original recipe recommends)
(Optional) 5-10g matcha powder (only if making matcha roll cake)
35g unsalted butter
60g whole milk
3 egg whites
85g castor sugar
Line a 28x28cm square sheet pan with aluminum foil (I find that aluminum foil is easiest to peel off this type of cake). Use two sheets overlapping to form a cross and leave enough extra overhang on each side so that you can fold the foil over the edges of the sheet. This way, foil won’t fold over forwards into the batter which gives you uneven edges. Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius (360° Fahrenheit) using the conventional setting (no fan). Place your oven rack at the lowest possible level.
Combine the egg, egg yolks and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Beat lightly.
Sift the flour and matcha powder (if using). In a small saucepan, melt the butter over gentle heat then add the flour mixture and stir with a spatula until combined and cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in the egg mixture a little at a time. Continue mixing until you get a smooth batter. Add milk and stir to incorporate. Strain the batter into a large bowl.
To make the meringue, place the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl and whisk until foamy. Add half the sugar and continue whisking for a few minutes. Add remaining sugar and whisk until egg whites are glossy and stiff peaks form.
Add one-third of the meringue to the egg mixture. Fold in lightly, then add remaining meringue and fold through until just incorporated. Honestly, I can never seem to get it right when I use the folding method with a spatula. What I usually do is just quickly whisk, by hand, the first third of the meringue into the batter using the whisk attachment of my KitchenAid in a circular motion. I then add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue and use the whisk attachment, again by hand, to whisk it in. I then finish off the process with a spatula, being careful about folding in the egg mixture that is at the bottom of the bowl.
Gently pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula or dough scraper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top of the cake is pale gold and springs back to the touch.
Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool. Place a damp tea towel (use a smooth cotton one, not an actual towel or the cake will stick to it) over the cake as it cools. When you are able to comfortably handle the cake pan, place the cooling rack over the damp tea towel and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the pan. Gently peel off the aluminum foil, and place another tea towel onto the crustless bottom side of the cake now facing upwards. Carefully remove the rack below and place it on top of the new tea towel, or use a second rack. Turn the cake over, remove the damp tea towel and carefully roll the cake up with the new tea towel on the outside. Set it on the rack and let it cool completely before you gently unroll it and remove the tea towel. Fill it with whipped cream and/or jam or some other filling of your choice, and roll the cake up. You may find this video demonstration of how a Swiss roll is rolled useful.
Tightly wrap with cling film and refrigerate to set. This cake is best served the day it is made.
* I actually use top flour which is an extra-fine, soft wheat flour marketed as ideal for Swiss rolls. Pastry flour has slightly higher gluten content than cake flour, but lower gluten content than all-purpose, and consists of only soft wheat. To make 2 cups of pastry flour, combine 1⅓ cups (185 grams) all-purpose flour with ⅔ cup (90 grams) cake flour.